If you had a trip planned in 2020 that was canceled by the airline, or you decided not to go because of the pandemic, the good news is that you may already have a little bit of money for your next big trip. As airlines were grounded and flyers were safer at home after the pandemic hit, those who were forced to rethink their plans may have travel vouchers to be used at a later date!
If you have them, congratulations, you are closer to a vacation than most! However, you may have a limited time to use those towards a future trip, so pay attention. Here’s what you need to know about using your COVID-19 travel vouchers with the airlines and how to get the full value before they expire.
Check to see if you have a travel voucher
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, state and local governments reacted by issuing semi-lockdown orders. As a result, offices were closed and only “essential businesses,” like grocery stores and pharmacies, could continue regular operations.
For airlines, this resulted in thousands of canceled flights, affecting tens of thousands of passengers. Data from Airlines Reporting Corporation shows in between February and April 2020, passenger travel dropped by over 90%. In many of these situations, travelers were given vouchers for the value of their flight instead of refunds, with the promise they could be used towards future travel.
If you booked a flight in 2020, and it was canceled by the airline, you may have an unused balance available to use towards a future flight. However, if your flight was canceled for another reason – such as missing your flight due to oversleeping – you may not have one available.
There are two ways to check if you have an airline voucher:
- If you are a member of an airline’s frequent flyer program and used your program number when booking your flight, any vouchers may be tied to your frequent flyer number. To see if you have a voucher available, simply log in to your account. This may only work if you used the frequent flyer number associated with that airline’s account (for example: using your American AAdvantage number booking an American flight). It may not work if you used a number from a partner frequent flyer program (as an example: using your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan number on an American Airlines flight).
- Visit your airline’s website, and select the tab reading “My Trips” or “Manage my Trips.” From there, you can use your name and PNR number (the six-character confirmation number from your trip) to check your status and if you have a travel voucher available from that ticket.
How to use your travel vouchers
Because travel vouchers are the result of a canceled flight, they are designed to allow travelers to rebook flights whenever it is most convenient. The vouchers can be used up to their face value to book another trip with the airline. It does not necessarily have to replace the canceled flight – it can be used towards a ticket on any route the carrier flies.
There are two ways to use your voucher. The easiest way to rebook a flight with the travel credit is to go on the airline’s website and access the flight credit, either through your frequent flyer program or through the trip management option. From there, you can use the flight credit to book a new trip.
If you don’t have quick access to a computer, you can also rebook by calling the airline’s customer service phone number. You will need to provide information about the canceled flight, including the 6-character PNR number and the 13-digit ticket number. Those details can be found in the email confirming your canceled flight.
Can I get my travel voucher extended?
In most situations, your travel voucher is only good for one year from the date the original flight was canceled. Once the voucher expires, it cannot be extended or otherwise redeemed.
However, if your flight voucher was canceled in 2020, it may already be extended by the airline. If you have questions about how long your voucher is good for, contact the carrier’s customer service team directly for assistance.
Air travel voucher policies: an airline-by-airline guide
When it comes to travel vouchers, every carrier has slightly different policies and expiration dates. I’ve gathered the policies from the major U.S.-based airlines to help you navigate how best to use your travel vouchers.
Alaska Airlines travel voucher policy
In most situations, Alaska Airlines’ travel credit certificates are valid for one year from their issuance. However, all credit certificates and wallet funds set to expire in 2021 are valid until the end of this year. Travel certificates must be used before the expiration date and can be booked for travel 11 months out. To book travel, you will need to use both the certificate code and PIN, sent in two different emails.
American Airlines travel voucher policy
According to American’s travel voucher policy, the expiration date depends on when and how your flight was canceled. If you voluntarily canceled your flight during the COVID-19 flexible period, the value of your ticket can be used for travel through March 31, 2022.
Some voucher extension dates were already extended, based on the ongoing situation. Vouchers that were set to expire between Jan. 1 and May 31, 2021, have already been extended to expire by March 31, 2022. Otherwise, vouchers set to expire between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, may be able to be extended by a year by contacting the airline’s customer relations team.
Delta Air Lines travel voucher policy
Delta’s policy is a little more lenient than other airlines. All vouchers that were set to expire in 2021 will expire on Dec. 31, 2022. In addition, if you are forced to change a flight in 2021 on a new ticket, the value of that ticket will not expire until Dec. 31, 2022. All other vouchers will expire one year from the issuing date.
The airline also extended the expiration date of Companion Certificates that were active as of March 1, 2020. Those certificates had an additional six months of validity added to their original expiration date.
Frontier Airlines travel voucher policy
As a low-cost airline, Frontier Airlines has the strictest voucher policy. Vouchers on flights must be booked within 90 days from when they were issued and are one-time use only. No matter how you use the voucher, there will be no remaining value after you use the voucher.
If you decide to make a change to an existing ticket – like postponing a trip – there are some options available. Under their change policy, tickets changed 60 days before departure are free, but you will have to pay the difference in fare and option prices. Changes made between 59 and 7 days before a trip will cost $39 per person, per direction, while changes made six days or less before the trip (including same-day changes) cost $59 per person, per direction.
Southwest Airlines travel voucher policy
Even prior to the pandemic, Southwest Airlines has the most flexible change policy. Although you cannot get a refund on their lowest fee class (Wanna Get Away fares), Southwest charges no cancellation fees and no change fees. Travel credits must be used within one year from the original purchase date, with all travel on the credits complete by the expiration date. That is: if you book a flight on June 15, 2021, and decide to cancel it, your full trip – outbound and return flights – must be completed by June 15, 2022.
Spirit Airlines travel voucher policy
Despite being a “low-cost carrier,” Spirit Airlines has extended the expiration date for all reservation credits issued from March 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. The credits are available for travel completed by Dec. 31, 2021. Credits can be booked on Spirit’s website, or by calling their customer service number.
All newly issued credits are only valid for 60 days from when they were issued and can only be used by the passenger they were issued to. If they’re not used in time, the value would expire.
United Airlines travel voucher policy
If you have a voucher with United Airlines, your expiration date will depend on when your travel was booked. For tickets issued between May 1, 2019, and March 31, 2021, the vouchers are valid for travel commencing by March 31, 2022. All other vouchers are valid for one year from the date they were issued.
If you are sitting on an airline voucher, your time to use it is running out. If it was issued during the height of the pandemic, your expiration date may be extended until Dec. 31, 2021 – but policies will change depending on the carrier.
It’s important to check the value and expiration date of your travel voucher as soon as possible, so you don’t lose the value of your credits. Even if you aren’t comfortable flying today, understanding when it expires and how you can use it towards a future trip will save you money down the line.