Here’s some good news for anyone with airfare credit: The government wants to abolish flight credit expiration dates — under certain circumstances. And at least one airline has already done that.
The Department of Transportation announced regulations this week that would make ticket credits “indefinite.” But the proposed regulation would only apply to flights canceled for pandemic reasons, such as government-imposed travel bans, closed borders or passengers advised not to travel to protect their health or that of other passengers.
Southwest Airlines went even further. A few days before the announcement, it said its ticket credit would never expire regardless of the reason for the cancellation.
But until all ticket credits are valid indefinitely – and for passengers that day can’t come soon enough – how do you make the most of your expiring ticket credits and vouchers?
The rules differ per airline, experts say.
“Each airline has different guidelines for flight credits,” said Ana Gloria Garcia, senior air manager for Embark Beyond. “In general, when an airline issues a credit to the passenger, you have up to one year to use the credit from the date the ticket was issued.”
I have details in my complete guide to using your flight credit. But in light of recent developments, how do you know if your credits are about to expire? What should you do in that case? And what are some of the strategies you can use to extend the validity of their ticket credit?
It turns out that there is much more to using a ticket credit than just booking a new flight.
Keep track of your ticket credit
Since most ticket credits expire – some in as little as three months – you need to keep them. “Make sure you know how many credits you have and where they come from,” advises Matt James, publisher of the travel site Visitingly.com. “Check the expiration date of your flight credits. Some airlines require you to use your flight credits within a certain time frame.” He also recommends using your ticket credit as soon as possible. “The sooner you use them, the less likely you are to lose them,” he says.
Request a ticket credit extension — and you will receive
“One of the best ways to extend a flight credit is to just ask,” said Narendra Khatri, director of Insubuy, a travel insurance company. He says this is one of the times it’s a good idea to call the airline. “You’ll probably have more success getting a definitive answer by calling the airline directly than via email or Twitter, but try calling outside office hours to cut your wait time a bit.” When you call, make sure to record the call or receive a confirmation email confirming the extended expiration date before you hang up.
Be flexible when using ticket credits
Book a flexible fare – not a “basic” economy class ticket – so you can cancel if necessary and receive a new flight credit. “Then repeat the process and buy another ticket within the validity period of the flight credit,” said Vibha Dhawan, travel advisor at OvationNetwork. “You can repeat this process until you’re ready to use the credit to fly somewhere.”
Pro tip: Some airlines were more generous with expiration dates at the start of the pandemic. So make sure they don’t reset your new expiration date to an earlier date.
Book a ticket you’ll never use
Many airlines have automatically extended their ticket credits during the pandemic. For example, Delta Air Lines flight vouchers that originally expired in 2022 now expire in December 2023. You can extend any JetBlue flight through September 30 by applying for an extension through the site. But if you need more time, book a ticket you’ll never use, says personal finance podcaster Julia Menez. Aim for a busy time like Labor Day or Thanksgiving. “That way, if your flight time is shifted, it’s considered an involuntary schedule change,” she says. You get a full refund.
Use your ticket credit to upgrade your travel experience
If you can’t book a flight, try using your ticket credit toward an upgrade, says Sara Raudenbush, a business consultant and frequent air traveler. “When you travel within the US, first class is often not even worth paying for, even on long-haul flights,” she says. “But for transatlantic flights where you might get flights from partner airlines, the first class or business class accommodations are nicer than what we usually see, even with the sunbeds.” It is sometimes possible to use ticket credits to pay for an upgrade. But the upgrades are usually only available a few weeks before departure, so timing is important.
Negotiating a ticket credit
Airlines know it’s only a matter of time before all ticket credits never expire. They’re trying to hold onto the last dollar of a plan that’s been going on for too long. That’s something to keep in mind when negotiating. And sometimes you have no choice but to negotiate.
Ryan Dame’s 2019 ticket credit had expired long ago when he asked his airline if he could revive the $630 credit. “It was a long shot,” says Dame, the co-owner of Casago, a vacation rental company. “I emailed them with the details of the cancellation and how we were not comfortable flying during Covid. They sent a reply email back within two days and confirmed that we had the unused $630 credit were allowed to use. It was an atypical and very positive aviation experience.”
The expiry date of your ticket credit is just a number
Some airlines have acknowledged that vouchers should not – and should not – expire. Consider what happened to Barbara Glavish, a retired occupational therapist from Incline Village, Nev. She was due to fly to Sydney in 2020. “Air New Zealand gave me a credit that was due to expire in June 2021,” she recalls. “Then they extended it to June 2022.” She requested another extension and, hearing nothing, contacted an Air New Zealand executive. “I received a prompt and friendly response extending my credit through June 2023 and suggesting I contact them again if I needed an even later date, and they would try to meet,” she says. “I cannot ask for more.”
Even if you already have these insider tips for using and renewing airline ticket credit, it’s still possible that one of your vouchers may expire. My last advice is this: don’t let them go. The airline industry received $81 billion in bailout money from the government during the pandemic. Even though it has a policy that your money will expire, that doesn’t make it right.
But you have to fight for your ticket credit. That may mean appealing to a supervisor, as Glavish did. Or you may have to file a complaint with the Ministry of Transport.
But the bottom line is it’s your money. It is of no use to your airline to keep it.