Spending

'Can I get cash back for my canceled flight instead of a voucher?' Here's what the experts say

"Bottom line: It never hurts to call, explain your situation, and see what they can do."

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If you canceled a plane ticket during last year's Covid crisis, it's likely that you were offered a voucher for a future flight instead of a cash refund. Many of these vouchers were set to expire this year, and while a few airlines have extended that deadline to 2022, some politicians are calling for a better deal for consumers.

On May 10, Sens. Ed Markey, D-MA, and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, sent an open letter to 10 airlines, asking them to commit to a cash refund for all tickets canceled during the pandemic. They argue that since taxpayers have bailed out the airlines to the tune of $50 billion, they deserve their money back.

Airlines for America, an advocacy group for the airline industry that represents 7 of the 10 airlines the senators addressed, said in a statement sent to Grow that airlines are providing adequate flexibility and have "bolstered their commitment to consumers by offering voucher and credit opportunities exceeding the Department of Transportation's guidelines."

Unless airlines change course, it's unlikely that you'll be able to trade in your voucher for cash, says Matthew Ma of travel-deal website The Flight Deal: "In general, once you get a voucher, it is difficult to get cash from it."

Here's what you need to know.

'If you cancel, in most cases, you will be given a voucher'

The only airline Ma says is offering refunds is Air Canada, which was "part of the Canadian government's agreement with them for giving them aid."

When it comes to American carriers, "if you cancel, in most cases, you will be given a voucher unless your fare is fully refundable," Ma says.

It's also usually not possible to transfer your voucher to someone else, as most vouchers are under the passenger's name. United Airlines does allows you to convert your vouchers into an electronic certificate, which you could gift to someone else.

And selling these certificates for cash isn't a good idea, Ma cautions. "We would recommend that customers, if at all possible, avoid selling vouchers, as airlines can crack down and ban you."

You probably can't dispute a credit-card charge

Credit-card companies can often be useful allies for disputing unfair charges. But if you purchased a flight months ago, or even pre-Covid, it's likely too late to do so now, Ma says.

"While disputing [a charge] with the credit card issuer is a possibility, in general, you have 60 days to dispute a charge, per the Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974," he says. So unless you bought your plane ticket within the last two months, you won't be able to challenge the charge.

In general, once you get a voucher, it is difficult to get cash from it.
Matthew Ma
The Flight Deal

Try contacting the airline directly for help

Although it's unlikely you'll get a refund, you should "explore your options" by contacting the airline directly, says Nick Ewen, senior editor at travel website The Points Guy. "The best thing to do is to call your airline, or, if you don't want to wait on hold, send a direct message via Twitter or through the airline's website."

Ewen recently had an experience where calling the airline netted him a refund. "I got a full refund on a future travel voucher with British Airways when I couldn't find flight availability that worked for my schedule," he says. "While this was an award ticket, I was also refunded all of the taxes and fees I had paid back in June 2020."

It's a long shot, but it's worth a try, he says. "Bottom line: It never hurts to call, explain your situation, and see what they can do."

Major carriers extending voucher expiration dates

If you're stuck with a voucher, there is some good news: The top four air carriers in the United States have extended their voucher expiration dates to 2022. That could be useful to those who have lost jobs or have Covid-related caregiving obligations and are hoping for a better financial or personal situation to travel next year.

American Airlines' expiration date for vouchers for nonrefundable tickets is March 31, 2022. Customers who purchased this type of ticket will not be refunded in cash, according to the company's website.

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Delta Airlines has extended their voucher expiration date until the end of 2022. This applies to both vouchers that expired in 2021 and vouchers that were purchased in 2021. According to the company's website, basic economy tickets will remain nonrefundable, meaning you will not get cash back.

Southwest Airlines is extending its voucher expiration dates to September 2022. Wanna Get Away fares, the airline's least expensive fare category, will remain "reusable but not refundable," according to the company's website.

On United Airlines, flight credits for tickets issued between May 1, 2019, and March 31, 2021, are now valid until March 31, 2022.

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