Have an airline voucher to redeem? Read this first!

by Elizabeth Smith on August 6, 2008

Have you ever received a voucher as compensation for an unpleasant travel experience or for volunteering to take a later flight? If so, make sure to understand how the voucher may be used and with which fares — all vouchers are not created equal!

Case in point: The other day, after researching the fares online first, I called US Airways to redeem a $100 voucher. The agent was able to find the exact fare and itinerary I wanted, but after 30 minutes of trying, was unable to apply the voucher. Reason? The fare in question was a “web only fare.” The voucher could only be applied to a fare that cost $168 more! By my calculations, the privilege of using the voucher would end up costing me an additional $68. I said thanks, but no thanks, and took my business elsewhere.

(Incidentally, the jury is still out on this one, because the terms and conditions read, “May be used toward the price of one ticket/one fare on US Airways, US Airways Shuttle, and US Airways Express, as well as their codeshare partners.” I can’t find the limitations.)

The moral of this story — Each airline offers a variety of vouchers for free round trips or dollars off a paid ticket. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions before you agree to a voucher or try to redeem it. My experience is that free round trip vouchers are difficult to use, because they book into an award ticket class where there are fewer available seats. Dollars off vouchers are more easily redeemed, either online or by telephone, depending on the carrier’s policies.

Check the airline’s different airfares first. Check airfares on competing airlines. That is the only way to know the real value of your voucher should the reservation agent tell you it only applies to select tickets. If vouchers are not used correctly, they end up costing more money or being as worthless as the paper on which they are printed.

Final note (and a caution): Airline vouchers all have a value, however, they must be used correctly. Vouchers are also, often, transferable — other passengers can use your voucher. There is an active voucher market on E-Bay and I have heard of friends and co-workers who pass vouchers around occasionally. However, be careful. In the voucher market, scams are notorious. It is best to only use vouchers from friends or business associates who may not be able to use them.

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  • MarkieA

    While traveling to Maine last year, we found ourselves in the position to take advantage when our airline (AirTran) asked for volunteers to give up seats. The compensation – two free round trip tickets EACH – made the deal seem worthwhile. I won’t bore you with the details of that trip – subsequent “weather” delays, the politics of AirTran docking at Portland, etc. that got us to our destination 11 hours later – but our subsequent attempts to use the vouchers is more to the point of this article. Before we agreed to take the vouchers, we specifically asked whether they were good for ANY AirTran flight and whether they were transferrable. The agent at the desk assured us the answer to both questions was positive. Well, you guessed it, when we tried to use the vouchers on subsequent travel, we discovered that the vouchers were only good for certain flights at certain times for the places we wanted to fly. Oh, we could get where we wanted to go – Tampa in one case, Cincinnati in the other – just not on the exact flight we wanted. Secondly, they were so not transferrable. Don’t even try. So we thought we were being smart and asking the right questions; we were simply lied to by the airline in order to make sure they didn’t have to record an involuntary bumping. Needless, to say, we never give up our seats anymore, regardless of the “deal” offered.

  • http://cestbeth.wordpress.com Elizabeth Smith

    Thank you MarkieA for sharing your story! In many cases, the “deal” is too good to be true. With regard to my dollars off US Airways voucher, I was supposed to be able to use this voucher on any ticket, like cash or a gift card. But it seems that is not true, in spite of the fact that the agent was able to find the fare/itinerary I wanted and tried for 30 minutes to apply it! And guess what, my voucher is also NOT transferable!

  • bruce king

    To the airlines, vouchers are liabilities. They want to make it as hard as possible for you to use them, so they make them applicable to certain fares and flights with extensive limitations, which might not be disclosed when you get the voucher. They don’t want to IDB you – that’s cash. Instead, you volunteer for a voucher that you might lose, that you might let expire, etc.

    Admitedly, some airlines do handle these better than others. I’ve heard that Delta’s are much easier to redeem than US Airways.

  • http://cestbeth.wordpress.com Elizabeth Smith

    Thanks, Bruce! In my situation, I was given a voucher because I experienced three mechanical delays on two flights in one day, which caused me to misconnect. Unfortunately I was not given a cash option! You are correct in saying that vouchers are difficult to redeem, especially on US Airways. I have redeemed a few of them the past six months (why I received them is a long and horrible 2007 of travel!) and each one has been a hurdle over which I have had to jump. Delta, Northwest, and United offer true e-vouchers that become part of your frequent flyer account and they are just like cash off against the price of a voucher and much easier to redeem.

  • Wrona

    I’ve had no problems redeeming cash vouchers with American either for myself or other people. They also have been quick to send me new vouchers for the difference between the voucher and the fare. I do wish their vouchers were electronic so they could be redeemed online, but if that’s the only issue I have I consider myself happy.

    Northwest on the other hand, even though they have e-vouchers, I found it impossible to redeem my cash voucher AND they are not transferrable. After I couldn’t find a ticket to anywhere I wanted to go within the year, I tried to use it to pay for someone else’s ticket. Nope wouldn’t allow it, I had to be on the reservation as well. At least the gate agents were honest and told people to take the cash over the free round trip tickets, if I had that much difficulty redeeming a “cash” voucher, I would’ve hated to see the frustrations I would’ve gone through to use the round trip ticket.

  • http://cestbeth.wordpress.com Elizabeth Smith

    Thanks for your comments, Wrona. I do not have AA as an option from my home airport. Sounds like they understand the meaning of a dollars off voucher.

    I have a NW $100 e-voucher to redeem as well. Perhaps once I redeem it, I can compare that experience with this one.

    The vouchers I have received from US are all non-transferable, which means I use them or lose them. But if using one causes me to have to pay a higher fare, then it is worthless.

  • Jupper

    On one hand, when you get a voucher, you’ll be inclined to book the issuing airline, but when you actually try, you realize you’re holding something very stinky and smelly in your hand.

    That’s the magic of vouchers, you don’t know untill you actually try to use them. :(

  • http://cestbeth.wordpress.com Elizabeth Smith

    Jupper, how true! Magic indeed, but more like black magic!

  • solidcactus

    I once had an E voucher from US Airways. It never had a value associated with it. One day, I went to use it. The customer service agent was totally confused when she brought it up and found it had no assigned value. I was put on hold for about 20 minutes, and the girl came back and told me it was worth $25. I really think she made it up. i cant imagine that US would even send a voucher to a customer for $25.

  • http://cestbeth.wordpress.com Elizabeth Smith

    Solidcactus, the voucher you probably had was an Air Check Plus, which ranges from $25 to $150 and is based on your fare purchased. So that is why there was not a value assigned to it. The fare you redeemed it on would have determined the voucher value.

  • Phil

    Sounds like vouchers are the root of all evil. In the case of some airlines (US Airways in particular) they are nothing more than an inducement to experience horrible service all over again. They should either be applicable against all fares or none at all.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • http://cestbeth.wordpress.com Elizabeth Smith

    Phil, they do entice you by making you think that you will save money, but do they really in the long run if the fares are higher and the time spent redeeming them is wasted?

  • Owen

    I never, ever tell an agent that I have a
    voucher to redeem until after I get a fare quote. They will bait-and-switch you on the fares if you tell them upfront. In my experience, give them the city pares, dates of travel and preferably the flight numbers/times that correspond to the fare you found online. Once you do that, you should have that fare available and then smack the voucher on them. USAirways tried to bait and switch me the first time I used a voucher and I called them on this and suddenly, the agent found the fare I wanted!

  • Elizabeth Smith

    My agent found the fare/itinerary and was going to apply the voucher to that fare, but the “system” would not allow it. So go figure!

  • heather

    does anyone have any working promo or coupon codes for us airways?
    please , thankx

  • Missy Williams

    I have used several vouchers from Southwest Airlines without any difficulty whatsoever. Once, when I had to cancel a reservation made with a voucher, they restored the full amount to my account. Note: these are not cash vouchers, but they can be used by you or anyone you designate on a future flight.

  • Steviedon

    for volunteering to give up my seat on an overbooked flight, Contintental offered me a $500 voucher, the gate agent printed it out, and circled the $500 figure.   Now I’m trying to redeem it, and find the voucher is good for “up to $500″ an amout that they determine, and on my ticket it was $200. Needless to say, I’m not happy about this deceptive bait and switch, and won’t ever volunteer to bump again.  

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