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Cancelled Trips During COVID-19: Consumer Protection BC Weighs in on Travel Refunds Under the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act

Consumer Protection BC recently issued an advisory informing consumers about their rights under provincial law to receive refunds for travel. Specifically, the advisory suggests, “If eligible consumers take the proper steps to exercise their rights, they should be provided with a full refund in the same way they paid, as outlined in the law.”

This advisory comes only days after Consumer Protection BC released a step-by-step guide that explains how consumers can claim refunds for cancelled travel. The guide requires consumers to first address refunds with their travel supplier, such as airlines and tour operators, before filing a complaint with the regulator.

The Legal Case for Refunds

A consumer’s right to a refund for travel is based on the distance sales contract provisions of the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, S.B.C. 2004, c. 2 (the “BPCPA”).

Under the BPCPA, a distance sales contract is a contract for the supply of goods or services that is not entered into in person and which the consumer does not have the opportunity to inspect.[1] A distance sales contract may include a travel purchase that was made online, through email, fax, or over the phone.

Section 49 of the BPCPA provides a consumer with the ability to cancel a distance sales contract in certain circumstances. In one such circumstance, a consumer can cancel a distance sales contract “at any time before the goods or services are delivered if the goods or services to be delivered under the contract are not delivered to the consumer within 30 days of the supply date”.[2] According to Consumer Protection BC, this means a consumer may cancel their travel service once 30 days have passed from the day they were supposed to travel.

Once a consumer cancels a contract in accordance with section 49 of the BPCPA, the supplier must refund the customer all money received in respect of the contract and any related consumer transaction with 15 days.[3] If the supplier fails to provide a refund, the consumer may recover the refund from the supplier as debt due.[4]

The consumer can also request that their credit card issuer reverse the credit card charge and associated interest if the business does not refund the money as required.[5]

What Does this Mean for Your Business?

Consumers in British Columbia may be able to cancel travel plans they made online, through email, fax, or over the phone, but only in the narrow instances listed in section 49 of the BPCPA.

If a consumer cancels their travel contract for a trip that the travel supplier advised is no longer available, and if at least 30 days has passed since their original intended travel date, the consumer may be entitled to a refund. However, consumers are unlikely to be entitled to a refund for flights and travel plans they cancel themselves, or for travel arrangements they choose not to use. The right to a refund does not apply to travel purchases made in person.

If you have any questions, please contact one of the members of McCarthy Tétrault’s Retail and Consumer Markets Team.

[1] BPCPA, s. 17

[2] BPCPA, s. 49(c)

[3] BPCPA, s. 50

[4] BPCPA, s. 55

[5] BPCPA, s. 52(2)

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