Flight credits distributed by WestJet do not have the same flexibility as gift cards and may have expiration dates, according to a recent decision by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
The ruling, released Wednesday, determined that “travel bank credits” do not have to follow the same regulations as “prepaid shopping cards” or “gift cards.” The decision explained that flight credits are generally issued for canceled flights, lost baggage and general customer dissatisfaction.
In the case of WestJet, credits expire after one year, but can sometimes be extended for a $20 fee.
The court heard that Tiana Sharifi got nearly $1,000 in credit after buying a ticket for a flight and then voluntarily canceling it. Sharifi used about $570 of the credit, but the remaining $420 expired after a year.
Sharifi argued that the credits count as a gift card and that consumer protection law prohibits WestJet from setting an expiration date. She asked that the case be certified as a class action, which was the case in October 2020.
WestJet later appealed the certification, arguing that the credits are not considered gift cards because they are issued as reimbursement, to compensate for an inconvenience or used as a promotional tool. When issued for a refund, WestJet argued, they function as “store credit“, which is not covered by prepaid purchase card laws.
“In my view, the issue is not whether Ms. Sharifi prepaid her ticket to travel with WestJet: she clearly did. Rather, the question is whether, in return for her “non-refundable ticket”, she prepaid a fixed amount for (the travel credits), which she was entitled to use in the future. In my opinion, she clearly did not,” wrote Judge Patrice Abrioux in his decision.
“Ms. Sharifi purchased a prepaid flight. She did not purchase a prepaid shopping card, gift card, gift certificate or otherwise.”
As a result, Abrioux said Sharifi’s flight credits “do not fall within the definitions contained in relevant consumer protection legislation” and WestJet’s appeal was allowed, dismissing Sharifi’s case.