Rebooking airline tickets: How to sort out various vouchers and credits for future flights

Here's a guide to the various credits offered by the 10 largest domestic airlines.

Jacob van Cleef

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, PIRG

Updated June 27, 2022

For the last two-plus years, flights and travel plans have routinely been canceled. Finally in 2022, many Americans may be smiling at the thought of traveling again. Since the pandemic hit American shores, consumers who canceled flights received different types of credits and vouchers, which the airlines have tweaked a bit as COVID restrictions and concerns have eased.

But airlines are still canceling flights with regularity, often because of staffing issues. When an airline cancels or significantly delays your flight, you have the right to a refund, but many airlines will first try to offer a voucher or credit. Before agreeing to credits or vouchers, consumers should ask for a full refund. Refunds are more useful because having money in your pocket gives you more control than money that’s good only for a flight with a specific airline. Airlines prefer giving credits or vouchers, so consumers may need to be persistent to get a refund. If consumers are unsatisfied with how problems were solved, they can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Sometimes refunds cannot be acquired, so it’s important to understand the different credits and vouchers.

Listed below are the 10 largest airlines in the United States (listed by market share), according to the Department of Transportation, and the credits they give out. In general, the credits and vouchers are extremely complicated to understand. Sometimes there are date restrictions for usage, or complicated situations dictating under what circumstances they can or cannot be used. It’s also important to know when the credit/voucher expires because even though most expire after a year, that is not always the case. 

The list below should help you know what the airline is giving you, But whenever an airline offers you something besides a refund, ask for a refund instead. If the airline won’t give you a refund, make sure you know all of your options and what the credits cover.


American: 
American Airlines has three types of credits. There are trip credits, flight credits and travel vouchers. 

Trip credits are issued for the difference between flight exchanges and expire a year after being issued. Eight credits can be redeemed and used on a single trip.

Flight credits can be used only on flights, not on extra bags or other extras. It can be used only by the person who was given the flight credit within a year of it being issued. For AAdvantage members, an original ticket issued between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, the value of the unused ticket can be used by Sept. 30, 2022 for travel through Dec. 31, 2022. The flight credits can be used on multiple flights until they are all used.

Travel vouchers can be electronic or paper vouchers. Travel vouchers received for the difference between flight exchange can be used only on flights, not on extra bags or other extras. It can be used by the person who was given the flight credit within a year of it being issued to buy a flight for anyone. Paper vouchers cannot be replaced if lost. They will be replaced by trip credits after once the pandemic is over

 

Southwest:
Southwest Airlines has one type of refund credit. Customers can get travel funds instead of a refund for any flight if they want. Some flights are nonrefundable, so travel funds are the only option when canceling those flights. They must be booked within a year of being issued and used only for flights. Customers have the funds until they run out or the funds expire. 

 

Delta:
Delta Airlines has three key types of credits. Customers receive Delta Travel Vouchers for the difference between prices of flights when exchanging tickets. Delta Dollars are given if you’re unable to board because the flight is overbooked. Transportation Credit Vouchers are given in response to service issues. Delta adds them to a customer’s profile, and they do not disappear until they get fully used.

 

United:
United Airlines has two types of credits. Of the two, Travel Certificates are as good or better than Future Flight Credits in every way. 

Travel Certificates can be used by anyone up to two years in the future on multiple flights until the value is completely used, while Future Flight Credits normally can be used only by the traveler it was issued to on a single flight within a year, with any unused credits being lost. That has changed for Future Flight Credits. All Future Flight Credits issued for tickets bought before Sept. 1, 2021, can be used by anyone. Contact reservations at 800-864-8331. 

In addition, Travel Certificates have more flexibility. They have a “book by” deadline, meaning the flight must be booked before the expiration date, which is generally one year after the ticket was originally issued. Future Flight Credits have a “travel by” date as their deadline, meaning travel must occur before the expiration date. This is usually one year, but for Future Flight Credits issued before Jan. 1, 2023, the “travel by” deadline will be Dec. 31, 2023.

If issued between May 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, the Future Flight Credits must be used within two years, with any unused credits being lost. United also can restrict what days Future Flight Creditscan be used. 


Alaska:

Alaska Airlines has Credit Certificates for exchanging or canceling non-refundable tickets. Customers can use their Credit Certificates one year after buying the original ticket, or 30 days after canceling the flight, whichever is later. The flight can be up to 11 months later, but the ticket must be booked before the credit expires. They cannot be exchanged for money or used on anything other than the ticket itself. 

 

JetBlue:
JetBlue issues two travel credits. Travel Bank Credits and Vacation Travel Credits are similar, with the key distinction being that Bank Credits can be used only for flights, cancellation fees and taxes on flights, but not for checked bags or change fees. Vacation Travel Credits can be used on an entire vacation package. 

Both types of credits must be used within a year of being issued and can be used for someone other than the person the credit was issued to, but Vacation Travel Credits cannot be used for online purchases. You can redeem by calling JetBlue Vacations at 1-844-528-2229. 

In one update, Travel Bank Credits with original expiration dates between Feb. 1, 2020, through Sept. 29, 2022, can be used through Sept. 30, 2022. 

 

Spirit:
Spirit Airlines has two types of credits. Of the two, Reservation Credits are better than Future Travel Vouchers. The Credits can be applied to tickets, bags, seats, vacation packages, fees and taxes, while the Vouchers can be applied only to tickets, fees, taxes and other services related to flights. Reservation Credits have to be used by the person they are issued to within a year of being issued, unless issued after June 1, 2020. Credits issued after June 1, 2020, expire on May 31, 2021. Credits stay on a profile until fully used. Vouchers also must be used within a year of being issued. A voucher can be used only on a single purchase, with any leftover value on the voucher being lost. Spirit also restricts the dates the vouchers can be used on for flights.

 

Frontier: 
Frontier has two types of credits. Of the two, Flight Credits are better than Flight Vouchers. Neither can be transferred to another person. Both can be used for future flights. Credits must be used within a year of being issued, but vouchers must be used (with flights booked) within 90 days of being issued. While credits can be used on as many flights as needed until they’re fully used, vouchers can be used only on one flight, with any leftover value going to waste.

 

SkyWest:
SkyWest operates flights on behalf of other airlines. When trying to cancel flights with SkyWest and other airlines that operate flights on behalf of others, make sure to find out what company the flight is operated for. Other companies manage the cancelations and credits.

 

Hawaiian:
Hawaiian Airlines offer Travel Credits. Travel Credits must be used (meaning flight booked) within a year of being issued by the customer it is issued to. A Travel Credit can be used only once, so if the credits are used on flight that is cheaper than the value of the credits, leftover credits are lost. They’re not good for baggage fees, upgrade or ticket change fees or inflight amenities such as beverages and headsets.

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Jacob van Cleef

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, PIRG

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