Flight delays and cancellations, rescheduled, getting bounced for a premier frequent flyer or even off-duty airline crew, lost baggage. Unless you are truly lucky, you will fly into one of these frustrating experiences, especially at peak travel times such as the holiday season.
If you are offered an airline voucher for your trouble, read the fine print and ask questions before accepting. Some of these tips also apply to cruises and cruise lines, too.
Simply, airlines (and cruise lines) are willing to compensate you for your inconvenience, but restrictions on the compensation may make the vouchers close to worthless, and the bottom line is that the airline (or cruise line) loses nothing.
Here’s what you need to know about accepting vouchers, and what questions to ask. You might find that one or more of the answers is a deal-breaker.
- Tip – Vouchers are offered by the gate agent, at a time when he or she is under stress. Since you won’t have much time to ask questions or read the fine print on the voucher before accepting it, check an airline’s voucher policy when you book the seat, before your seat evaporates for whatever reason.
What is the actual value?
A $500 travel voucher” is different than an offer of “$500 in travel vouchers.”
You can use a $500 travel voucher toward the cost of one ticket. But, if you buy a $350 ticket with your $500 voucher, most likely you will lose that $150 balance, although you might be able to apply that toward first-class lounge fees, excess-weight or -baggage charges, and ticket-change fees.
What exactly does the voucher cover?
Surprise: Airline vouchers rarely include the full cost of a future trip. Most likely you will have to pay the government taxes and fees separately, perhaps even the hefty “carrier-imposed fee,” essentially a fuel surcharge with a new name. On some airlines, and some long haul flights, that fuel surcharge can cost more than the base fare.
How long is it valid?
Most vouchers must be redeemed within a year, some are valid only for six months.
Airline expert Ed Perkins suggests this:
“If your voucher is about to expire and you have no immediate travel plans, use it to purchase a ticket to a destination you’re likely to visit within a year. Then, when you’ve chosen your exact travel dates, call the airline and rebook your flight. You’ll still have to pay a change fee, but it’s better than losing the entire value of the voucher.”
That applies also to cruise line vouchers.
How and where can I redeem the voucher?
Many vouchers can be redeemed in person only, at an airport ticket counter or at an airline ticket office, so you cannot use them for online or phone purchases.
Vouchers usually have restrictions, such as blackout dates, and rarely allow use in conjunction with other discounts or promotions.
And, obviously, you can only use a voucher only for the airline or cruise line which issued it, not a competitor.
Is the voucher transferable?
Few airline vouchers are transferable, but many airlines let you apply a portion toward a ticket for someone traveling with you on the same flight.
Depending on the airline’s policy and the gate agent’s mood, you can request that the “name” field be left blank, so the voucher can used by a family member or friend, or even by your travel agent, to make a future reservation for you.
Airline policy is often capricious
Two winters ago, I missed a connecting flight by just a few minutes because the first flight was delayed – not my fault – and had to wait seven hours for the next one. The airline did not offer me so much as a meal voucher or a complimentary pass to the lounge. I was so angry I wouldn’t fly that airline again for a year.
Maybe the airline noticed my absense, because on my first flight in more than a year, I was upgraded to business class.
What’s your best and worst airline experience?