More than a year into the pandemic, travelers across the country who canceled trips last year are now staring down airline credits and vouchers that may soon expire. And despite receiving more than $50 billion from taxpayers to stay afloat over the last year, some U.S. airlines aren't cutting flyers a break.
There's no question that airlines have given travelers unprecedented flexibility in the last year, allowing free change and cancellation on almost any ticket. But depending on the airline and when you booked, the credit you get when canceling a flight may last for just a year from your initial purchase. And with many airlines, you have to actually travel before the expiration date – not simply book a new ticket beforehand.
For many, that date is fast approaching … or has already come. Not ready or able to travel yet? Poof: Your travel credit – and your money – will be gone.
Not sure when your airline vouchers or credit expire? Read our guide to finding and using airline travel credits and keep reading for a breakdown of which airlines have extended them.
It's a massive sum of travelers' money on the line. The nation's four largest airlines – American, Delta, Southwest, and United – counted $10 billion in unused travel credits at the end of 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal. Not all those credits will disappear, of course. And some airlines have gone much further than others, in some cases giving travelers until the end of 2022 to use up their credits.
But even after accepting tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, others appear more than willing to wipe out those credits. None of the nation's four largest carriers would directly address Thrifty Traveler's question if they would extend travel credits due to expire soon.
Every airline sets its own rules and timelines for how travel credits can be used. Despite pressure from Congress to be more liberal with both refunds and travel credits, there are few, if any, overarching federal regulations.
While Delta has shined throughout the pandemic with many customer-friendly moves, it's also been among the stingiest when it comes to extending those credits as travel slowly resumes.
Some Delta travel credits from canceled flights will last through 2022, but that's only true if you booked before April 17. Book a hopeful trip sometime last spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic was still in its early stages? That travel credit may be expiring in the coming weeks and months, a year from the date you first booked the flight. Worse yet, you have to take that rebooked trip before it expires – not just book something for the future.
Not sure when your Delta eCredits expire or how to use them? Read our guide to use Delta eCredits!
A Delta spokesman wouldn't comment on whether Delta may extend these credits, saying only: “We are continually reviewing and updating our policies, as we’ve done throughout the pandemic.”
That timeline has put Minnesotan Rachel Brucker in a tight spot. After canceling a trip to Orlando (and at least five others) she booked last year, she's got $400 in Delta eCredits currently set to expire by June. After asking Delta “about four times” about a possible extension, she's wondering if she should just book a trip rather than lose that money.
“I'm not thrilled,” she said. “It doesn't make me think warm fuzzy thoughts about them, but I think they are still the best major airline option.”
Delta isn't alone in being stingy. Southwest may be renowned for never charging change or cancellation fees long before its competitors ditched them last year, but it has only extended travel credits for travel initially booked by Sept. 7, 2020. If you canceled a Southwest trip booked late last summer or in the fall, those travel funds last for just a year – and like Delta, you'll have to complete the trip by that expiration date.
“We’re seeing a high percentage of customers using their funds to travel under this pandemic policy,” a Southwest spokesman said.
United Airlines might have earned scorn last year by resisting giving the refunds it legally owed customers after canceling their flights, yet no airline has gone further to give travelers more time to use the credits from a trip upended by COVID-19. United automatically extended any travel funds from any trip booked by the end of this March all the way through March 2022.
How Major Airlines are Handling Travel Credits
Any Alaska Airlines travel credit issued on or after March 1, 2020, has been extended through Dec. 31, 2021. Other credits last for a year from the date the original ticket was purchased. Unlike many other airlines, Alaska simply requires that you rebook travel before the credit expires. Read more on Alaska's policy.
Any American Airlines flight credit from a trip booked by Sept. 30, 2020, for travel through March 2021 has been extended through March 2022. Other flight credits last just a year. American requires you to take the entire trip before the credit expires. Read more on American's policy.
Delta Air Lines
Delta has extended eCredits all the way through December 2022 – but only if you initially booked before April 17, 2020. All other eCredits expire a year after the ticket was originally booked. Booking with an eCredit, you must complete the trip before the expiration date. Read more on Delta's policy.
Any JetBlue credit issued by June 30, 2020, will last for a full two years. Flights purchased more recently will result in a credit that lasts one year from the date it was issued. JetBlue only requires that you book a flight using your credit before it expires. Read more on JetBlue's policy.
Southwest tickets originally booked by Sept. 7, 2020, will get travel funds valid through Sept. 7, 2022. More recent tickets will only last for a year from the date of purchase. Flights booked using Southwest travel funds must be completed before the expiration date. Read more on Southwest's policy.
All Spirit reservation credits issued since March 2020 have an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2021 – but you must book using that credit by Sept. 30, 2021. Read more on Spirit's policy.
United travel credits from any trip originally booked through March 2021 will last through March 2022. United requires that you start (but not necessarily finish) a trip booked with travel credits before the expiration date. Read more on United's policy.
After a year of being stuck at home and canceling trips, time is winding down for hundreds of thousands of Americans to use up some airline credits and vouchers – whether they know it.
After American taxpayers bailed out the airlines not once, not twice, but three times, airlines should return the favor and extend these credits across the board until everyone is ready to get back in the skies.