Warning: Don’t Accept Travel Vouchers If An Airline Cancels Your Flight(s)


Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission that helps contribute to the running of the site. Traveling For Miles has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Traveling For Miles and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. For more details please see the disclosures found at the bottom of every page.


A worrying number of airlines are currently doing their very best to either make it very hard for customers to request the full refund that the law says they’re entitled to, or they’re offering passengers incentives to accept travel vouchers in place of refunds. This is not good news for flyers and you should almost certainly refuse a travel voucher if a refund is due to you.

What Do The Rules Say?

First and foremost let’s get one thing very clear: The current pandemic does not allow airlines to ignore the rule of law in the countries they operate within and to/from.

Airlines cannot pick and choose which laws they’ll adhere to and which they ignore and this applies as much to situations where an airline cancels a traveler’s flight(s) as it does to any other situation that may arise.

In the United States the Department of Transport (DoT) regulations on canceled flights are very clear:

If your flight is canceled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets.  You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.  

The DoT goes on to say the following:

If the airline offers you a voucher for future travel instead of a refund, you should ask the airline about any restrictions that may apply, such as blackout and expiration dates, advanced booking requirements, and limits on number of seats.

As far as the law in the European Union goes (yes, this still covers the UK), this is the advice:

If your cancelled [short-haul, medium-haul or long-haul] flight is covered by EU law, your airline must let you choose between two options:

1. Receive a refund

You can get your money back for all parts of the ticket you haven’t used. For instance, if you have booked a return flight and the outbound leg is cancelled, you can get the full cost of the return ticket back from your airline.

2. Choose an alternative flight

If you still want to travel, your airline must find you an alternative flight. It’s up to you whether to fly as soon as possible after the cancelled flight, or at a later date that suits you. Airlines often refer to this as being ‘rerouted’.

Although most airlines will book you onto another of their flights to the same destination, if an alternative airline is flying there significantly sooner then you may have the right to be booked onto that flight instead. You can discuss this with your airline.

For clarity, a flight is covered by EU law if it departs from or arrives into:

  • Any EU member country
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Switzerland

The home country of an airline has no bearing on whether or not it is subject to EU law.

Airlines in the US and EU cannot refuse you a refund if they have canceled your flight(s).

What’s The Issue?

A number of airlines (like British Airways, United Airlines, SWISS, and Lufthansa) have been making it deliberately difficult for passengers to request refunds by either:

  • Forcing them to call in and wait on hold for hours for a refund (when refunds were previously requestable online)
  • Directing them to areas of their websites which suggest that they’ll be offered a refund  but which actually only offer them the option to request a voucher for future travel (British Airways is very guilty of this)
  • Lying to them by saying that they cannot process refunds at all and letting them believe that a travel voucher is their only viable option (this appears to be the preferred tactic of SWISS).

Other airlines (like American) are trying to persuade customers not to request the cash refunds they’re entitled to by offering them bonus travel credits on top of the travel vouchers they’re automatically entitled to.

In all these cases, what the airlines are trying to do is to minimize the amount of cash they have to give back to travelers so that they can shore up their own finances and, by issuing travel vouchers, airlines are effectively getting customers to provide them with interest-free loans.

Moreover, not only are the travel vouchers effectively interest-free loans to the airlines, they’re also loans that expire.

Most of the travel vouchers that the airlines are currently issuing are valid for a period no longer than 12 months from when the originally booked travel was due to take place so if a passenger doesn’t use their voucher(s) in that time, the voucher is useless and the airline owes them nothing in return.

That’s a phenomenal deal for the airline and a very poor deal for the customer.

Don’t Be Naive

No one knows what the airline industry will look like in 6, 12 or 18 month’s time and there’s a very real chance that not all the airlines in existence today will be in existence when all of this has blown over…at least not in their current guise.

Airlines around the world are begging their governments to bail them out of trouble right now, and there are some governments that are showing a great deal of reticence when it comes to handing over billions of dollars to corporations that, fundamentally, didn’t save for a stormy day.

Yes, eventually most (probably all) of the major carriers are likely to be bailed out in one way or another, but there’s absolutely no guarantee what those bailouts will look like and there’s every chance (at least in some jurisdictions) that passengers holding promissory notes for future travel from a distressed airline may see themselves categorized as unsecured creditors and, as a result, never see a dime of value out of their travel vouchers.

If you have the legal right to a cash refund why would you put yourself in a position where you have exchanged that cash for a voucher that may turn out to be worthless?

Ok, yes, all the US airlines have been through bankruptcy at least once before (they really are appalling corporations for the most part) and I don’t think that passengers with vouchers for future travel have been wiped out in those bankruptcies (someone please correct me if I’m wrong)…but that’s no guarantee that things won’t be different this time around.

No one knows what any of the airline bailouts will look like this time around and no one knows for sure which airlines will get the government aid they claim to need, so why offer them an interest-free loan if you don’t have to? If you feel like gambling then sure, go ahead…but be very aware that you’re very clearly taking a gamble.

Bottom Line

I strongly recommend that no one settles for an airline voucher for future travel in place of a cash refund just because they’re having trouble getting a response from the airline or because they have to wait on hold for a long time.

  • Stay on the phone line as long as it takes and get your money back regardless of how long you have to stay on hold.
  • If the airline tries to tell you that you’re not entitled to a refund (and it canceled your flight) make sure you have the relevant local law(s) to hand, quote them down the phone line (or via social media if that’s how you’re dealing with them) and tell them you’ll lodge a complaint with the relevant authorities if they ignore your legal rights.
  • If an airline still refuses to listen (and you have checked that you’re entitled to a refund) report them to the department that regulates them (the DoT in the US) and get in touch with the credit card company that you used to book the trip to see if you can request a chargeback.

Do not give up. Do not let the airline wear you down. If an airline has canceled your flight(s) you are entitled to 100% of what you originally paid in the original currency you used – that means that you’re entitled to all the money you handed over (fares + fees + taxes + ancillary fees) as well as any miles, points, and co-pays that you handed over.

It is not your job as a traveler to support billion-dollar corporations with interest-free loans (that you may never see repaid) – get your money back and don’t settle for vouchers.

9 COMMENTS

  1. This now appears to be an industry wide practice. EasyJet is saying that you can only have a refund if you contact their customer service centre, but they terminate all calls – you cannot even hang on the line. Last week the refund option was provided on the website, now it has mysteriously disappeared. No vouchers are being offered by EasyJet – you have to re-book your flights to another date (and pay the difference in price of flight).
    KLM guidance is entirely misleading as it makes no reference to the fact you are entitled to an actual refund and not just a voucher.
    Both airlines are not responding to calls, tweets, Facebook messages etc.

    The best option if you have paid with a UK credit card is to try and get a refund under S.75 Consumer Credit Act 1974 (for flights over £100) as You have booked for a flight on a certain date and not an expiring voucher to fly on a date unknown

  2. I contacted JetBlue yesterday and I purchased the tix through flight hub without any insurance. I was surprised how nice and got a voucher for the total amount good for 1 yr from my date of purchased. No hassle at all and wrote the date on my calendar and all my electronic stuff.
    Now the problem is with CSA who I purchased the insurance from through Flight Hub. I contacted CSA and said I have to go by Flight Hub rules. I contacted Flight Hub on the phone and
    was told that at present CSA would give me a refund of $758.88 or get a voucher for the total amount of $1,356 from the date of purchase 1/22/2021. My flight is in May 2020 to Egypt and I have no issue going later in the year. My question should I take the refund now change the date of the flight.

  3. What happens if you booked through a travel agent and you used half of the travel? Meaning one airline canceled the first leg on the way back, and travel agent (ASAPtickets) would not change carriers. Agent said no refund and no voucher, airline said they couldn’t give us anything because we booked through agent. One ticket was a one way and had insurance on it and still told me they won’t honey that.
    We rebooked with a different agent and airline so we could get back home.
    This is a international flight.

  4. What US law or regulation requires airlines to provide a refund? The linked page is guidance from the DoT but does not cite any law or regulation as authority for requiring airlines to provide refunds. Thank you.

  5. Southwest’s position is that because the flight cancellations were a result of government actions they are not required to give a refund. I’ve complained to DOT.

    • On the grounds that the DoT hasn’t waived any of its rules relating to cancellations and there is no rule exception for the crisis we are in right now, Southwest is in breach of the rules by not offering a refund.

      The next time you’re in contact with the airline ask them to point you to the rule/legislation that says they don’t have to refund you.

      Also, contact your credit card issuer and request a chargeback (if you’re within the chargeback time limit)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here