The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against WestJet over the company’s policy that “travel bank credits” expire after one year.
The court ruled that the credits do not function like prepaid gift cards, which legally cannot expire under B.C. consumer protection laws. WestJet’s travel bank credits have two classifications: “hard credits” which are issued for flight changes and cancellations — which can be extended for a small fee — and “soft credits” which are commonly issued to customers in the event of flight cancellations, lost luggage and flight changes and cannot be extended.
In a unanimous decision, the court found that plaintiff Tiana Sharifi did not prepay for the credit itself, but rather a flight with WestJet that she voluntarily cancelled.
Justice Patrice Abrioux wrote that when considering the “entirely contingent” nature of WestJet travel bank credits, it is “plain and obvious” that they cannot be prepaid and thus did not meet the definition of a prepaid credit or gift card.
B.C.’s Consumer Protection Act states that a “prepaid card” is defined as a card, written certificate or other voucher or device with a monetary value that is issued or sold to a person in exchange for the future supply of goods or services to a consumer, and includes a gift card and gift certificate, but does not include a cash card.
Sharifi’s case was certified as a class action suit under a 2020 B.C. Supreme Court ruling, but Arbioux ruled that the previous Justice erred in their judgement, stating Sharifi’s case was “bound to fail” as the travel bank credits did not meet the requirements to be considered a prepaid gift card. Sharifi argued that it would absurd for the legislation not to be interpreted to include a device such as an in-store credit, but Arbioux disagreed.
“If contingent credits are to be subject to the provisions of consumer protection legislation either in this or the other provinces in question, then that is the prerogative of the legislatures, not the courts,” he wrote.
The case was brought after Sharifi was issued a $993.23 credit for a round-trip flight from Vancouver to Paris in 2018. She did use $571 on a flight to Calgary, however, the remaining $428 was lost when her credit expired.