A Vancouver woman experienced a travel nightmare recently when she booked a flight through a third-party company. The woman booked her Sunwing flight to Toronto through FlightHub. But, she ended up without a return flight home after it left four hours before schedule. She had to pay a little over $1,300 for a return flight the next day and had to sleep in the airport. And, she wasn’t the only person who missed the flight.
Another passenger expressed not receiving notifications about the schedule change. Both the airline and the third-party travel company refused to take the blame or provide refunds. That is until a CBC news investigation was started. The airline reimbursed both passengers but neither company admitted fault. So, what can passengers do? What rights do you have with airline changes? And importantly, should you use third-party travel companies or book direct?
New Passenger Regulations Hold Airlines Responsible for Informing Passengers of Flight Changes
With new airline regulations, airlines have a responsibility to alert passengers about changes to flights or cancellations. The rules are set to ensure that passengers are informed if there are any delays to their flights or cancellations. The new passenger rights will make travel more convenient for Canadians. Rule changes are for planes delayed on tarmacs and also for any flights that don't arrive at their scheduled time.
The new airline regulation rules include:
Overbooked or Delayed Flight Compensation
- Fewer than six hours: minimum of $900
- Six to nine hours: minimum of $1,800
- More than nine hours: minimum of $2,400
- Airlines have to pay passengers a maximum of $2,100 and any baggage fees they incurred if their bags are lost.
Airline Passenger Treatment
- Planes that are parked on the tarmac with passengers inside must keep the air well-ventilated. Carriers are required to provide passengers with food/snacks and beverages.
- Planes parked on the tarmac longer than 3 hours, that can't leave in the next 45 minutes, must return to their gate and allow passengers to disembark from the plane.
Reimbursement if a Flight Doesn't Arrive On Time
As of December, Canadian travellers can receive reimbursement if their flight is delayed and doesn't arrive at its final destination on time:
Reimbursement for Large Carrier Delays
- Three to six hours: $400
- Six to nine hours: $700
- More than nine hours: $1,000
Reimbursement for Small Carrier Delays
- Three to six hours: $125
- Six to nine hours: $250
- More than nine hours: $900
Airline passengers will have a year to file claims for reimbursement. Rebookings won't include surcharges or added costs.
Note: Reimbursement rules are only for delays and cancelled flights that are within an airline carrier's control. These don't include any safety risks. Hence, purchasing travel insurance for your trip is still one of the best ways to safeguard it.
Passengers can also file a complaint if they don’t receive adequate flight change information. But, does that mean you shouldn’t book travel through a third-party? They usually have better deals, right? Occasionally they might, but your airline may also offer price-matching. Booking directly could also give you more rewards and perks.
Booking Directly Versus Third-Party Companies
Travellers should consider the risks and benefits before deciding to book. Picking a direct provider or a third-part provider will come down largely to your needs and priorities. As always, shopping and comparing products online is key. You may be able to find similar offers via either channel, so which one do you choose?
Sure, online travel companies have a few perks like great low prices and last-minute deals. You can also view all the top deals every airline, car rental company, or hotel may have to offer all at once. However, when you book directly you could have less hassle.
Keeping Your Travel Benefits and Certain Protections
Airlines, car rental companies, and hotels want to offer better deals, so they compete with online travel agencies. Booking directly gives you more leverage with flight delays and cancellations. The airline might offer a travel voucher or free rebooking. Additionally, by booking directly, you can accrue points for airlines, hotels, and car rental companies if you use your travel rewards credit card. You can't add or use points with a third-party company.
Securing the Lowest Prices Available
When you are booking directly, you can always ask for a price match. Most companies have a best price guarantee so they may match the prices you found, offer you a refund, or provide you with a travel voucher. If you can secure the pricing either way, why not book direct?
You Won't Incur Extra Fees
If you make changes with third-party companies, they may charge a change or cancellation fee in addition to the airline, hotel, or car rental company fee. An online travel agency might state their rates are non-refundable but booking directly could give you more flexibility, with managers, when it comes to waiving fees.
You Won't Get Bounced Around
If you have a problem with your hotel, flight, or rental car, you can talk directly with the company. When you book with third-parties, you might have a tough time getting resolutions for things like flight cancellations and rebookings.
A third-party company might have a call center that is limited in the assistance they can provide. They might have strict policies about reservation changes and cancellations which could prevent them from waiving fees the way a hotel manager or airline representative might.
How to Successfully Book Your Travel
Using an online travel agency (third-party) can help you find great deals. But, ensure you understand the fees so you're not overcharged, or end up with a lackluster hotel room or airline seating assignment.
If you want to use a third-party site, here are a few recommendations:
- Refer to them for the lowest prices first. Use them to find the discounted rate for a particular hotel or airline. Then reach out to the airline or hotel directly. You might find the same rate. If they don’t offer it, call and ask if they price match online offers. If they don't, then go ahead and book through the third-party but read the fine print.
- If you're travelling with a large group or family, expect that you might not have assigned seating with a third-party flight booking. But, it never hurts to ask at the counter.
- Ensure you know the fees for carry-on bags, checked luggage, flight changes, and cancellations before you book through a third-party.
- Confirm how you will receive updates on flights so you don't miss a notification about a rescheduled or cancelled flight. Download an app like FlightAware, FlightStats or GateGuru so you can track your flight as a backup.
- Read the reviews so you know what other travellers have gone through before you make your reservation to avoid your own travel nightmare.
For a better travel experience, book directly through the hotel, airline or car rental company, to maintain leverage and benefits. You can ask for more perks and upgrades, and use or accrue points.
Lastly, always purchase travel insurance before your trip. It can include lost and damaged baggage coverage, flight delay and cancellation coverage, and medical coverage. That way you have a smooth trip whether you book through a third-party or direct.
Shopping online and comparing rates can mean big savings. After booking your trip, search for the best travel insurance rates on InsuranceHotline.com.