8 ways British Airways could improve its Future Travel Voucher process
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2020 was an unexpected year for travellers all around the world. Airlines scrambled to retain cash as forward bookings plummeted and thousands of people cancelled existing travel following the U.K. government’s advisory against all non-essential travel.
British Airways, like most other airlines, offered anyone wishing to cancel their existing travel the option of a Future Travel Voucher (FTV) to use at a later date. The airline also encouraged this as the best option when it cancelled a customer’s flight itself. Plenty of loyal British Airways customers took this option, assuming this would help the airline’s financial predicament, assuming it would be easy to use at a later date when travel resumes.
The airline was required to quickly create an IT solution to handle the issuing and redemption of thousands of cancelled bookings. While it was able to issue the vouchers, customers eventually received vouchers with virtually no information and few instructions on how to track and redeem them.
We’ve received dozens of questions and complaints about these vouchers. Several months after they were first issued, BA has not improved the concept beyond extending the expiration of all vouchers. While they’re not perfect yet, here are eight ways British Airways could improve the Future Travel Voucher process.
Be more transparent about customers’ rights for cancelled flights
If a customer chooses not to travel, they are not entitled to a refund unless the terms and conditions of their ticket allow them to. In this instance, an offer of a Future Travel Voucher is a sensible alternative during COVID-19. However, when an airline cancels the customer’s flight first, then the customer is entitled to a full refund.
This is not made clear to customers when BA is notifying them their flight is cancelled. Passengers are encouraged to accept a Future Travel Voucher online even though they can also choose a full refund. BA also forces customers to call to discuss refund options, which cannot be done online, again pushing customers towards the voucher.
British Airways should make it clearer that when it cancels a customers flight, they are entitled to choose either a full refund or a voucher. BA should ideally make each option equally straight-forward to claim, rather than one being online and the other being only by phone.
Include key details when issuing vouchers
Future Travel Vouchers are issued by email. They only contain one piece of useful information: the PNR booking reference of the original booking they relate to. At a minimum, the voucher email should also include:
- The total value of the voucher;
- The expiration date; and
- Which passengers the voucher is issued to, and the value for each passenger.
Show vouchers in Executive Club accounts
British Airways Companion Vouchers are displayed in Executive Club accounts, showing when they were earned and when they expire. Given you can potentially hold more than one Companion Voucher at a time, it’s a handy way to keep track of your Vouchers and make sure you can use them.
While not every customer who accepts a Future Travel Voucher will be an Executive Club member, those who are may have many vouchers to keep track of. Listing each Future Travel Voucher in Executive Club accounts would make them far easier to track.
Allow online redemptions
Future Travel Vouchers can only be redeemed by calling British Airways, unlike Companion Vouchers, which can be redeemed online. The BA call centres have seen some long wait times with pre-recorded warnings that customers should only be calling if they have urgent travel needs, not if they are looking to redeem a voucher for travel next year.
Allowing online redemptions of these vouchers would assist both customers and staff.
Provide separate vouchers for each passenger on a booking
Where the lead customer on a booking accepts a Future Travel Voucher for a booking with more than one passenger, the voucher value is split evenly across each passenger. So, a £1,000 booking for two passengers would leave each passenger with a £500 voucher. British Airways has confirmed to TPG U.K. that each passenger does not receive their own voucher, only a portion of the single voucher issued for the entire booking.
Each passenger can use their portion of the voucher however they wish. For example, if two people who were booked to fly to New York on a single booking accept a FTV, then one person could use their portion to book to Greece and the other person could use their portion to book to India. However, it becomes messy and confusing to have the different values remaining on the single voucher. It would be much easier if each passenger had their own voucher to use how they pleased.
Refund minimal amounts remaining on vouchers
If a customer does not use the full value of their Future Travel Voucher, they are provided with another voucher for the remaining difference. As there are technically no voucher numbers (just a PNR reference), this should mean the remaining value stays in the same voucher. If my voucher was for £1,000 and I redeemed for a flight costing £950, the remaining £50 would be held in the voucher and I would need to redeem that amount for something else. Remember, some frequent flyers will have multiple vouchers to track.
British Airways could refund nominal amounts left on vouchers (say, less than 10%) to avoid customers missing using these small amounts.
Return Avios from cancelled redemptions to Executive Club accounts
When a customer redeems Avios for a flight and then chooses a Future Travel Voucher to cancel the booking, the Avios as well as the fees, taxes and surcharges are held in the Future Travel Voucher. If I had used my own Avios to book for multiple people, I could only use those Avios held in the voucher for those same people (in the proportions described above) even if I wanted to use all of those Avios for myself or someone else. It’s as if I have given that person my Avios as they — and only they — can then use my Avios however they wish and they cannot be returned back to me.
While I appreciate the purpose of the Future Travel Vouchers is to retain cash for British Airways, it should make no difference to the airline if the Avios are held in the voucher or returned to my Executive Club account. It is in the airline’s interest for me to redeem my Avios as soon as possible. It is far harder to do this if the Avios are trapped in the FTV with the rules and difficulties that go with it, rather than returned to my Executive Club account.
Allow some customers to convert vouchers to full refunds, for a fee
A number of British Airways customers have already contacted TPG to express their regret at accepting a FTV, especially when they now realise they were entitled to a refund. Others are in for a shock when they attempt to redeem them and realise the difficulty in doing so.
BA could offer those customers who were entitled to a refund (but instead opted for an FTV), on request, the ability to convert their FTVs to a full refund for a fee. For example, 20% of the value of the voucher. In an ideal world, this fee could be waived for Gold Executive Club members to thank them for their loyalty.
British Airways has had to scramble to create the Future Travel Vouchers concept and has at least been able to issue these vouchers promptly while some other airlines have struggled to do this. However, the process that has been established is needlessly complex and very frustrating. Many BA customers have already voiced their displeasure at the current process, and there are many more who have accepted the voucher but not yet gone to actually use it.
TPG reached out to BA to see if the airline was planning on making any changes, but a spokesperson declined to comment.
British Airways could greatly improve the process by implementing these changes. At an absolute minimum, it should at least allow customers to both monitor the value online and redeem the vouchers online.
Featured image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.