Coronavirus has caused travel chaos around the world in the past year. With thousands of holidays cancelled, travellers have either been able to get a refund or a travel voucher for the cost of their flights.
But as we come up to a year from when the UK first went into lockdown, many are left wondering whether they’ll even have a chance to use their flight voucher, as they find themselves in yet another lockdown.
If this sounds familiar: don’t worry, you’re not alone. Find out what you’re entitled to and what to do next.
Firstly, voucher or refund?
Many travel firms offered customers flight vouchers, which can be use in the future. Traditional vouchers are usually passenger-specific and non-transferable, which is seen as one of the biggest disadvantages.
It’s usually best to ask for a refund instead if you’re eligible. If you’ve already agreed to accept a voucher, make sure you’ve read and understand the terms and conditions of the offer. Ryanair’s vouchers can be transferred into refunds. However, British Airways and easyJet warn that once a voucher is chosen, it cannot be changed to a cash refund. Jet2 offers refund credit notes, which can be used to re-book future flights, and if you don’t redeem your refund credit note by the expiry date, you’ll still have the option for a full cash refund.
GIVT’s air travel and compensation expert Piotr Rybicki believes airlines should work together with the travel community on enhancing their voucher offering. “It is in our mutual interest to make vouchers a real alternative so both the interests of airlines and expectations of customers are met,” he says.
What about expiry dates on vouchers?
Vouchers usually range from 12 to 24 months, however with airlines continuing to cancel flights, many travellers may be unable to use them before they expire. Lots of vouchers come with strict expiration dates and sadly, in most cases, it’s a ‘use it or lose it’ situation and the voucher doesn’t have any monetary value.
“Expiry dates of travel vouchers should be extended to at least 12 months from the original planned departure date, but with expected dates for the actual restart of air traffic also taken into consideration,” says Rybick.
“Clear information about voucher policies should be provided and they should be transferable between passengers and other services.”
Individual airline and travel companies have their own policies, so the advice is to get in contact with your travel company and see if it’s possible to extend the expiry date. You could also ask if they’ll honour expired vouchers, considering you’re unable to travel right now.
It’s worth keeping in mind that if the company goes into administration before you use your voucher, you won’t be able to spend it. If you booked a package holiday, you should be able to get a refund for your voucher from the company that went into administration that it was protected by.
What about future holidays?
Acknowledging that vouchers can be restrictive, Boland says those buying flights for holidays in 2021 should pick airlines with better ‘book with confidence’ policies on standard tickets, like Jet2 and British Airways, so they can easily change their booking if lockdown, travel bans or other disruptions mean they can’t travel at short notice.
“Or, better still, book a package holiday, which may provide additional protections,” he says.