Rebooking airline tickets: How to sort out various vouchers and credits for future flights

With vaccines here, it may soon be time to reschedule vacations and other trips for later this year

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Jacob van Cleef
Consumer Watchdog, Associate

Author: Jacob van Cleef

Consumer Watchdog, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.A. Villanova University

Jacob works to advance U.S. PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog campaign. He graduated from Villanova University, majoring in Economics and Political Science and minoring in Peace & Justice. While originally from Detroit, Jacob now lives in Philadelphia, where he enjoys soccer, listening to podcasts and cooking.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, flights and travel plans have routinely been canceled. With vaccines beginning to be available across the country, many Americans may be smiling at the thought of traveling again -- when it's safe, perhaps later this year. 

It’s still unclear how well COVID-19 will be dealt with this year, so trips and flights that consumers are planning may still need to change or be canceled. Since the pandemic hit American shores, consumers who canceled flights received different types of credits and vouchers.

Before agreeing to credits or vouchers, consumers should ask for a full refund. Refunds are more useful because having money in your pocket gives you more control than money that’s good only for a flight with a specific airline. Airlines prefer giving credits or vouchers, so consumers may need to be persistent to get a refund. If consumers are unsatisfied with how problems were solved, they can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Sometimes refunds cannot be acquired, so it’s important to understand the different credits and vouchers.

Listed below are the 10 largest airlines in the United States (listed by market share), according to the Department of Transportation, and the credits they give out. In general, the credits and vouchers are extremely complicated to understand. Sometimes there are date restrictions for usage, or complicated situations dictating under what circumstances they can or cannot be used. It’s also important to know when the credit/voucher expires because even though most expire after a year, that is not always the case. 

The list below should help you know what the airline is giving you, But whenever an airline offers you something instead of a refund, ask for a refund instead. If the airline won’t give you a refund, make sure you know all of your options and what the credits cover.


American: 
American Airlines has three types of credits. There are flight credits, travel vouchers and trip credits. 

Flight credits can be used only on flights, not on extra bags or other extras. It can be used only by the person who was given the flight credit within a year of it being issued except if the flight was canceled due to COVID-19. Flights canceled due to COVID-19 must be booked by Dec. 31, 2021.The flight credits can be used on multiple flights until they are all used.

Travel vouchers can be electronic or paper vouchers. Travel vouchers received for the difference between flight exchange can be used only on flights, not on extra bags or other extras. It can be used by the person who was given the flight credit within a year of it being issued to buy a flight for anyone. Paper vouchers cannot be replaced if lost. They will be replaced by trip credits after once the pandemic is over

Trip credits are issued for the difference between flight exchanges and expire a year after being issued. Eight credits can be redeemed and used on a single trip.

 

Southwest:
Southwest Airlines has one type of refund credit. Customers can get travel funds instead of a refund for any flight if they want. Some flights are nonrefundable, so travel funds are the only option when canceling those flights. They must be booked within a year of being issued and used only for flights. Customers have the funds until they run out or the funds expire. 

 

Delta:
Delta Airlines has three types of credits. Customers receive Delta Travel Vouchers for the difference between prices of flights when exchanging tickets. Delta Dollars are given for inability to board due to overbooked flights. Transportation Credit Vouchers are given in response to service issues. Delta adds them to a customer’s profile, and they do not disappear until they get fully used.

 

United:
United Airlines has two types of credits. Of the two credits, Travel Certificates are as good or better than Future Flight Credits in every way, except that Travel Certificates cannot be used on partner airlines, as Future Flight Credits can. Travel Certificates can be used up to two years in the future on multiple flights until the value is completely used, while Future Flight Credits can be used on a single flight within a year, with any unused credits being lost. If issued between May 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, the Future Flight Credits must be used within two years, with any unused credits being lost. United also restricts what days Future Flight Credits can be used. 

 

Alaska:
Alaska Airlines has Credit Certificates for exchanging or canceling non-refundable tickets. Customers can use their Credit Certificates a year after buying the original ticket, or 30 days after canceling the flight, whichever is later. The Credit Certificates stay on a customer’s profile until fully used or they expire. They cannot be exchanged for money or used on anything other than the ticket itself.

 

JetBlue:
JetBlue issues two travel credits. Travel Bank Credits and Vacation Travel Credits are similar, with the key distinction being that Bank Credits can be used only for flights, cancellation fees and taxes on flights. Vacation Travel Credits can be used on an entire vacation package. 

Both types of credits must be used within a year of being issued and can be used for someone other than the person the credit was issued to, but Vacation Travel Credits cannot be used for online purchases.

 

Spirit:
Spirit Airlines has two types of credits. Of the two, Reservation Credits are better than Future Travel Vouchers. The Credits can be applied to tickets, bags, seats, vacation packages, fees and taxes, while the Vouchers can be applied only to tickets, fees, taxes and other services related to flights. Reservation Credits have to be used by the person they are issued to within a year of being issued, unless issued after June 1, 2020. Credits issued after June 1, 2020, expire on May 31, 2021. Credits stay on a profile until fully used. Vouchers also must be used within a year of being issued. A voucher can be used only on a single purchase, with any leftover value on the voucher being lost. Spirit also restricts the dates the vouchers can be used on for flights.

 

Frontier: 
Frontier has two types of credits. Of the two, Flight Credits are better than Flight Vouchers. Neither can be transferred to another person. Both can be used for future flights. Credits must be used within a year of being issued, but vouchers must be used (with flights booked) within 90 days of being issued. While credits can be used on as many flights as needed until they’re fully used, vouchers can be used only on one flight, with any leftover value going to waste.

 

SkyWest:
SkyWest operates flights on behalf of other airlines. When trying to cancel flights with SkyWest and other airlines that operate flights on behalf of others, make sure to find out what company the flight is operated for. Other companies manage the cancelations and credits.

 

Hawaiian:
Hawaiian Airlines offer Travel Credits. Travel Credits must be used (flight booked) within a year of being issued by the customer it is issued to. A Travel Credit can be used once, so if the credits are used on flight that is cheaper than the value of the credits, leftover credits are lost. 

Jacob van Cleef
Consumer Watchdog, Associate

Author: Jacob van Cleef

Consumer Watchdog, Associate

Started on staff: 2020
B.A. Villanova University

Jacob works to advance U.S. PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog campaign. He graduated from Villanova University, majoring in Economics and Political Science and minoring in Peace & Justice. While originally from Detroit, Jacob now lives in Philadelphia, where he enjoys soccer, listening to podcasts and cooking.