Just under a year ago, when COVID-19 emerged and spread rapidly across the world, many airlines had to collectively cancel thousands of flights and suspend service to numerous destinations. How these cancelations were handled varied from airline to airline – some issued refunds without hesitation, while others issued travel vouchers instead.
Many of the vouchers and travel credits issued were valid for one or two years. With this crisis dragging on and new variants arising, what will happen if credits expire before restrictions are lifted? We asked a number of airlines, and this is what they had to say…
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The question and why it matters
We asked a number of airlines the following question:
“Should a variety of unforeseen circumstances happen this year such as slow vaccine roll-out or subsequent waves of vaccine-resistant variants- how would your airline handle expiring travel credits?”
We posed the question in this way because, in the past year, we’ve learned that many unexpected circumstances have arisen, shifting the timeline of air travel recovery. While we have learned a great deal about the virus in the past year, not all of it has been good news – including new strains that may or may not respond to vaccines.
Large sums of money, in the form of vouchers and credits, may just expire due to any number of negative scenarios. How should airlines deal with this future uncertainty?
What the airlines had to say
We sent the question out to 20 airlines. Here are the 11 responses we received:
Alaska Airlines: The US carrier pointed us to their website, which stated that they had extended travel credit that was expiring on or before July 5th, 2021, to be valid through December 31st, 2021. This extension took place on January 19th, 2021.
American Airlines: Currently, AA vouchers or credits that were set to expire between March 1st, 2020, and March 31st, 2021, have been extended out another full year. The airline will “continue to work with customers to provide flexibility for their upcoming travel plans.”
British Airways: BA says that its vouchers have had their use by date extended by a year. Previously, when using the voucher, travel had to be completed by April 30th, 2022. This has now been extended to 30 April 2023. This applies to new vouchers and those that have already been issued. For the latter, validity will be automatically extended, and customers will be notified with new voucher details as soon as possible.
Emirates: An airline spokesperson says, “if passengers are unable to use their travel voucher within 12 months from the date of issue they can extend the validity for another year or they can request a cash refund using an online form.”
Finnair: The airline has currently extended the validity of its gift vouchers until the end of September. “In case the situation remains as is, we will consider another extension later,” it says.
Iberia: The Spanish carrier says that vouchers have a validity of 14 months from the date of issue, “so clients have enough time to spend them.” The airline goes on to say that it has no examples of expiration yet, as it’s only been 10 months since the pandemic emerged. The airline will routinely monitor the situation and extend the validity if necessary.
Korean Air: While the airline’s credit vouchers were valid for one year from the issue date, they’ve extended the validity period for all unused credit vouchers to December 31, 2021 “to provide passengers with more flexibility under COVID-19 circumstances.”
Qantas: The Australian carrier says that it has already made a number of extensions to the expiry of flight credits since the beginning of the pandemic. Any existing, unused Flight Credits issued after 31 January 2019 originally booked for travel until 31 March 2021 are valid for bookings and travel until 31 December 2022.
Singapore Airlines: The carrier says that its flight credits currently enable travel up until December 31st, 2021, and it will continue to review and update policies.
United Airlines: Without providing specifics, United says it has adjusted its policies to make it easier for customers to change or cancel their flights due to future uncertainty. “We can’t speculate on what may or may not happen in the future,” it adds.
WestJet: Canadian carrier WestJet says that as a result of this crisis, it has extended its vouchers so that they can be used for up to 24 months and can be transferred to another WestJet Reward’s account upon request. For customers that were affected in March of 2020 and received vouchers, it would be 2022 before they expire. From October 2020, the carrier has since moved to offer refunds rather than vouchers.
Airlines that didn’t respond to our inquiry by the time of publication include Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, KLM, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, Qatar Airways, and Vietnam Airlines.
Our opinion on airline responses
If you’ve come this far in the article, you will have already formed your own reactions and opinions to the above responses- but here’s our take anyway. We see most airlines fitting into one of three categories:
- Some airlines are open and honest about the uncertainty that the future and this situation presents. Carriers like Finnair and Iberia were very clear about being open to extending the validity of existing credits.
- Other airlines, such as Singapore Airlines and American, were a little more vague but seemed open to adapting their policies in the future.
- Finally, some carriers did not directly address future uncertainty at all. Rather, they subtly suggested that their far-into-the-future expiry dates would be good enough for credits to be used. In these cases, we can only hope the “right thing” will be done should the global situation take a turn for the worse.
One airline that stands out above the others is Emirates. While the carrier didn’t commit to extending the validity of vouchers if they proved unusable for 24 months, it went a step further, allowing for cash refunds of these credits. When it comes to the hard-earned money paid by customers, this is, to us, the best-case scenario.
We greatly appreciate the airlines we approached taking the time to address this particular concern. Hopefully, this will ultimately be a non-issue, and travel can be booked somewhat openly later this year. For that, we’ll just have to wait and see.
What do you think of the responses these airlines offered? Are you satisfied with their positions on voucher/credit validity? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.