(NEW YORK) — If you’re concerned about travel plans changing during the holidays, experts say it’s important to take stock of any vouchers you may be sitting on and utilize the lack of change fees.
1. Take Advantage of No Change Fees
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, major U.S. airlines have done away with change fees, allowing travelers to be more flexible with their plans and giving them the option to switch travel dates and flights.
Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, said it’s crucial to take advantage of this policy when booking holiday trips.
“During the pandemic, the airlines got rid of those change fees for most flights, so now when you book a flight, as long as it’s not in Basic Economy, you automatically have flexibility so that you can change your flight later on without having to pay any penalty to do so,” Keyes said in an interview with ABC News. “If the new flights you switch to are more expensive, you do have to cover that fare difference, but if the new dates are cheaper, you’ll actually get the difference back in the form of a travel credit.”
While carriers are being more accommodating, Keyes said it’s important to not think of this policy as “free cash.”
“What folks have now when they travel is that they have the flexibility to be able to change their travel dates or get a voucher from the airline for future travel, but again not conflating that with getting a cash refund.”
However, if you want to be certain that you will get your money back, be sure to book a “refundable” fare.
“To be able to get your money back for a flight that you no longer want to take, you had to have booked a much more expensive refundable ticket,” Keyes said. “Those are the only ones that allow you to fully get your money back if you decide later to cancel.”
2. Check to see if you have any vouchers, and if they’re still valid
If you didn’t book that refundable fare, you’re next best bet is contacting your airline and obtaining a travel voucher — this will allow you to use that money with the airline and rebook at a later date.
However, those vouchers don’t last forever, Keyes said.
“Vouchers in general have a use it or lose it component,” Keyes said. “You want to find out what the expiration date is so it doesn’t accidentally expire without your even realizing it.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, airlines began offering customers travel vouchers for trips already booked. Policies vary from carrier to carrier, so it’s important to read the fine print.
“You want to find out what is the expiration date refer to — does this refer to the date I have to travel by or just the date I have to book my flight by,” Keyes said.
If your voucher has expired, Keyes said not to lose hope.
“Give the airline a call and see if they’re willing to extend the deadline,” Keyes said. “The number of people traveling is still down significantly from where it was pre-pandemic and airlines are trying to engender not only goodwill among travelers, but also trying to make sure that folks fill up those planes.”
“It never hurts to ask.”
3. Treat it like a game of chicken
If your trip is already booked but you think you might have to make changes, Keyes said it might be worth waiting until the last minute to cancel or tweak your trip.
“My best piece of advice in that scenario is to treat it like a game of chicken,” Keyes said. “It’s either you cancel the flight, and you’re going to get a travel voucher from the airline, or maybe they cancel the flight, in which case you would be entitled to a cash refund — so it’s whoever blinks first.”
Last year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) cracked down on airlines, pushing them to be more transparent with their refund policies if a flight is cancelled or significantly delayed by the carrier.
The move came amid thousands of complaints from customers, many of which concerned refunds. At the time, DOT asked airlines, “to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time.”
“The one loophole here, which I think is really important for folks to know, is if the airline cancels or significantly changes your flight, under federal law you are entitled to a full cash refund if you want one,” Keyes said.
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