I love airline vouchers. Sure, the price for obtaining them is usually several aggravating hours in the airport — but then, you have an unexpected free (or discounted flight) in your hand. To me, a flight voucher feels like a permission slip to travel wherever you want.
Redeeming vouchers isn’t always as easy as it looks, however. Here are a few tips for using them without running afoul of airline rules.
There’s an art to getting the biggest flight voucher you can. Some frequent travelers advise volunteering to get bumped before the gate agent even asks, so you can be first on the list. Others say you should wait, because airlines sometimes increase the amount they’re offering if they can’t get enough volunteers. Whatever your circumstances, make sure you ask questions before you accept an airline voucher: When does the voucher expire? Are there blackout dates or other restrictions? Here are a few more tips for what to do when you get bumped.
Now you’ve got an airline voucher (or two or three) in hand. Victory! Before you start planning your trip to Paris, take a close look at the voucher and the airline’s restrictions. Here are a few airlines’ voucher policies (as of early 2017):
• American Airlines: American Airlines’ eVouchers are valid for one year from date of issue and may be used for travel on American Airlines and American Eagle carriers, as well as oneworld partners and AA Codeshare, for flights originating in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Up to eight vouchers may be redeemed for one purchase. American sometimes issues paper vouchers, which must be redeemed by mail or at the airport ticket desk.1 Here’s American Airlines’ voucher policy.
• Delta Air Lines: Delta Dollars are given for denied boarding compensation from an oversold flight; Transportation Credit Vouchers are given as compensation for a service issue. Both are considered eCredits, which may be used for Delta tickets, plus government taxes and fees. Here’s information on Delta’s flight vouchers.
• Southwest Airlines: Southwest issues LUV vouchers not only when you get bumped, but also for refunds issued due when you cancel or change a flights. They’re generally valid for one year from date of issue. Passengers can look up their voucher balance online, using past flight confirmation numbers. Here’s Southwest Airlines’ voucher policy.
• Spirit Airlines: Spirit’s Future Travel Vouchers are more restrictive than other airlines’: They’re only applied to the flight portion of base fare, excluding carrier fees, and must be used to book a flight within 60 days of issuance. Here’s Spirit’s voucher policy.
• United Airlines: United issues electronic travel certificates that may be used for travel on United- and United Express-operated flights, as well as United Express-marketed flights operated by other airlines. Here’s how to redeem United travel vouchers.
If you forget to use your travel vouchers and discover they’ve expired, you’re probably out of luck. Most airlines say, in no uncertain terms, that vouchers have no value after the expiration date. However, there may be a way around this.
“Let’s say you have a voucher expiring today. What you can do is book a FULLY refundable ticket with the voucher say 10 months from now. Then, when you find something you want to spend those funds on, call and say you want to cancel that refundable ticket and use the credits for this new ticket,” suggests travel blog Rene’s Points.2 Will this always work? It’s not guaranteed. But if you ask nicely, airline reps may work with you. For instance, they may let you use a voucher to pay for more than one traveler on the same reservation.
Traveler Kathy Davis says the gate agent told her that her Spirit Airlines vouchers could be used to fly anytime, anywhere, as long as she booked travel within 60 days. But when she tried to use her vouchers for three possible destinations, she was told there were no seats available for any weekend in the next five months.3 If this happens to you, advised Travel Troubleshooter Christopher Elliott, send a “brief, polite email to one of Spirit’s executive contacts,” explaining what happened. When Elliott did this on Davis’ behalf, Spirit gave her new round-trip vouchers with fewer restrictions.
Airline vouchers may feel like play money, but they’re not. You have the right to delayed trip compensation, and you earned your voucher. Consider it payment for the time you spent in the airport, or for the inconvenience of a delayed flight. When you’re redeeming flight vouchers, be sure to purchase travel insurance with trip cancellation benefits, and include the cash value of the voucher(s) when you’re entering your trip costs. That way, if you’re forced to cancel your trip because of covered illness, injury or another covered reason, you won’t lose the value of that voucher. Compare travel insurance plans, read your policy carefully, and enjoy your trip!
Richmond-based travel writer Muriel Barrett has a terrible sense of direction, and has spent many happy hours getting lost in Barcelona, Venice and Jerusalem. Her favorite travel memories all involve wildlife: watching sea turtles nest in Costa Rica, kayaking with seals in Vancouver and meeting a pink tarantula in Martinique.