A lot has happened since the pandemic dominated our lives, yet only three years have passed in reality. It seems like a lot longer, doesn’t it.

With so many dramatic changes occurring over those last three years, it’s only natural that we might have forgotten about some pretty important things. From dental appointments to lifestyle changes, we’ve all had a lot of things blocking the ‘to do’ list.

Because your priorities might have changed since 2019, you might have forgotten one of the most time-sensitive tasks to tick off that list. Vouchers and credit notes for services that you couldn’t use due to the pandemic.

Vouchers are funny things because we easily forget about them as they often lurk on old emails we might have missed or neglected. We also tend to think that we’ll get round to using them soon (then forget). But if you don’t cash in your vouchers, they you could be losing a fortune. You wouldn’t chuck £500 out of the window – yet you could be about to do the same if you don’t cash in your outstanding airline vouchers asap.

How much money is there outstanding in airline vouchers?

It’s been a bit difficult to establish how much money is outstanding on airline vouchers. I’ve been working with James Lynn, the travel expert and co-founder of the Currensea app to pin this down.  From information leaking in to the public domain, £643 million is outstanding with the IAG Group (including British Airways) and EasyJet alone. James tells me that “With these figures not including three of the biggest players in the European market, the true value of these outstanding vouchers could well be much closer to a billion, if not more”.

Let that number sink in. Now ask yourself: Have I forgotten about my own airline vouchers?

How do I track down my airline vouchers?

Sadly, there isn’t a single ‘standard’ way to claim your airline vouchers or even track them down. Many Mirror readers have told me that the vouchers aren’t appearing in the airline’s app when they log in. That leaves the horror of trawling through your emails.

I have a confession to make. I have an email ‘dump’ address that I use for all businesses where an email is required to sign up for something. I currently have over 20,000 emails in it. So this column is also serving as a reminder to me to set up a whole new email for services that I actually use, so it’s more searchable. *sighs*

Finding emails from airlines is not the easiest thing in the world. For a start, chances are your voucher expiry dates will have been extended. So the email with the latest voucher codes and information might be more recent than you think. Don’t assume that typing in the word ‘voucher’ with the airline name will bring up the right email. None of my three airline vouchers – all with different airlines – showed up this way. You really do have to wade through them all after searching the airline name.

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

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

Can I use my voucher for a flight that cost the same when I booked?

Even if you’re not planning on taking a holiday this year, I’d still recommend using the voucher as soon as you possibly can. Most airlines will let you use the voucher for bookings some way in to the future, but bear in mind that some flight schedules may not be released yet.

However, costs have gone up. Jamie tells me:

“The entire voucher fiasco is symptomatic of the lack of industry transparency that continues to hit travellers. After handing out the covid refunds, many airlines also increased prices which meant the vouchers could no longer cover the price of the original ticket and travellers had to fork out once again. These are the sort of practices that the travel industry needs to eradicate to restore consumer faith.”

So in short, the value of your voucher is the amount you have to spend. Your flight to Turkey may have increased in cost though.

Do different airlines have different policies for using vouchers and different deadlines?

Deadlines vary significantly across the airlines, depending on when you paid for the flight (or when it was cancelled). To add to the confusion, there’s no central database of the deadline extensions.

Which? have had a good crack at compiling most of the key deadlines here.

Bear in mind some of the variations between airlines are significant. For example, while most airlines will say the expiry date is when you must have used the voucher to book a flight, a few say you not only have to book but have flown by that point. So an expiry date next year might not be as generous when you have to have travelled by then too.

Are their limitations with the vouchers?

There are indeed limitations – though again, these aren’t easy to identify before you try to use them.

Firstly though, let’s be fair. The fact of the matter is airlines didn’t need to keep extending the deadlines for using the vouchers for this long. A cynic might argue that it was better for them to opt to do this rather than be told to do it, but leaving that aside, most of us will have had at least two extensions on our voucher expiry dates.

But as Simon Calder tells me

“Vouchers in all of their many forms, whether for cancelled flights or bungee jumps, are a real money-maker for businesses – because inevitably a proportion of people don’t use them”.

Many of the voucher limitations I’ve encountered so far are very frustrating– and I’d encourage all of you to complain about anything you think is unfair.

For example, one airline would only allow me to redeem one voucher per booking. That was for a return flight too – I couldn’t use a voucher per leg of the journey even when I tried to book them as separate flights.

Another airline has been the source of numerous complaints after the voucher redemption box seemingly vanished off its website. This also happened to me and I can confirm that I had a very frustrating conversation with a member of staff who denied this when I called to book on the phone instead (after an endless wait in the queue).

Can you get a refund for airline vouchers?

This is a hugely contentious issue as it was virtually impossible to call an airline over the pandemic – the only way to demand a cash refund. As a consequence millions upon millions of pounds worth of refunds were instead 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.

Make a formal complain to the airline and then to their alternative dispute resolution scheme (ADR) if they don’t play ball. I must confess, I’m not exactly thrilled by some of the ADR decisions on things like this, so let the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) know if you don’t think you’ve been treated fairly. Complain now though, so you don’t lose you chance to claim your voucher in worst case scenario.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James


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