Nova Scotia

Why that cheap flight price in Canada might actually be in U.S. dollars

Even if you book your flight in Canada for travel within the country, you may be charged in U.S. dollars. The same might happen when purchasing goods from a Canadian website.

If you end booking a Canadian flight using Air Canada’s U.S. website, you will be charged in U.S. dollars

Jane Wasson is still trying to figure out how she ended up on the U.S. version of Air Canada's website and paid in American dollars for a trip booked in Canada for travel in Canada. (Submitted by Jane Wasson)

Jane Wasson is still trying to figure out how an Air Canada flight booked last year in Canada, to fly across Canada, was billed in U.S. dollars and included some U.S. taxes.

But Air Canada said the answer is simple — she was using the U.S. site, where the charges are clearly shown in American dollars and there's a small U.S. flag at the top of the home page.

The airline stressed she paid the same fare as she would have on the Canadian site, once the currency conversion was taken into account.

But Wasson thought she was paying in Canadian dollars and got a shock when the exchange rate kicked in.

"When you booked online there, was no indication that you were paying in American dollars," she said.

Jane Wasson went to the 'Air Canada Official Site' to book a trip, but was billed in U.S. dollars. The airline said she was on the U.S. version of its site. (aircanada.com)

"There was none at all."

In August, Wasson sat down at her home computer in Minto, N.B., and booked a September round-trip flight on Air Canada's website, www.aircanada.com, for her husband to fly from Fredericton to Kelowna, B.C., with stopovers in Toronto on both legs.

The cost was $801.14. It wasn't until she received her credit card statement in September that she saw Air Canada charged her $1,063.55 for the ticket — an additional $262.41.

She contacted the Air Canada call centre, but said the customer service rep was as mystified by the charge as she was. Wasson was advised to file a complaint, which she did.

She also called her credit card company to dispute the charge. It was removed. However, Air Canada maintained she owed the full amount, so the $262.41 charge was placed back on her account.

Air Canada says the flag at the top of their webpage indicates the currency passengers will be charged. It also says pop-ups alert people to the currency being used. (aircanada.com)

Wasson received an acknowledgement of her complaint from Air Canada, followed by a generic response in November that didn't address the issue, but offered her a 15 per cent discount on another flight within the next year.

She said she has subsequently booked other Air Canada flights and was charged in Canadian dollars.

"As soon as I learned through my credit card [that I was charged in American dollars], I went back ... but I haven't been able to duplicate the American charge," she said.

She also doesn't understand why there was a U.S. flight segment tax and a U.S. transportation tax applied to the ticket for flights that were only in Canada.

Similar situations have happened before 

This isn't the first time an Air Canada passenger has been charged in U.S. dollars.

In December 2018, B.C. resident Doreen Hucal said she was billed in U.S. dollars when she booked her flights on the Air Canada app. At the time, Air Canada said Hucal was using its American website, even though Hucal insisted she was using the app.

In July 2017, the Competition Bureau issued a news release urging people to double-check the type of currency being used by companies online. It referenced purchases including furniture, clothes, jewelry and travel packages.

It said some websites don't clearly identify which currency they are using, and that the dollar symbol could represent either Canadian or American dollars.

"Ensuring that you are shopping on the company's Canadian website (with an address ending in ".ca"), or selecting Canada as your country of origin can help, but it does not guarantee that the price shown is in CAD," said the news release.

CBC News contacted the Competition Bureau to ask whether it has received complaints about airlines charging Canadians in U.S. dollars, how many complaints it's received and which airlines were involved.

But the Competition Bureau said it wouldn't answer those questions because it's required by law to conduct its work confidentially.

Air Canada says U.S. site clearly marked

In an email to CBC News, an Air Canada spokesperson said as an international carrier, the airline sells tickets to people around the world and flights can be purchased in several currencies.

"Aircanada.com has pop-ups asking customers to confirm their country the first time they visit it or if users have not visited the site in a while," Pascale Dery wrote, adding customers should always check to ensure they are on their preferred site.

Dery said the country is clear because of the flag at the top of the page, and changing countries and currency can be done by simply clicking on a tab.

"Customers are advised several times during the booking process of the currency they are purchasing in, including prior to completing their purchase," Dery added.

CBC Halifax used the U.S. site to start booking a trip and it did clearly show the charges in U.S. dollars.

This message sometimes pops up on the Air Canada website. At other times, it does not. Wasson says it did not appear on her screen while booking and has not appeared when she made subsequent bookings. (aircanada.com)

CBC then cleared the cache of the computer and attempted to book again on the following day, which yielded a pop-up message that said, "You are about to open the aircanada.com edition for UNITED STATES, but it looks like you're located in or your previous selection was CANADA."

Dery said that message isn't a new feature, but Wasson insisted there was no pop-up on her reservation.

Meanwhile, Dery said all tickets are fully refundable within 24 hours of purchase, so customers should check the itinerary receipts sent to them at the time of booking to ensure everything is OK.

Air Canada said it's willing to refund the $16.80 US flight segment tax to Wasson and has provided a link for her to submit her claim.

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About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.

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