Travelers are sitting on more than $10 billion in airline credits — here's what do to do before they expire
If you had to cancel a vacation last year because of the pandemic, there's a good chance you have travel credits or vouchers with an airline, just waiting to be used.
In fact, TPG estimates that more than 20 million vouchers worth more than a collective $10 billion were issued as a result of canceled trips in 2020, even as airlines also refunded billions of dollars of cash.
Now, as COVID-19 vaccination ramps up and Americans planning their first trips in more than a year, some of those credits are at risk of expiring.
"I'd guess Americans are sitting on more outstanding flight vouchers than have ever existed in aviation history," said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights. "It'd be a shame for them to go to waste."
Part of the problem is that rules and policies surrounding vouchers can be complex and vary by airline — like many other airline policies.
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United, for example, issues "travel certificates" and "future flight credits." According to a representative for the airline, credits issued for tickets issued between May 1, 2019 and March 31, 2021 will be valid through March 31, 2022. Tickets purchased April 1, 2021 and later will be valid for 12 months from purchase.
At American, on the other hand, "flight credits" must be used within a year of the issue date, although any credits set to expire before March 31, 2021 have been extended to the March 31, 2022. "Vouchers," on the other hand, must be used within a year of issue.
Because of varying policies and different types of credits, the best thing travelers can do, Keyes said, is take a look at their credit or voucher's terms and conditions.
"You can go out and memorize all the different rules, but if you're curious about your specific vouchers, the best way to know how to use it is pull it up and read the fine print," he said.
You should also make sure to see whether the voucher must be used by a certain date to book a later trip, or whether you have to actually fly by that expiration date.
More: How to use outstanding airline vouchers before they expire
If you're not quite ready to travel yet, he said, you could always try asking the airline for help, either by extending the credit or helping you figure out a way to use it before it's too late.
"Airlines are being far more accommodating now," he said. "Now with airlines hungry for more bookings and more excitement, they're much more accommodating to requests than they have been before."
There's also a chance that further extensions are issued, given that the pandemic has gone on for longer than was originally expected. For instance, Delta reportedly extended all tickets and vouchers issued before April 17, 2020 to make them valid through 2022.