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Air Canada travellers wait at the check-in area in Montreal in this file photo. (OLIVIER JEAN/REUTERS)
Air Canada travellers wait at the check-in area in Montreal in this file photo. (OLIVIER JEAN/REUTERS)

Why not upgrade? Gift cards arrive at Air Canada Add to ...

Air Canada is introducing new gift cards as impulse buying creeps further and further into air travel.

The cards can be purchased online from Air Canada, as electronic or regular plastic cards, in amounts from $25 to $10,000. They can be redeemed toward the purchase of tickets or options such as advanced seat selection when reserving a ticket online. By the end of June, the cards will be good for making purchases at Air Canada airport check-in counters.

Air Canada said Thursday that it is the first Canadian airline to offer a gift card which doesn’t expire and is transferable. Porter Airlines sells gift certificates too which are transferable, although some of the fine print about how they can be used may be different.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. used to sell gift certificates until it changed its reservation system in 2009, but it said Thursday it hopes to sell them again “in the next two or three years.”

Air Canada’s vice-president of marketing, Chris Landry, said the idea came from staff and customers asking about gift cards. Many of the comments landed in the airline’s in-house, electronic suggestion box dubbed “Creative Juices.”

“Sometimes simple ideas are pretty simple. The truth is, the gift card is really about giving customers what they want,” Mr. Landry said.

The cards are arriving as air travellers are increasingly confronted with numerous options to upgrade, for different bundles of services or for individual perks. These perks, such as reserved seating or admission to special waiting lounges, are strategically offered when completing an online reservation or checking in at the airport.

“They are flogging it like crazy everyplace you go. At the gate, before you push the button [online], you always look at what the option is to have a better seat,” said Suzanne Christie, president of the online travel-industry journal Open Jaw Network.

Mr. Landry said the cards are not geared toward impulse buying, but are a response to something requested from customers over the years.

Still, by selling gift cards, Air Canada is getting money ahead of the actual final purchase, “which is kind of a nice thing to have when you’re in business,” Ms. Christie noted.

Follow on Twitter: @Guy_Dixon

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