B.C.-based class-action lawsuit targets 1-year expiry on WestJet travel credits
WestJet says its travel bank is for refunds or promotions so consumer protection laws don't apply to it
British Columbia's Supreme Court has approved a class-action lawsuit against WestJet's policy of issuing travel credits with a one-year expiry date.
The decision says the primary issue in the case is whether the airline's travel bank program, which gives customers credits for things like cancelled flights and lost luggage, counts as a gift card.
Most provinces prohibit expiry dates on gift cards or prepaid purchase cards.
The decision certifies the class-action lawsuit to go forward, but makes no decision on the merits of the claim itself and whether it is likely to succeed.
Thousands of customers affected
The plaintiff, Vancouverite Tiana Sharifi, maintains that tens of thousands of people have had their WestJet credits expire or have had to pay fees to extend them.
Sharifi claims that the travel credits meet the legal definition of a gift card and that consumer protection legislation prohibits them from expiring at all. WestJet disagrees.
Air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs says he was thrilled to find out the class action had been certified.
"Airlines are unjustly enriching themselves by taking the money of passengers and after 12 months, just pocketing it without providing any services in return," Lukacs said.
WestJet declined to comment because the matter is before the courts.
Credit for cancelled flights
According to the notice of civic claim filed as part of the case, Sharifi booked round-trip flights for her and her travelling companion from Vancouver to Paris in January 2018.
She cancelled the trip in May 2018, and was issued a $993.23 credit. WestJet imposed a one-year expiry on the credit, which was issued to her travel bank account.
Sharifi used part of her WestJet travel bank credit on a trip to Calgary, but when the credit expired she lost the approximately $400 remaining in her account.
The notice and the decision explain that WestJet travel bank credits can be transferred or sold to third parties and can be used to purchase travel.
Hard and soft credits
The decision says the company distinguishes between "hard credits," which are issued for flight changes or cancellations and can be extended for another year for a fee of about $20, and soft credits, which are issued for things like promotions and to maintain customer satisfaction. Soft credits cannot be extended.
WestJet argues its hard credits are part of its refund policy and its soft credits are part of its promotions, and both are exempt from gift card legislation.
It's not the first time an airline customer has tried to file a class-action lawsuit because of expiring travel credits.
In 2019, the Quebec Superior Court ruled on a case filed against Air Canada charging that the company's flight passes met the definition of a prepaid card and shouldn't have an expiry date.
The court decided that differences in consumer protection laws between provinces prevented the case from meeting the criteria for a class-action certification.
However, that decision was recently overturned by Quebec's Court of Appeal, which approved the class-action lawsuit.
The B.C. Supreme Court judge said a class-action lawsuit's likelihood of success is irrelevant to the decision to certify it in this province.