Businesses love vouchers and gift cards for a very simple reason. Most of us forget we have them… and when they expire, they are gone forever. All of which equals big profits for essentially nothing.

Since the pandemic nixed our travel plans for two years, millions of pounds worth of airline vouchers have been lying around unclaimed. I spoke to James Lynn, the travel expert and co-founder of Currensea who crunched the numbers for me and estimated that £1 billion in vouchers may be lying around unclaimed. At least. Here’s my guide on how to find them and use them effectively.

Where are my airline vouchers?

It’s really tricky to track down airline vouchers. Many airline apps don’t show them, so you’ll have to search through your emails. Don’t assume that typing in the word ‘voucher’ with the airline name will bring up the right email. None of my airline vouchers showed up with this search.

Fortunately for me, I met everyone’s favourite top travel expert, Simon Calder, when filming the latest season of Rip Off Britain recently (the new season airs in mid-May – don’t miss it!)

Simon recommends finding the PNR (Passenger Name Record) from your original booking and searching with that. This is usually six or seven letters and numbers. This should save you a lot of time and frustration.

What about deadlines and expiry dates?

Expiration dates vary significantly across the airlines, depending on when you paid for the flight (or when it was cancelled). Which? have compiling most of the key deadlines here.

Make sure that you are clear about what the expiry date represents. Most of the vouchers I’ve seen have to be used by the deadline. However, some airlines say you have to have flown by that date. That’s obviously quite a big difference so make sure you check all the T&Cs.

Are their limitations with the vouchers?

There are lots of limitations with airline vouchers, though many only become apparent when you try to redeem them.

I do have to take my hat off to the airlines for one thing though. Airlines didn’t have to repeatedly extend the expiry dates of their vouchers once life started getting back to normal after the pandemic, but most did. In fact, many vouchers will have been extended three or more times.

Having said all of that, some of the voucher limitations I’ve encountered so far seem unfair and designed to complicate things. I’d encourage all of you to complain about anything you think is unfair.

One airline would only allow me to redeem one voucher per booking despite me buying a return flight. I couldn’t use each voucher per leg of the journey even when I tried to book them as separate flights either.

Another airline has caused a bit of consternation after the voucher redemption box seemingly vanished off its website. This also happened to me, forcing me to call the airline to book a flight that was more expensive on the phone (I got the online price when I complained).

Can you get a refund for airline vouchers?

Let’s face it. It was virtually impossible to call an airline over the pandemic which was pretty much the only way to demand a cash refund. As a consequence millions upon millions of pounds worth of refunds were issued in vouchers. This is different to accepting a voucher instead of a refund, however,

Many airlines have subsequently said that they will not issue refunds if vouchers cannot be claimed on time. It’s also hard to regift vouchers or sell them on too, though you could book a flight on someone’s behalf (expect charges).

I’d argue that if you haven’t told the airline, you want vouchers, you haven’t really been given a choice – particularly if restrictive conditions or changes in lifestyle mean you can’t use the vouchers. You can always make a complaint to the airline’s ‘alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme’ so don’t give up if you get the brush off!

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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