Are your unused travel vouchers about to expire? How to keep them from going to waste

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Check your travel vouchers.

There are billions of dollars in unused vouchers as travel came to a standstill this past year, and those vouchers will expire.

Whether you don’t feel comfortable traveling yet, or your voucher expired already, that doesn’t necessarily mean that money has gone to waste.

“A voucher does have an expiration date, but if you make some noise -- we found this to be true -- and you talk with the airline, they may be able to bend and extend that voucher,” said Consumer Reports senior editor Donna Rosato.

Rosato said once you check the expiration date on your original voucher, check to see where that airline stands.

American Airlines and United extended their vouchers to March 31, 2022.

Delta extended its deadline to Dec. 31, 2022.

If your voucher has already expired, Rosato recommends still reaching out to the airline by calling, emailing, or through social media.

Rosato said most airlines are willing to work with you, except when it comes to issuing refunds.

The chances of getting a money-back refund from an unused travel voucher are relatively low. According to the U.S. Department of Transporation, thousands of people have filed complaints over the past year demanding airlines give them their money back.

“That’s because the rules don’t allow you to get your money back unless the airline actually cancels the flight and, in that case, you are entitled to a refund,” said Rosato.

Airlines are far more likely to reschedule you on another flight before canceling a flight outright.

Over the past year, if an airline did end up canceling a flight it was likely at the last minute, forcing people to play chicken with the airlines.

However, airlines have been flexible this year by getting rid of those rebooking fees, but that’s set to change.

American and Delta airlines both will once again start charging you to change your flight starting May 1, but for basic economy seats only. That’s for vouchers or any new flight you may purchase. However, with the more expensive seats, both airlines continue to waive that fee for now.

United Airlines is similar. Starting Saturday, if you buy a basic economy seat, you will be charged a fee if you change your flight. However, if you already have a voucher for any seat, you are safe from a changing fee until April 2022.

Jet Blue will continue to waive all change fees until May 31. This is on all seats for vouchers and new tickets, so that gives you one month for changes without being charged.

Southwest has never charged change fees, even before the pandemic.

This leads us to the next question, is travel insurance worth it?

“It isn’t always a good investment; they don’t cover things like pandemics, unfortunately,” said Rosato.

Rosato said insurance is meant to cover unforeseen situations. The pandemic no longer falls under that category.

If you don’t plan on using the insurance because of an issue related to the pandemic, then it’s something to look further into.

AAA spokesperson Mark Jenkins said travel overall is ramping back up. Not just flights, but rental cars.

In Hawaii, car rentals have become so expensive people have started to rent U-Haul trucks instead.

“During the pandemic last year, fewer people were traveling, so car rental companies had to get creative and they sold off a lot of their fleet. Now they’re in a situation where the demand is surging, and they don’t have as many vehicles,” Jenkins said. “You compound that with the auto industry is producing fewer cars because of a technology demand issue, so we’re in a situation where there’s a surge in demand but not as many options for travelers.”

So how do you get a good deal? Jenkins recommends:

  • Renting off airport property. You’re much more likely to get a good deal if you are in a situation where you can take a ride share or shuttle to a car rental location first.
  • Pay before you get there, instead of when you arrive.
  • Rent on weekdays instead of weekends.
  • Rent a car for a full week, and if you don’t need it the whole time ask if you can get a refund if you return the car early.
  • Rent as far in advance as possible. Last-minute rentals could cost much more.
  • Try and be flexible if you can.

That same advice goes when booking flights, cruises, and hotels.

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