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How to use your travel vouchers and credits

When the pandemic hit, thousands of flights were canceled. Are those credits and vouchers expiring? What’s the best way to redeem them? We asked the experts.

Did a trip you planned get canceled? Here's help on how to use those vouchers and credits.adobe stock; globe staff photo illustration

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, thousands of flights were canceled, and travelers were given vouchers and credits to use toward future bookings. It’s a year later, are they expiring? What’s the best way to redeem them? We consulted two experts for their advice, Scott Keyes, founder and chief flight expert at Scott’s Cheap Flights, an e-mail subscription service that alerts members to the best flight deals, and flight expert Christina Pedroni, senior vice president at Liberty Travel.

The first thing you should do is determine what type of airline credit you’re holding. Is it a voucher, a future flight credit, a travel certificate, or available funds? Check the airline’s website. “Each of them has a robust page of terms and conditions on credits, including frequently asked questions that are helpful in understanding the terms and validity of your credit,” says Pedroni.


Yikes, my voucher is about to expire. Can I extend it?

Most of the major US airlines have extended the validity dates of their future flight credits and vouchers to at least Dec. 31, 2021, and sometimes beyond that to two-plus years from the original ticketing date.

However, “Expiration dates and policies vary by airline and by what type of voucher or credit you have,” says Keyes. Here’s what the largest US airlines are doing, according to Keyes.

On United, travel certificates are valid for up to 24 months after the date they were issued while future flight credits for tickets issued between May 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, are valid for 24 months after the original issue date. This means you need to book by the expiration date, but you can travel after it.

On American, a flight credit is good for travel within one year from the issue date, with the caveat that if your credit expires before March 31, 2021, it can be used for a travel date through December 31, 2021. A voucher must be used within one year of issue (the travel date doesn’t have to be within the year).


And on Delta, vouchers usually must be used within the year. But, for tickets purchased before April 17, 2020, for original travel by March 31, 2021, you can use your voucher for travel until Dec. 31, 2022.

Southwest puts credits into travel funds which normally can be used for a flight that takes place within one year of issue. But for pandemic-era flights, it extended the travel date to Sept. 7, 2022.

Can I change my destination or switch travelers?

“Most airlines treat their vouchers or credits like a gift card,” says Keyes. “That means you don’t have to re-book the same route.”

But switching travelers is another story.

“Most airlines do not allow you to change the traveler on a flight credit. It must be used by the original passenger,” says Pedroni.

But there are some exceptions. “If you have a voucher with American (not a flight credit), you can use it to book travel for anyone,” says Keyes. “On United, if you have a travel certificate, (not a future flight credit), you can do the same. On Delta, you can use your voucher to pay for another person’s flight, but you have to be ticketed on the same reservation.”

A plane takes off from Logan Airport.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

What if there’s a fare difference?

Alas, if the new ticket you’re buying costs more than the value of your credit or voucher, you’ll need to pay the difference at booking. If the new ticket is lower, most major airlines will give you the difference back in a travel credit.


But not all. There are airlines that will only allow you to use the credit on one new trip, and any unused value is lost. “This is an important question to ask your carrier,” says Pedroni. “If you have a high value ticket credit and your new trip is at a lower cost, you should consider upgrading so you don’t lose that value.”

What if I’m not ready to book a flight and my voucher is expiring?

First, there’s the easy option. “Simply call and ask for your expiration date to be extended,” advises Keyes. “Airlines have been much more accommodating than usual, but you still need to proactively ask.”

If that doesn’t work, you could book a flight that offers free changes. “While you’ll have to pay the difference if the fare rises, you’ll be able to change dates without an extra fee and you won’t lose the value of your voucher,” says Keyes.

But a word of caution: Many airlines’ flexibility policies regarding future changes and cancellations are set to expire on March 31.

When all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask

“It certainly doesn’t hurt to contact the airline and ask for an exception on their current policy,” says Pedroni. “In some instances, we’ve been able to get further extensions or the ability to transfer the credit to another traveler. But these are usually exceptions not the rule.”


So, right now, with that airline voucher or credit sitting in your hands, log on to the airline’s website, and read the fine print carefully. “How many credits or vouchers can you use on one booking? Can you use it for bag fees and other extras? Can you use them on partner airlines? These are all things to look for beyond expiration policies,” says Keyes.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com