Further COVID-19 lockdowns are leading to more travel restrictions and flight disruption. If you accepted a future travel voucher or equivalent from an airline back in March when one was on offer, then you waived your right to a refund at that point. This is true even if your original flight has since been cancelled.
So, what should you do with that voucher? The best thing in these circumstances is to book a new flight. Be sure to check your airline’s individual terms and conditions carefully as arrangements are not standard.
Why rush to use that voucher? Firstly, you don’t want to miss out on the expiration date of any voucher. Millions of passengers have vouchers sitting in their inbox quietly threatening to expire with little idea of when they may do so. Some vouchers from March and April can be redeemed up to the end of this year while others are valid until as late as the end of 2022, which is good for flexibility, but bad if you forget they’re there.
Secondly, if you’re thinking of booking for peak times next year – when the travel industry is hoping as desperately as the rest of us that more people will be traveling to more places – then it’s worth getting in now. Prices for next summer are highly likely to be higher for similar dates and destinations, as many travelers have already discovered. Note that any booking made with vouchers is subject to the terms of that new ticket.
That may not be the end of the process. In the era of very late notice cancellations and schedule changes by airlines, you may find that this new booking is moved or cancelled altogether before travel. If this happens, you should receive a change notification email from your airline. It will usually have your booking reference or Passenger Name Record (PNR) somewhere prominent in the message header or body and then outline the options that you have.
In these cases, the critical piece of information is that the decision to amend your booking is the airline’s, not yours. This opens up a window whereby you can rebook or take another voucher or, in many cases, take this chance to get a refund. Some airlines, like Delta and SAS, automatically give the option of a refund in these cases. With others it is less clear, and communications around refunds in this instance are hard to find online. If you find yourself in this position then a phone call to the airline is a good step. If, however, you make the decision to move or cancel any reservation, then you are subject to the terms of that booking.
Refunds for most airlines cannot be processed automatically and you either submit a form or have to phone them. Getting through on the phone to airlines can, of course, be time-consuming. This is a straightforward way of airlines limiting the volume of refunds that they need to process. They are much keener that you take the voucher. If you’re going to take a voucher, check what you can and can’t use it for – it varies from airline to airline on whether vouchers can be put towards extras like seat and baggage bookings beyond the reservation.
If you have a booking coming up and no longer wish to or are unable to travel, sit tight until close to your departure as you may benefit from the kind of schedule change outlined above. If not, for most tickets sold since March, you have flexibility to rebook or claim another voucher, and on some carriers like British Airways, this applies right up until check-in closes. For others it is a less generous time frame so again, check carefully.
While not everyone who took the refund option has received one, most now have. Many airlines took months to pay refunds, claiming they needed time to get through a backlog. In most cases this was only partially the story, and refunds were one of many costs carriers had to deal with during the unprecedented challenge of this year’s shutdown. If you still don’t have a refund you are owed from this time, then you should be taking direct action – call the airline with documentation to hand, and if you paid using a credit card contact the credit card company to initiate a claim.
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