Why you should think twice before accepting an airline voucher — even with a bonus

Apr 3, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic has already taken a massive toll on the travel industry. Airlines are struggling to stay afloat, some have already ceased operations and others are making major schedule cuts to ensure short-term survival.

Related: Rebooking, voucher or refund: What’s your best option for upcoming British Airways flights?

To maintain cash flow, they’re doing all that they can to restrict refunds for cancelled flights. Many are even offering lucrative promotions for keeping a travel credit instead of requesting a cash refund. But even with these bonus offers, it still pays to ask for a refund.

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In This Post

Airline credit bonuses

We’ve seen some airlines get creative about handling canceled flights. Turkish Airlines announced an interesting offer for those who reschedule existing flights, as opposed to cancelling and requesting a refund. According to the airline’s chairman as quoted by Turkish news site Daily Sabah, you’ll get a 15% bonus to the value of your ticket if you decide to postpone your flight, as opposed to refunding it. You’ll also have the option of receiving 1,000 bonus Miles and Smiles for every 10 Euros (£8.77) of value in your ticket if you decide to reschedule your flight. The details of this offer hasn’t been shared on the airline’s website, but we’ll update the post when it does.

Similarly, Aer Lingus is offering a 10% bonus if you accept a travel voucher instead of a refund.

Then there are other carriers that have taken the opposite approach. Instead of incentivizing people to postpone flights, they’ve just made it much harder for passengers to get refunds. EasyJet has made most references to getting a refund for your cancelled flight much more difficult, only highlighting the voucher option on the site.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues, we’ll surely see more airlines incentivise taking a credit, and others will try as hard as possible to restrict refunds.

Why shouldn’t you accept travel credit for cancelled flights?

You shouldn’t necessarily accept a travel voucher. By doing so, you’re basically giving the carrier a binding interest-free loan.

Say you take Aer Lingus’ offer and take a 10% bonus for a voucher. You’re locked into that decision no matter what happens. If your original flight ends up getting cancelled, you are no longer eligible for a refund since you’ve already accepted a voucher.

Plus, vouchers have a long list of terms and conditions. Most can only be used and flown by the originally ticketed passenger. Furthermore, you’ll find lots of vouchers with strict expiration dates. Lastly, there are some airlines that will only allow you to use a voucher once — it’s use it or lose the rest of the value.

Aside from all the confusing terms, some airlines may not make it out alive after the coronavirus outbreak. If you’ve got a voucher for a defunct carrier, it’s worth nada.

Air Berlin ceased flying in 2017. (Photo by RALF HIRSCHBERGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Before you agree to accepting a voucher, make sure you read and understand all the terms of the offer. In most cases, it makes sense to ask for a refund — if you’re eligible.

Strategies for getting a full refund

Now that you’ve made the prudent decision to ask for a refund, how do you know if you’re eligible?

To start, your flight needs to have been cancelled or significantly delayed by the operating airline. Each carrier has strict guidelines for what delays qualify for a refund, which you can find in the contract of carriage. Additionally, if your flight time has changed significantly (what’s referred to in the industry as a schedule change), you’ll also be eligible for a cash refund.

Until your flight is cancelled by the airline, delayed or significantly changed, (almost) no airline is going to refund you, so if you’re thinking about cancelling your flight, the best thing to do is to wait. Patience, especially when it’s hard to get in contact with airlines, isn’t easy, but it’ll pay off.

If by the day of your flight, it’s not cancelled by the airline (and therefore eligible for a full refund), you should then request a travel credit. But you should always wait because you never know if the airline will add a waiver or the flight gets significantly delayed.

Bottom line

The coronavirus outbreak is wreaking havoc on the travel industry. As the carriers scramble to stay in business, you’ll find more and more of them offering travel vouchers in exchange for cancelled flights. This way the airline can keep your money and just reschedule your flight for later on.

But if your flight is cancelled by the airline — no matter the cause — you’re eligible for a full refund. There’s almost no reason to agree to a restrictive travel voucher, even with a bonus, if you’re presented with the opportunity to get your money back.

The key, though, is to wait until the airline cancels or significantly delays your flight. Otherwise, your only option may be a travel voucher, which you should never accept because there’s a good chance your upcoming flight will be cancelled.

Feature photo by bunhill / Getty Images

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