An enjoyable holiday begins with careful preparation long before you pack your bags.
Learn About Your Destination
If you plan to travel outside of Canada, check the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade travel website to find out more about your destination.
Choosing a Travel Agent
Travel professionals are licensed or registered in some jurisdictions. Check with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office. Here are some questions to ask before choosing a travel agent:
- Has the agent completed a training program?
- Has he or she travelled widely?
- How many years has the agency or operator been in business?
- Does the agency or agent belong to a travel agents' association or related organization?
Many agencies belong to professional travel or trade associations. Members must usually meet certain requirements for training, staffing and financing. Here are the names of a few of these associations:
- Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors (CITC): This is Canada's national association for travel agents. It monitors professional standards and training, and offers approved courses for travel agents. Certified Travel Counsellors are members who have passed CITC-administered exams and worked three years as full-time agents.
- International Air Transport Association (IATA): Travel agencies displaying the IATA designation are authorized to sell tickets for IATA-member airlines.
- Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC): Affiliated agencies are authorized to sell domestic airline tickets.
- Association of Canadian Travel Associations (ACTA): Members must follow a code of ethics and standards.
Dealing with firms that are affiliated with these groups does not guarantee that you won't have problems, but it does give some measure of security.
Purchasing Travel Services Online
You may also purchase travel services online, without using a travel agency. See "Online Shopping" for advice on being a smart online shopper. It is important to note that online travel services may not offer the same protection as a travel agency should you encounter problems with travel arrangements you booked online (if the company goes out of business, for example). Always read the fine print before purchasing, since some offers might include very limited restrictions on modifications or cancellation. Also check with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office or travel industry association about rules that apply where you live. For example, in some provinces, online travel companies have to be registered members of the provincial industry association in order for consumer protection laws to apply.
Check Your Insurance Needs
While most holidays go smoothly, it makes sense to be prepared for problems that may arise. Think about what would happen if you lost your luggage or became ill in another country, or your tour operator or airline went bankrupt. Smart travellers protect themselves from financial loss or other problems by getting the right insurance.
- Be warned that in some countries, health services cost much more than they do in Canada. Once you travel outside Canada, you are responsible for any medical and hospital costs that exceed rates set by your province or territory. You would be wise to buy additional medical coverage to pay for the difference.
- Many health and accident insurance policies do not cover every circumstance or medical problems you already have, such as a heart condition. Read the policies carefully.
- Check with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office to determine whether there is a consumer compensation plan where you live, in case your travel agent or other travel supplier defaults or goes bankrupt. Depending on where you live, you may want to obtain insurance against possible failure of the travel services supplier.
Review Your Insurance Coverage
Before you buy travel insurance, check what coverage you already have since you may have coverage you are not aware of. For example:
- Your personal property insurance may cover lost or stolen luggage.
- Your car insurance may provide collision and liability coverage for rented automobiles.
- Your credit card may offer baggage, medical and other types of insurance.
- Your provincial or territorial health care plan gives some medical coverage while you are out of the province or territory. If you are going to be out of the province or territory for more than three months, check with your provincial or territorial health care plan to see whether this will affect your coverage.
- Your existing private health care insurance plan may also provide for out of country health expenses. If it does, be sure to check what expenses it covers and for what amount.
By reviewing what coverage you already have, you can determine what additional insurance you may want to get.
Here are some things you should know to help eliminate unnecessary delays when going through airport security and to help you have a safe trip.
- Know how early you should arrive at the airport. Check with your airline, because check-in times may vary by airline and destination. You may also want to call the airport to ensure your flight is on time before heading to the airport. Flight delays or cancellations may occur.
- Find out how many pieces of luggage you are allowed to take with you and how much each piece may weigh. Checked and carry-on baggage limits vary by airline and destination. There may also be fees for checked luggage.
- Pack your own bags; never let someone else do it.
- Make sure electronic devices such as cellphones, laptop computers and portable or electronic games are charged and ready to turn on for inspection when going through airport security.
- There are restrictions on what you may have in your carry-on luggage, including liquids, sharp objects and non-prescription drugs. Find out what restrictions are in place before you go to the airport. Check all airports from which you will be departing. If you have packed a restricted item in your carry-on, you will be required to leave the item behind at the airport before boarding the aircraft.
- Pack prescription medication in its original, labelled container and carry all medications in your carry-on baggage along with details of your condition and treatment. It is important to carry it with you in case you require it during the flight or if your luggage is lost. It is also wise to carry a copy of your prescription with you, especially for international travel and be aware of any side effects of the drugs you may be taking before taking your flight.
Visit the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) for more information on passenger and baggage screening.
To view a complete list of useful tips related to air travel, visit the Transport Canada website.
Air Travel Complaints
After first attempting to resolve an issue with an air carrier, you may file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) if you feel carriers have not complied with their tariff, or feel it is unclear, unjust, unreasonable or unduly discriminatory.
The Agency helps hundreds of individuals every year to resolve their disputes with air transportation service providers. As an economic regulator, the Agency ensures air carriers are meeting the legislative and regulatory requirements under the Canada Transportation Act, other Canadian regulations, as well as international conventions and agreements.
The Agency can address complaints such as:
- baggage issues,
- flight disruptions,
- tickets and reservations,
- denied boarding (for example, due to overbooking),
- refusal to transport (because of late arrival or because of missing travel documents),
- fares and charges,
- cargo (like animals), and
- loyalty programs if they are owned by the carrier (this excludes Aeroplan® and Air Miles®, which are independent).
- Air fares and cargo rates on monopoly routes (within Canada, the Agency can investigates complaints and monitors airline prices on monopoly routes)
- Accessible transportation (the Agency resolves complaints and works to ensure that air carriers remove undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities).
Although the Agency can handle many complaints in the areas of air transportation that are regulated by the federal government, there are some disputes that it cannot handle, such as:
- the quality of food that is served to you, or
- the manners of the transportation provider's employees.
In all cases, the Agency assesses your case against the carrier’s tariff—the contract between you and the air carrier that includes the terms and conditions of carriage. An air carrier is free to set the terms and conditions contained in its tariff so long as the terms and conditions meet certain legislative requirements.Tariffs are required to be:
- just, reasonable, not unduly discriminatory;
- applied by the carrier; and
- consistent with international agreements or conventions to which Canada is a signatory.
People wishing to make a complaint about an air carrier may do so via the Agency's informal complaint handling process by complete an on-line complaint form.
Other Ways to Travel
For your trip, you may also choose to travel by sea or land (including rail, bus or auto). To find more information on any of these forms of travel, contact Transport Canada.
Renting a Car
A car rental company takes a risk every time it hands over the keys to one of its vehicles. The rental agreement is, as a consequence, a complex contract. It is important to read that contract carefully and to understand what you are agreeing to and what your obligations are. You should also consider your insurance needs ahead of time.
The most important insurance is third-person liability. This covers any damage you may do to another person or their property if you have an accident. Third-person liability does not cover any damage to the vehicle itself.
Third-person liability insurance should be automatically included in the car rental contract. If it is your first time dealing with a particular firm, you should ask about third-person liability and how much coverage you are getting. Some consumers may want more coverage than what is normally provided.
If you own a car, your existing insurance policy may cover third-person liability on any other vehicles you drive, including rentals. This will be specified in your insurance contract, but a quick call to your insurance company will also give you the answer.
The most common way to cover damage to the vehicle is to purchase something from the car rental company that is typically called a "collision damage waiver". Consumers who only rent occasionally may decide the waiver is woth purchasing. If you rent more often, there are two alternatives. You can ask your regular insurance company to add rental car collision coverage to your regular policy. You can also ask your credit card company about collision coverage on car rentals you pay for with their credit card. Collision coverage is usually conditional on your obeying the conditions in the rental agreement.
Environmentally Responsible Consumer Tip:
Consider that travelling by train or bus is much less damaging to the environment than travelling by plane or car. For instance, estimates of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions, in grams, per passenger, per kilometer (based on actual number of seats filled) for planes and automobiles are almost twice the estimates for trains and buses. (Source: Environment Canada, 1995 estimates)