Senators demand airlines offer refunds, extend expiration dates of pandemic vouchers
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
U.S. airline customers are sitting on more than 20 million expiring airline vouchers and flight credits worth more than a combined $10 billion. Now, two U.S. senators are demanding that airlines waive those expiration dates for all credits issued during the pandemic.
Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) co-signed a letter to each of the major U.S.-based airlines on Monday, demanding that airlines either offer cash refunds instead of vouchers, or extend the expiration dates to give passengers more time to use them.
Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!
“In light of the ongoing pandemic and looming expiration dates for flight credits, we fear that countless consumers will be unable to redeem their flight credits or will redeem them at a loss,” the senators wrote in the letter, which was shared with TPG. “Worse, without removing expiration dates, your company may be encouraging travelers to fly before they feel safe boarding a plane, lest they lose tickets that they have already purchased with hard-earned dollars.”
The demands which come with come after the federal government provided more than $50 billion in air for the struggling airline industry during the pandemic.
The senators also introduced legislation that would require major airlines and third-party ticket sellers to offer full cash refunds for all cancelled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic, though the prospects for such a bill are unclear.
Either way, it’s far from the first time during the pandemic that vouchers have been in the news — or that Markey and Blumenthal have confronted the airlines about the topic.
Although airlines largely waived change fees when the pandemic began to shut down global travel — and have since decided to waive them permanently, aside from trips booked in basic economy — they stopped short of providing cash refunds for unused tickets.
Even in cases where they were required to make refunds available, such as instances when the airline itself canceled a flight, the carriers attempted to steer customers to opt for flight credits, prompting several warnings from the Department of Transportation.
Over the course of the pandemic, the biggest four airlines — American, Delta, Southwest and United — had issued around 21.5 million credits and vouchers, worth a combined $10.4 billion, a previous analysis by TPG found. The value of vouchers issued by smaller commercial carriers, including JetBlue and Alaska, were typically under $1 billion each.
Some of those credits and vouchers are being put to work, tying up airline reservation phone lines as customers try to determine the best way to use the credits before they expire. During United’s earnings call with investors in April, chief operating officer Andrew Nocella said that about 12% of all new tickets for travel with United were being purchased with credits.
Despite airlines typically allowing credits and vouchers to be redeemed online, policies can be confusing — especially with new pandemic-era policies — and passengers may have multiple credits that are complicated or unable to be combined.
In the letter, the senators repeated previous calls for airlines to provide cash refunds for flights canceled during the pandemic, or to at least stop the credits from expiring.
“We must first reiterate our belief that your airline should offer a cash refund for all tickets on flights canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, whether canceled by the airline or traveler,” Markey and Blumenthal wrote. “However, even as we continue to push for these cash refunds, it is imperative that, at a minimum, your company does not subject pandemic-related flight credits to an expiration date.”
The letter called on airlines to provide the senators with answers to a series of questions by May 28. Copies of the letter were sent to American, Delta, United, Southwest, Allegiant, Alaska, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Spirit.
If you have vouchers or credits that are set to expire, you may have a few options — and some airlines have already issued one-time extensions.
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.
Be sure to check out our list of major US airline voucher and credit policies, and how to use them.
Are you an airline employee or industry insider? Message this reporter with tips, feedback, or opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees