Airline Travel Vouchers: Are They Worth It?

According to Christopher Elliot, ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler, they might not be:

“Vouchers are a better deal for the airline than they are for passengers. The carrier gets to continue overbooking its flights — which is common industry practice — and then offering compensation that is of questionable value to passengers.

There is probably a fairer way of handling an overbooking situation. I think airlines should offer credit that doesn’t expire and has real cash value. ”

We agree with Christopher, a voucher is nice, but it’s not really valuable. Vouchers shouldn’t expire, and they should be easy to redeem.—MEGHANN MARCO

Travel Troubleshooter: Vouchers rarely worthwhile [Star-Tribune]


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  1. Scazza says:

    Ya, a voucher is meaningless if you needed to go at that time. Plus they already have your money, so it dosn’t matter to them.

  2. glitterpig says:

    Man, I’m so mad about vouchers right now. My mother-in-law was a day late the last time she visited because they promised her one if she’d get bumped and she thought, hey, free trip. Then they made it nearly impossible to redeem – she finally had to drive an hour to the airport, and even then they restricted her to the most ridiculous times and dates.

    Of course, if you’re an airline, why would you do anything else?

  3. TheGoldfishCowboy says:

    The last time I flew, the Woodford Reserve cost more than the ticket itself.

  4. grouse says:

    Vouchers are given in the case of voluntary denied boarding (VDB), that is when you volunteer. If the airline bumps you without your consent, it is considered involuntary denied boarding (IDB), and they have to give you cash. For example, on UA, this amount can be up to USD 400. Of course, the gate agents will try to fob you off with a voucher (possibly a voucher with a larger value). Insist on the cash.

    Then they made it nearly impossible to redeem – she finally had to drive an hour to the airport, and even then they restricted her to the most ridiculous times and dates.

    It sounds like she accepted the dreaded “free trip” instead of a real voucher, which has a dollar amount attached to it. Some airlines will let you insist on a dollar-amount voucher rather than a “free trip.” These are much more useful, since you can combine them with each other or your money to buy a ticket for a flight that wouldn’t be allowed with the heavily-restricted “free trip.”

  5. Most airline vouchers are only valid for a certain class of flights (and they’re all Z or U or FU or whatever the worst possible class is for that airline) , as I quickly learned when trying to book a particularly popular flight on Delta or United (I forget), which is a load of crap because they don’t mention that when they are booting your ass off a flight.

  6. mglasspo says:

    I was in SF flying to Chicago a couple of years ago on an overbooked red-eye. They offered cash. But the low amount was stupid it was like $200. I figured $200 wasn’t so bad if they threw in a hotel room – I hadn’t spent much time in SF and figured $200 could be a nice night out. No dice, they wouldn’t add a hotel room on and ended up having to actually pull the late passengers off the plan and compensate them.

    It’s nuts. We’re doing them a favour for their mistake, they should make it WELL worth our while.

    When I went to England last year, Air Canada offered a $500 voucher + first class upgrade for the next day flight. Very tempting, but I declined – a good thing too! The next two or three days of flights were cancelled due to weather. Ours was the last out.

    I’ll only accept to be bumped if it REALLY works in my favour. People should lobby lawmakers so that vouchers given for being bumped have to be treated as cash by the airlines. You book your flight, then you “pay” for whatever part of it you can in vouchers.

  7. jblake1 says:

    I get to offer voluntary denied boarding compensation due to oversold/overweight flights about once per week. It is always 1 of 2 things a free domestic 48/canada coach ticket (highly restricted) or a $300.00 voucher good on any future purchase good for a year from the date of issue.

    If you’re flying domestic and you decide to volunteer and accept compensation always take the $$$ voucher. That way you get to decide when and where you use it. With the proliferation of low fares today it works out to be a pretty good deal.

    The free ticket offer is very hard to redeem as on most flights there are only a couple of seats in the voucher fare class and once they have been sold you’ll have to find another trip.

    Happy Volunteering!

  8. nweaver says:

    Yet one more area where Southwest wins on customer service:

    Its a voucher for southwest which is $100-200 (depending) + what you paid for the ticket, and southwest vouchers don’t have restrictions (you can buy the cheapest ticket available for the flight you want), they just expire after 1 year.

    It used to be you had to get them processed at a ticket counter, but I tihnk they have changed that as well.

    We actually call it the “Southwest Airline’s Frequent Flyer Lottery”, althoughI think they are overbooking a little less these days.

  9. MonkeyMonk says:

    I love vouchers. The last time my wife and I flew back to the US from the UK on British Airways we volunteered to be bumped from our flight until the next day. They compensated us with:

    * Nice Hilton hotel room.
    * Free dinner and breakfast.
    * Five $200 vouchers for *each* of us that we didn’t have any trouble redeeming over the next 2 years.
    * Upgrade to 1st class on the return flight.

    Plus we got to spend another day in London. Not a bad deal at all.

  10. William C Bonner says:

    How about when a flight gets canceled altogether. I had a flight into Chicago at the beginning of December to go see a museum exhibit that ended at the end of December. (The King Tut Exhibit at the Field Museum) I was planning on staying with my uncle in Chicago, and had purchased the ticket well in advance, directly from the airline, at a discount rate. The flight was canceled because of weather. They were willing to reschedule at no aditional cost, but I’d have had to make up the difference in ticket price. I had paid around $250 for my ticket, and the only thing they had available in the next three weeks, before the end of the year, was going to cost a minimum of $850.

    They did refund my ticket entirely, but what I had really wanted was to go to Chicago for a couple of days during the Holiday Season.

    Did I have any options besides paying for an expensive ticket and getting a full refund?

  11. grouse says:

    WBonner: I am surprised at your story. On most airlines, you would have been put in the next available seat without an extra charge. What airline was it?

  12. Metschick says:

    Yet one more area where Southwest wins on customer service:

    Its a voucher for southwest which is $100-200 (depending) + what you paid for the ticket, and southwest vouchers don’t have restrictions (you can buy the cheapest ticket available for the flight you want), they just expire after 1 year.

    Hells yeah. In September, I went to Pittsburgh, and because our return flight was delayed half an hour, my sister and I received a $200 voucher each. (Never mind that the original flight only cost $100 each.) Yesterday, I booked a flight for Florida for March, and I was able to use my voucher for any of the flights they offered. I’m going to Florida for only $17! Sweet!

  13. William C Bonner says:

    My story was based on two of us flying from Seattle to Chicago on Alaska Airlines, leaving on Friday around noon, and our flight back was scheduled for leaving Chicago to return on Sunday. At the airport, when they canceled the flight, they couldn’t tell when they next flight would go, and going on Saturday at the same time would have required changing our return flights as well to make the time in Chicago worthwhile.

  14. Plasmafire says:

    I say just get your money back or sue the hell out of them. They will never learn anything unless you make them pay.

  15. jblake1 says:

    WBonner: That should not happen… if your schedule or routing was changed by the airline due to an act of god (weather) or an act of airline (mechanical) your original fare should stand.

    The only exception I can think of is if you decided not to travel and have your ticket reissued for new dates/times/destination?? Did you travel to Chicago later than what the airline offered to book you on?

  16. grouse says:

    WBonner: I think I see what the issue is. Although your departure must change due to reasons out of your control, you do not have the right to change your return flight for free. Your only remedy is a full refund. Sorry, it is a bit rotten.

  17. William C Bonner says:

    Thanks for all of the comments. I mostly posted my story to know if I had any recourse if something like this happens in the future.

    I ended up just getting a full refund, and was bummed that I didn’t get to make the trip. It had also been part of my planning that those miles would push me over the top to MVP status for 2007.

    I lucked out in appealing to the mileage plan people for them to award me the status even though I was short of the miles required for this year.

  18. cabinaero says:

    The vouchers aren’t that bad and that hard to use as long as you know what you’re getting into. I’ve used and redeemed a few on United. Yeah they need to be booked two weeks out and book into certain fare buckets (Q, V, W — not hard to do) but, for where I need to fly domestically, a ticket booked in Q,V,W can easily be over $500 (small, underserved rural airports). A dollar voucher would only be $200 for the same delay, so the free trip makes sense for me.

    WBonner – you got screwed. An airline doesn’t owe you compensation for a weather delay, but there is no way that you should be paying fare difference just to be put out on the next flight. Look up Alaska’s contract of carriage, write them a nasty letter, and cc the DOT at this address:

    Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75
    U.S. Department of Transportation
    400 Seventh Street, SW
    Washington, D.C. 2059