Checked your airline accounts lately? You may be sitting on a free flight that you’ve forgotten about, says one travel expert. And with holiday fares getting higher, anything that can save you a buck or two might be worth investigating.
Brooke Vaughan, senior content marketing specialist at Going.com, says that when the weather canceled a bunch of flights last year, airlines poured forth with travel credits that could be close to becoming invalid. Same with some of the 24-month credits that were issued toward the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on when they were issued, there might be some life left in those, as well.
“Even if you don’t have travel credits to spend this year, you might, unfortunately, have a flight that gets delayed or canceled, and you’ll need this info for next year,” Vaughan said. “So save this, star it, share it with a friend who may have travel credits to spend.”
All you need to know about travel credits
Airlines issue travel credits for a few different reasons, but mostly two. One way is when you cancel a ticket or change to one that costs less than the original ticket. The other is if there is an operational issue with the airline prior to your departure.
However, Vaughan points out that there’s a possible wrinkle on the first reason. The caveat being that you’ll only get a credit on applicable tickets.
“For instance, basic economy is typically non-refundable and not eligible for credit, so if you cancel, you forfeit the value of the ticket," Vaughan said. "Some basic economy tickets may be eligible for partial credit, so contact the airline to find out what you qualify for.”
You should also be aware that there’s no blanket rule for travel credits. They will vary from airline to airline in how long they’re good for, who can use them, terms and conditions, and also name. For example, Delta calls its credits “eCredits,” whereas American Airlines offers trip credits, flight credits, and travel vouchers.
There are several ways to determine if you have any travel credits. One is to search your email for the name of the airline or “travel credit”/”travel voucher”/”flight credit.” Another way is to go to the sites of the airlines you’ve flown on and look under your “loyalty program” account. A third – and probably the simplest way – is to do a web search for “where do I find my travel credits on [name of airline]?”
When you’re ready to pull the trigger on using your travel credits, all you have to do is go back to that specific part of the airline’s site and look for the option to “redeem” or “apply unused credits” to the flight you’re booking.
Keep in mind that these credits are typically for flights only. “If you’re thinking, ‘I’ll use my credits to treat myself to a better seat next time I fly,’ think again,” Vaughan warns.
“Some airlines restrict credit usage to only the fare price and any applicable taxes and fees. In other words, you might not be able to use credits on upgrades like bags, priority boarding, and better seats if you paid for a basic economy ticket. You’d need to use your travel credits toward a higher fare class, like economy or business, that includes the add-ons that you’re looking for.
Tricks of the trade
Vaughan gave ConsumerAffairs a couple of ways that you might be able to leverage the use of your travel credits. The first is that you can “usually” use credits for flights on different airlines within the same alliance.
“If you got credits through United, which is part of Star Alliance, then you should be able to apply your credits to trips through other partner airlines, like Lufthansa, Air Canada, and SAS,” she said. “Note that you’ll probably need to book the flight through the airline offering your credit. In this case, you’d need to buy your flight on the United website.”
Another is if the expiration date is drawing near, put on your best face and sweetest voice and call the airline’s customer service and ask nicely if they’ll extend your credit.
“If that doesn’t work, there may be another workaround: You can book a refundable flight, and then cancel the flight. You’ll receive a new credit with a new expiration date, usually a year from the date you canceled,” Vaughan noted.
“This tactic can vary from airline to airline, but if you’re nearing your expiration date and running out of options, you don’t have much to lose.”