If you change or cancel your flight – or get bumped – airlines will often give you at least some of that money back in the form of a voucher or travel credits to put toward a future trip. And these days, major U.S. airlines are offering travelers unprecedented flexibility to do so.
During the worst of the pandemic, major U.S. airlines did away with change fees on almost all their flights. That flexibility remains in place today, making it possible for travelers to change (or cancel and rebook) their existing reservations when prices drop – and pocket the difference as a credit or voucher, as long as you book a main cabin fare or higher. Basic economy fares forfeit this flexibility.
But when it comes time to book a new trip using these vouchers or ecredits, it's not always straightforward. Airlines put the onus on you as the traveler to make sure you actually get the vouchers you've earned and understand how and when to use them. Most of the time, they're betting you'll forget to redeem them at all.
Every airline calls their credits something different, from Delta eCredits to United future flight credits to Southwest LUV vouchers. In the end, though, they all essentially do the same thing: Act as payment for your next flight.
What is an Airline Voucher or Travel Credit?
An airline voucher or travel credit is like a coupon or gift card provided by an airline that can be used to book future travel. Most often, a voucher or travel credit can be applied as payment toward the cost of a flight.
If you choose to cancel a flight, most airlines will give you your money back in the form of a voucher or travel credit equivalent to the value of your ticket.
Be aware, though: Some airlines will try to get you to accept a voucher when they cancel – or make a significant change to – your flight. But, under U.S. law, travelers are entitled to a full cash refund.
Want a full refund instead of a voucher for future travel? Read our guide on getting refunds from your airline.
If prices drop and you want to change your flight to a cheaper itinerary, airlines like Delta will let you pocket the difference as a credit or voucher. This has gotten even easier since the pandemic, with most airlines doing away with change fees for good – so long as you're booking a main cabin fare and not basic economy.
So, how do you access these vouchers and credits once you've got them? From the moment you cancel your ticket or hit purchase on rebooking your cheaper flights, a voucher or travel credit should be on its way to your airline account. This isn't always the case, however. Rather than automatically inserting a new Delta credit into a traveler's online account, recently Delta has only been issuing some via email … and making you scroll to the bottom of the message to find it.
When it comes to airline vouchers and travel credits, each airline has its own policies for how you can use them – and how long you have to cash them in.
Pay close attention to the expiration date. Vouchers and credits are typically “use them or lose them,” although every airline is different. Some are more generous, but many carriers' travel credits and vouchers expire just 12 months from the date you purchased your first ticket. And in most cases, you'll need to actually take a new trip and put that credit to use before it expires – not just book before that date.
Southwest is a major exception, as the airline recently made all flight credits good for life. Thanks to another extension, all Delta eCredits can be redeemed through the end of 2023 – even for a trip in 2024.
If you've got a handful of credits or vouchers, don't worry: Most airlines easily allow you to apply up to three or more toward one transaction. Just keep in mind you can generally only use these travel credits for yourself, not someone else.
Keep reading for a breakdown of some of the major airlines’ vouchers and credits and how to use them.
What to Know About Delta eCredits
Delta eCredits are issued to travelers who chose to change their Delta flight for whatever reason and can be applied as payment towards the cost of another Delta Flight.
Since Delta did away with change and cancelation fees for main cabin fares and above, those flights can be canceled for an eCredit worth the value of the original ticket. And if you change to a cheaper flight, you can get an eCredit for the price difference.
But, the cheapest Delta basic economy fares get hit with a $99 to $199 penalty to get an eCredit. That means flyers who cancel a Delta basic economy ticket would get an eCredit for their canceled trip minus that cancellation fee, and if the cancellation fee is larger than the value of the original ticket they won't get an eCredit at all.
And remember, you'll no longer earn SkyMiles or credits towards elite status on Delta basic economy fares.
Any eCredits you earn from Delta typically show up in your account under “Certificates, Vouchers & eCredits” within 24 hours – sometimes sooner – without you having to do anything. But lately, rather than automatically inserting a new Delta eCredit into a traveler's online account, Delta may only issue it via email … and bury it at the end of a lengthy and otherwise bland confirmation message.
If that's the case, you'll have to save these nondescript emails with eCredits attached and then remember to enter them yourself at check-out to put them to use.
It's important to note that Delta will typically issue eCredits separately to each passenger booked on the reservation, rather than issuing one large eCredit to the person who initially booked the flights. So tracking down all the eCredits from a trip may require some legwork, especially if you canceled a family or group trip.
Delta eCredits typically last for a year from the date of purchase. Right now though, all eCredits can be used for travel through 2024, so long as you book the trip by the end of 2023.
How to Redeem Your Delta eCredits
It's much easier to redeem your Delta eCredits these days. So long as you're logged into your SkyMiles account and your eCredits are saved there, you should be able to select eCredits as a form of payment when you've chosen your flights and are ready to check out. Delta now allows you to use up to five eCredits at one time.
Just click “Use eCredits” in the payment section and it should pull up your available eCredits. Select the credit – or credits – you want to apply toward your flight and it will kick in automatically. If your flight costs more, you'll simply pay the balance. If it's less, Delta will issue you a new credit for the difference.
Unfortunately, Delta eCredits aren't transferrable, so if you're looking to rebook a trip for yourself and a companion or even the whole family you're out of luck.
Read our full guide on how to use Delta eCredits to book new flights.
What to Know About American Airlines Travel Credit
American Airlines has three different types of travel credits: Trip credits, flight credits, and travel vouchers. Any of these can be used to book flights.
If you voluntarily canceled or changed your flight you’ll most likely have received a “Flight Credit.” Flight credits can be used to book another trip on American, but can’t be used on an award booking or towards seats or bags.
As we’ve said, it’s important to pay attention to expiration dates. Flight credits expire after one year, and you must take the trip within that time frame – not just have booked it.
Another thing to note: Only the originally ticketed passenger can use the flight credit – they can’t be transferred or used to book a flight for someone else.
If you have an AAdvantage account you can log in to see your available flight credits in your wallet. If not, you can look up your canceled trip using your ticket and confirmation numbers and you should see the flight credit.
American also offers “Travel Vouchers.” Like flight credits, they can only be used towards flights, but they can be used to book travel for anyone.
These vouchers expire one year after they were issued, so you just have to book a trip within that period of time.
“Trip Credits” on the other hand, are typically given as compensation, as a refund, or if you’re changing to another flight and it’s less expensive. Like travel vouchers, trip credits can be used to book travel for more than one passenger, but you’ll have to call to do so.
Most trip credits will appear in your AAdvantage account if you have one. American will also send you an email with the trip credit number, which you'll need on hand if you want to use it to book a new flight.
How to Use Your American Airlines Travel Credit
Redeeming your American Airlines credits and vouchers is more complicated than it should be.
When booking a flight, you should see the option to “Add a Flight Credit” or “Add a Trip Credit” on the payment screen. For flight credits, you'll need to have your confirmation and ticket numbers handy, and your trip credit number if redeeming a trip credit.
You can use multiple flight credits at one time, but you’ll have to call an agent to do so. Meanwhile, you can redeem up to eight trip credits through an online booking, but if you want to use them to book another passenger you'll have to call.
To redeem a travel voucher, select “Other forms of payment” on the payment screen. Travel vouchers require a number and a PIN (both of which should have been emailed to you) to cash in. You can use up to eight vouchers at one time and can use even use them to book travel for multiple passengers.
What to Know About United Airlines Travel Credits
United Airlines has two types of travel credits: Future flight credits and travel certificates.
United Airlines will issue you a “Future Flight Credit” if you cancel your trip or change your flight to a less expensive one. And like most airlines, United has permanently gotten rid of change fees as long as you're booking anything above a basic economy fare.
Future flight credits can be used to book travel on United, United Express, and partner-operated flights. Unlike travel credits provided by some airlines, you can apply future flight credits toward seat upgrades when booking your ticket. The credits are usually good for up to one year from the date they were issued, and you must book AND take your trip by that date.
On occasion, United will issue travelers what it calls a “travel certificate” if they're bumped from an oversold flight or volunteer to give up their seat. These vouchers can be used to book future travel much in the same way as future flight credits, with one exception: You only need to book your trip before the expiration date – you don't need to actually take the trip by then.
Both future flight credits and travel certificates are typically valid for up to one year from the date they were issued, although if redeeming a future flight credit you need to both book your flight and take the trip before the expiration date.
How to Use Your United Airlines Travel Credits
Once you've chosen your new United flights, you can select “Travel Credits” as an option. If you're logged into your United MileagePlus account, you should see all your available travel credits. Select the checkbox next to the credit you wish to use and it will be automatically applied to your purchase. Don't have an account? You can look up your credit directly on the checkout page and apply it to your cart.
United allows you to use multiple credits on a single purchase, but they must be of the same type. Future flight credits and travel certificates cannot be combined.
Most future flight credits are non-transferable, meaning they can only be used by the passenger they were issued to. Travel certificates, meanwhile, can be used to book travel for anyone.
What to Know About Southwest Airlines Flight Credits and Vouchers
Southwest has some of the most straightforward travel credits of any airline. If you cancel your Southwest flight or downgrade to a cheaper fare, you'll receive what the airline calls a “flight credit” that can be used to purchase another Southwest flight. There's no fee for changing or canceling your flight.
The best part? There's no “use it or lose it” pressure when it comes to Southwest flight credits because they never expire.
You can see your available flight credits by going to the Payment section in your Rapid Rewards account. You can also use the Check Travel Funds page and enter the six-digit confirmation number from your reservation to access your flight credits if you don't have an account.
Southwest will let you transfer your flight credit to someone else, but there are some limitations. Both travelers must be Rapid Rewards members, you can only transfer one flight credit, and flight credits received from a Wanna Get Away fare – Southwest's most affordable option – are not eligible.
There's also what Southwest calls a “LUV Voucher.” These are vouchers issued by the airline that can be applied toward the cost of a future trip, just like flight credits. But unlike flight credits, they do expire – and you have to book and take your trip before the expiration date.
How to Redeem Southwest Flight Credits and LUV Vouchers
Again, it's a pretty straightforward process.
When booking a flight, you’ll see an option to apply a flight credit or LUV voucher on the payment screen. You can use up to two flight credits or vouchers, or a combination of both. All charges and fees must be paid with a credit card or other method of payment.
Can You Use Your Voucher On a Different Airline?
The short answer is yes. Some airlines allow you to book flights on another airline operated by one of their partners using your voucher. For example, you can use an American Airlines voucher to book a flight on British Airways or Iberia, as they’re all a part of the Oneworld airline alliance.
A general rule of thumb is that as long as it is bookable through the airline where you hold the voucher or credit, you should be able to use it.
Most major U.S. airlines are still allowing travelers to freely change or cancel their flights in exchange for a voucher or travel credit they can use to book future travel with the airline. It's one of the biggest silver linings coming out of the pandemic.
But, making sure you get those vouchers and credits – and actually remembering to use them before they expire – is entirely in your hands.