Surinderpal Gill trusted the travel agency that he bought tickets for a family trip to India two years ago.
But then he found out he was made over $5,200 and his confidence collapsed.
Last June, Toronto-based Air Canada All Link Travel sent three coupons to compensate Jill for returning. Flights canceled due to flight disruptions amid the pandemic.
But instead of telling him, Gill said the travel agency had repeatedly said there was no indication of valuable travel documents. Then I used those vouchers to pay for it Other people’s trips.
“I feel like I’ve been betrayed,” he told Go Public, shaking his head in disbelief at his home in Brampton, Ont. “How can someone use my money without my consent?”
Jill is one of thousands of Canadians who have fought for months for travel vouchers issued amid the pandemic. Many say the travel agencies they used exacerbate their problems getting coupons or refunds from airlines.
“The curse of our existence … the infamous travel voucher,” said Richard Smart, CEO and Registered Member of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), which regulates travel agencies. “I’ve had complaints over the past two and a half years.”
The Canada Transportation Agency (CTA) says it has also received thousands of such complaints – nearly 9,000 since the pandemic was officially announced in March 2020.
After Go Public stepped in, the agency repaid Jill.
Drain travel vouchers
Jill, his wife, two sons and five other members of his family were in India in March, desperate to find a way to get back to Toronto after their return flights were cancelled.
He paid nearly $11,000 for four tickets to take his immediate family on a flight organized by the federal government; Almost three times the usual cost.
“There were no more options,” he said. “We had no choice.”
When Air Canada received a government bailout in April 2021 promising to compensate travelers whose flights had been canceled, Jill waited two months and then called his travel agency to find out when his coupons would arrive.
“They said they didn’t have any information,” Gill said.
He says he called several times over the next few months, and each time, he was told that Air Canada had not emailed him any vouchers.
Last December, Jill ordered from Air Canada directly. He was told All Link has had the coupons since June.
The airline sent him the same email they sent All Link, which included a PIN for login and balance check. That’s when Jill learned the coupons — which are worth $5,277 — were almost completely sold out.
“I was angry,” he said. “This is a misuse of money.”
The agency claimed that the coupons had been used in error – three times.
“I said…don’t make up that story,” Jill said. “It’s not one voucher, it’s three vouchers. If it’s a mistake, write me a check.”
Gill says an Air Canada rep confirmed that the vouchers were used to buy airline tickets for people with a completely different family name.
TICO’s Smart said vouchers can be used for other customers, but only “if the original customer gives permission.”
All Link Travel declined an interview request. Instead, an unnamed representative who called Go Public using a blocked phone number promised several times to send a statement, but never did.
Jill says he’s grateful for his money back, but the experience was stressful.
He said, “It’s all right.” “At the same time, I still have a feeling that this should have happened.”
Gill says it’s hard for airlines to send coupons to customer travel agencies. Since the emails include the reservation code and PIN, the agencies can use the vouchers.
“The travel agency didn’t pay for my ticket, so why the money [voucher] back to them? “
Smart says Jill is not the usual type of voucher complaint TICO has received in a pandemic.
He says the regulator is mired in complaints about the length of time it takes travel agents to present airline travel vouchers, the hours customers spend on the phone dealing with agencies and airlines, and the desire for cold cash instead of travel. credit.
Another big complaint is the fees that travel agencies charge to release coupons, says travel industry expert John Gradec, a faculty lecturer in the Department of Aviation at McGill University.
They replace the commission agencies that lose out when flights are canceled, he says, and typically range from $75 to more than $200 per ticket.
“Welcome to the world of unstructured accusations,” said Gradec. “[The fees are] A valid commercial agreement between airlines and travel agencies. And travel agencies are free to ship whatever they want.”
Many frustrated travelers who write Go Public blame travel agencies for causing more headaches than they provide assistance.
One said he was “confused” when it came to getting the vouchers. Another wrote, “Four hours later they cut me off.” Another said his agency “refuses to pay” the money that rightly belongs to him. Another claimed that his travel agency was holding nearly $3,000 “hostage”.
Griddick said consumers should be persistent.
“Don’t procrastinate,” he said. “Always follow up with whoever’s got the last ping pong game – whether it’s the travel agency or the airline. The more influence you have on yourself with either party, the faster this will be settled.”
If that doesn’t happen, Greddick says, they can escalate to the regional or regional authority that deals with travel complaints.
“Tiger without teeth”
But the Ontario regulator, TICO, cannot force an agency to compensate a client.
Gredeck says it’s a “toothless tiger,” and needs more powers to make consumers financially complete.
“They have a nice loud growl…but when it comes to doing something that will put some money behind their actions, they seem very reluctant to do so.”
Smart says TICO isn’t “heavy,” but it gets a lot done by facilitating discussion between frustrated clients and travel agencies. When mediation does not work, its officers can file charges and bring cases to court.
“We can’t force a settlement,” Smart said. “But we have recovered hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars over the years to consumers who filed complaints.”
Gill, who has lodged a complaint with TICO, agrees that it should have more powers.
“Why do they get [government] money if they can do nothing to compensate the consumer? “
“They should be given the power to make them [agencies] Paying consumer money back to the consumer so we don’t have to go through lengthy trials.”
Despite everything, Gill says he and his family are still eager to travel — the next destination on the list is Western Canada.
“We have a lot of families in the Vancouver area,” Gill said. “This is our dream vacation.”
Gill says he will use his recently received refund to make the trip, but wonders how many other Canadians are still eligible for vouchers from travel agents.
“I want to spread awareness about this issue,” he said. “There may be more victims who [vouchers] They were used by travel agencies without their knowledge.”
Watch | A man resists after a travel agency spends his coupons on other clients:
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