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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jeff, who waited too long to use travel funds from a canceled flight. Here’s what he had to say:

I was looking forward to a long-awaited vacation to Seattle. I had my non-stop flight from Orlando booked on Delta and I was ready to go. Unfortunately, I got a call from the office saying they needed all hands on deck and I couldn’t leave. This is normal in my line of work, so I generally book on Southwest where I can avoid the pesky $200 change fee. But as annoying as those change fees are, that’s not why I’m writing this.

I canceled my trip and left the credit for my ticket sit unused. My original flight was set for the end of July, 2017, and at the beginning of June, 2018, I remembered I had this credit to burn on Delta. I knew I’d have to pay the change fee, but it was worthwhile for a $600 credit. Little did I know that my credit had already expired back in February, since the remaining ticket value had to be used within one year of the ticket issuance date, not the scheduled flight date.

After doing some research, I realized the same thing would have happened if I booked with other major carriers, including Southwest. Not every fare works like this, but it should be assumed to avoid a mistake like this down the road, and a lot of the ultra low-cost carriers have even stricter rules. I don’t blame the airlines as this is their policy; I need to make sure I know their rules before I cancel. Don’t let this happen to you.

Among the many stories sent in by readers, the most common mistakes are overlooking, misunderstanding or simply failing to read fine print. Airline travel credits have numerous restrictions on how and when they can be redeemed, so whether yours comes from canceling a flight, volunteering your seat or some other source, make sure you check the rules when you first get it. Delta gives you one year from the original date of purchase to use credit from a domestic, non-refundable ticket. All travel must be completed by that date, and any remaining balance will be forfeit. Other carriers have similar but not necessarily identical rules, so heed Jeff’s warning and don’t get caught unaware.

One of the best strategies to avoid change and cancellation fees is to avoid paying them until you have to. Most airlines will waive fees if your schedule has been altered significantly (i.e., more than an hour or two); even a modest adjustment to your itinerary may suffice if you have a compelling reason why they should let you off the hook. You pay the same fee whether you cancel your flight right away or closer to the departure date, so you might as well wait. So long as you cancel before the deadline (different for each carrier), you’ll be no worse off.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jeff for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by fStop Images/Getty Images

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