Airline vouchers are beginning to expire — now what?

Jan 6, 2021

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The coronavirus first came stateside about a year ago, and now many travelers are sitting on airline vouchers that are set to expire shortly.

In early 2020, health agencies began warning about the uncontrolled spread of the virus, with many travelers opting to cancel upcoming trips in light of stay-at-home or quarantine orders.

In response, airlines started offering future travel credit for voluntary itinerary changes in late February and beyond. (When a flight is canceled or significantly changed by the airline, you’re entitled to a cash refund.) 

While carriers have improved these flexible change and cancelation policies in recent months — many permanently eliminating change fees altogether — there’s still one big issue: airline tickets and vouchers expire.

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For some flyers, they’ve already learned the lesson the hard way.

Two of America’s largest budget airlines, Frontier and Spirit, have some of the strictest expiration policies around. Denver-based Frontier is currently waiving change and cancel fees, but flights must be rebooked within 90 days from the date of cancellation, hardly enough time for a would-be traveler to avoid pandemic-era travel.

Eddie Medellin, a TPG reader, booked his family for their first trip to Disney World on Frontier. When it became clear that his June 2020 visit to Mickey wasn’t happening, Medellin canceled and received a voucher good for 90 days.

He’s since rebooked twice, with the hope of heading to Denver at the end of January. “Even for a low-cost carrier, Frontier’s future travel credit and vouchers expire super quickly,” he told TPG.

Miramar, Florida-based Spirit isn’t much better. Most reservation credits expire within 60 days, though some issued due to COVID-19 have been extended to May 31, 2021 — still well before many flyers will likely be ready to take to the skies again.

Other flyers have a little bit more time before needing to worry about voucher expiration.

American Airlines no longer charges change fees for most domestic and international flights. However, tickets must be used within one year of the date of issue. Due to the pandemic, the Fort Worth-based carrier has made an exception: tickets expiring between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 can be used for travel through Dec. 31, 2021.

If you canceled a flight in February 2020, however, you’re out of luck and must use your remaining value in the next eight weeks.

Of the Big 3, Delta has been the most generous — most credits have been extended through December 2022, giving flyers plenty of time to use their tickets.

United Airlines, on the other hand, is the strictest of that group.

For flights booked between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, the value of the ticket can be applied to a new flight for travel up to one year from the original issue date. Unless the trajectory of the pandemic drastically changes, many United tickets will likely go unused.

Internationally, the story varies widely.

Emirates — one of the world’s largest carriers — offers flyers two years from the date of purchase to use flight credits. TPG’s Caitlin Riddell canceled a ticket in April 2020, and she was initially worried that her $579.47 would expire one year later. Fortunately, the Dubai-based carrier has extended ticket validity to 24 months in recent months.

Singapore Airlines, which largely serves destinations closed to U.S. citizens, is expiring most tickets within one year of the original date of purchase — definitely not enough time for most flyers to take a long-haul trip.

Alaska and Southwest have recognized that ticket expiration is a pain point for many travelers. For a limited time, both carriers offered the ability to convert vouchers into points that don’t expire. Unfortunately, both of those promotions have ended, but perhaps they’ll return in the new year.

Medellin, the Frontier flyer with multiple canceled trips, told TPG that “I wonder if there was anything I could’ve done to extend my voucher expiration dates.”

Well, flyers with expiring credits should try reaching out to the airline to seek extensions. Frontier has been notoriously stingy, but it can’t hurt to ask.

Ashley Neyer told TPG that her Delta travel voucher was set to expire in July 2020. She reached out to the company via chat and they extended the certificate to December 2021. “They made a lifetime customer here,” she exclaimed.

Otherwise, some flyers, including TPG reader Rachel Willoughby, have had success purchasing cheap airfare with expiring credits and then receiving the fare difference on a new voucher with extended expirations.

It remains to be seen if airlines will issue blanket extensions to expiring vouchers, though. Hopefully, they will; if not, it might pay to book something now — with the hope that the pandemic ends sooner rather than later.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

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