I just returned from my very first ‘opening up’ activity: getting my first haircut in two months. I’ve had everything delivered to the house, including groceries for two months. I walk my dogs each day, but the only things I’ve been leaving my block for are contactless restaurant pickups. I’m ready to travel again, but have been waiting to see whether relaxed restrictions in Texas cause a spike in cases, in other words to see whether it’s responsible or not.
And I’ll admit I was a little bit nervous, though that dissipated immediately. My barber, it turns out, had the virus six weeks ago. And there was only one other customer in the shop getting their haircut while I was there.
It takes a lot to get people out of the habit of staying in, and overcoming the fear that’s been built up about regular activities like haircuts, let alone travel. Six weeks ago I wrote that airlines are going to have to extend flexible booking policies or customers won’t have the confidence to buy travel in the face of uncertainty.
We’re now seeing policies become even more generous, and more flexible.
The Qatar Airways World Leader In Flexibility
Qatar Airways has, unquestionably, the most generous change policy for tickets booked to travel this year. You can change destination within 5000 miles. You can change your departure city. And there’s no fee or difference in fare. Or, take a generously-termed voucher or convert the ticket to miles at 1 cent a mile.
Up until now the next most generous policy has belonged to Emirates which, for tickets purchased by June 30 and with at least one flight segment by November 30, lets you change your travel destination within the same region and travel any time within 24 months without a change fee or even a difference in fare.
Air Canada Introduces World’s Second Most Generous Flexibility Policy
Air Canada though has just introduced a new policy that’s also really generous. And in a way that’s surprising because they’ve been one of the really bad actors refusing refunds for cancelled trips. However their aggressive new policy underscores just how much flexibility it makes sense to give customers right now, to give them confidence to make a purchase decision. People are concerned about their economic decisions, and about whether they’ll actually be able to take the trips they book as news changes so frequently.
Bookings made by June 30 can be changed without fee through June 30, 2021. In addition, if plans change then starting June 1 the functionality will be available for customers to choose:
- Travel voucher with no expiration date that is transferable.
- Convert to miles at 1.3 US cents per mile
What’s more, “[c]ustomers whose flights have been cancelled due to the impacts of COVID-19 and who have already received travel credit valid for 24 months, will be able to select one of the applicable options depending on their fare at aircanada.com beginning June 15, 2020.”
The new flexibility is offered in conjunction of an expanding summer schedule that will reach 97 destinations (still down 56% year-over-year), including resumption of some U.S. service today and will reach across to Frankfurt; London; Zurich; Tokyo; Paris; Brussels; Tel Aviv; Hong Kong; Tokyo; and Seoul, and expanding into Athens; Rome; Geneva; Munich; Lisbon; Amsterdam and Shanghai (pending government approval).
Don’t expect Air Canada to offer refunds for non-refundable tickets when they cancel the flight. For those circumstances, if you’re declined a refund, you should file a DOT complaint or file a credit card chargeback. Although honestly the ability to buy a ticket as a means of buying miles at 1.3 cents apiece is not a bad deal at all.
This Is Smart – And Other Airlines Need To Copy
Offering generous voucher policies may convince some customers entitled to a refund not to take one. More importantly these options let a customer know that as long as the airline is around that a travel credit is valid. There’s no rush to use it before you’re ready to travel. There’s no need to worry about whether the plane you want to go isn’t open yet. And you don’t need to worry if the next trip is cheaper on another carrier, you aren’t locked in because you lose the voucher unless you travel right away.
As much as the virus itself, and the severe recession, what’s keeping people away from travel is uncertainty and fear. The message that airlines are going to have to extend flexible booking policies