WestJet airline credits not prepaid purchase cards; expiry dates not prohibited: BC Court of Appeal

Credits were given in lieu of refund for non-refundable flights, not as gift cards

WestJet airline credits not prepaid purchase cards; expiry dates not prohibited: BC Court of Appeal
Airline credits are given for a variety of reasons, including cancellation of flights

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has ruled that airline credits given to passengers for cancelled flight reservations are not akin to prepaid purchase cards or gift cards on which relevant statutes prohibit expiry dates.

In Sharifi v. WestJet Airlines Ltd., 2022 BCCA 149, WestJet Airlines issued travel bank credits (WTB credits) for several reasons, including cancellation of non-refundable flight reservations. Tiana Sharifi received WTB credits after voluntarily cancelling her WestJet flight. These credits expired after one year.

In 2020, she filed a notice of application seeking an order certifying the action as a class proceeding. She argued that WTB credits were similar to a prepaid purchase card or gift card under the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, S.B.C. 2004, c. 2 (BPCPA) and other relevant provincial statutes, which prohibit expiry dates on such cards.

The chambers judge certified the proceeding, determining that it was not plain and obvious that WTB credits are not “prepaid purchase cards” or “gift cards,” and ruling that at that stage, the mere fact that a consideration of evidence is required to determine the issue is sufficient for Sharifi to meet the requirements of s. 4(1)(a) of the Class Proceedings Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 50 (CPA).

On appeal, Westjet argued that there was no reasonable cause of action since WTB credits are not “prepaid purchase cards” or “gift cards” under the statutory definitions.

The appellate court agreed.

Prepaid purchase cards and gift cards “refer to a card, written certificate, or other voucher or device with a monetary value which has a prepaid fixed amount which the purchaser or gift card holder may use up to the amount that has been prepaid, or ‘topped up’,” said the court. The WTB credits did not meet that definition in the BPCPA or legislation of other provinces, said the court.

The appellate court found that Sharifi paid for a flight – she did not purchase a prepaid card or a fixed amount of WTB credits for future use. These credits were given to her in consideration for her non-refundable ticket, said the court.

“When the entirely contingent nature of the WTB Credits is considered, it is plain and obvious that they could not be ‘prepaid’; they represent an entirely different form of financial product or device than that which is contemplated in s. 56.1 of the BPCPA and the other relevant statutes,” said the court.

Granted these findings, the appellate court ruled that Sharifi failed to satisfy the requirements of the CPA and dismissed the action.

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