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Why airline tickets are not transferable

Last Updated Mar 9, 2018 at 8:45 pm EDT

In a couple of days, families will be packing up and heading to the airport for March Break getaways. But what happens when plans go awry and someone needs to change the name on a reservation?

Tickets, as many know, are not transferable, and short of paying change fees or taking out cancellation insurance, people can lose what they paid for their ticket.

In a statement, Air Canada said the industry has adopted the rules largely to prevent a secondary market for tickets, like scalping.

But airlines also put these rules in place to tighten security after 9/11 — and to dissuade people from making changes, according to Gabor Frogacs, associate professor at Ryerson University.

“They hedge their bets,” he said. “If a ticket is sold and all the change rules apply, they try to punish people for changing and they charge all those fees, so they protect their revenue.”

Frogacs also said the airlines can be flexible and bend the rules in certain cases.

“I know of situations when the person had their name changed legitimately and … they needed executives to get involved because the people at the gate are not authorized to overrule,” he said.

“So it can be done, but it is a really complicated and labour-intensive thing, and airlines just want to play it as safe and simple as possible.”

CityNews spoke with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) — which oversees travel agencies, but not airlines — about why tickets are not transferable. Here’s what it said.

Q: Why can’t you bring someone on a trip other than the person who originally booked?

A: Although it seems like the situation should just be a quick and simple change, each airline and/or tour operator has its own policies with respect to name changes, and correcting names when they are misspelled on reservations. The policies are set out in the terms and conditions of the travel services that you purchased. In addition, the terms and conditions will also vary based on whether you are travelling with a scheduled or charter airline or travelling to a domestic or international destination. Most terms and conditions will state that the services are non-transferable and will require a consumer to cancel and rebook the services, while others may have conditions and fees associated with name changes.

Q: Is this legislated?

A: Ontario’s travel industry is regulated with consumer protection legislation that all Ontario travel retailers and travel wholesalers must adhere to. Terms and conditions of bookings with respect to name changes are not legislated. What is legislated is that every Ontario travel retailer must disclose the terms and conditions of the travel services being purchased prior to booking and collecting the consumer’s payment. This applies to whether the consumer is making their travel purchase in person, over the phone or online. It is especially important to note it online as many quickly click through and accept the terms and conditions without taking the time to review them.

Q: Under what circumstances can someone change a name?

A: Technically, a name change can be done at any time. However it is the terms and conditions of the travel services purchased that will govern whether one will be required to cancel the original booking, which may entail incurring penalties and then rebooking with the proper name(s), or paying a prescribed change fee and the difference in the cost of the travel services.

Q: Who makes these rules? The airline? The vacation supplier?

A: The individual travel supplier determines its terms and conditions.

Q: If you buy cancellation insurance, can you cancel for any reason? Are there restrictions?

A: Purchasing trip cancellation and/or out-of-province health insurance is always recommended, if applicable. All Ontario travel counsellors are required to advise of the availability of travel insurance at the time of booking.  It is important to carefully review and understand the policy of any insurance before purchase. For example, many policies do not cover pre-existing medical conditions, so if this is a factor in purchasing insurance, ensure you get the right coverage that will provide you with the protection you need to avoid unexpected additional costs at the destination.