Don’t let your travel vouchers expire!

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If you’re holding on to pandemic travel credits that are about to expire, you don’t have to waste your money. There are ways to use your credits before they become worthless – and there are even ways to get a full refund.

Consider what happened to Cynthia Donahue and her husband in 2020. Amtrak canceled his Auto Train from Sanford, Florida to Washington, DC, and issued them an $834 voucher that was set to expire this year.

Fast forward to early 2022. The couple had no way to use the vouchers, and they were weeks away from losing their money. “We are elderly people with health issues, says Donahue, a retired secretary from Bedford, Mass. “A credit or a travel voucher does not help us.”

During the pandemic, travel agencies gave out vouchers like there was no tomorrow. This allowed them to keep their customers’ money – and they knew that, because with all the vouchers, there was a good chance that many customers would never use them. But some travel companies did not offer refunds, even when they were legally required to do so.

That seemed to be what had happened to the Donahues. Depending on the rail carrier, your fare is refundable if your train is cancelled. I asked Amtrak about their expiring voucher.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the couple booked their trip through a tour operator. “Their accounting department mistakenly issued a travel credit,” he says. “Our policy – and theirs – is to issue a refund if a trip is canceled without alternate transportation.”

Amtrak offered the couple a prompt refund. Their case is an important reminder to check with your tour operator or travel agency when requesting a refund or credit. Sometimes third parties such as travel advisors misunderstand terms and conditions – and that’s easy to do, as it can be confusing.

The #1 strategy for extending your voucher may be to turn it into a cashback. If your airline, cruise line, hotel or tour operator canceled your trip during the pandemic, chances are they owe you a full refund. But there are other methods to keep your money.

Start by confirming your information: Log in to your travel site and check the status of your voucher. That’s what Larry Borden did when he suspected his United Airlines vouchers issued during the pandemic would expire soon.

“United had extended my credit twice without me even asking,” says Borden, a retired computer systems engineer from Glendale, Arizona. “That’s what I call customer service.”

No luck with American airlines, where Borden and his wife also had vouchers. The airline informed him that his ticket credits were about to expire, so he had to book a last-minute flight to use them.

There are a few strategies travelers can use to keep their credits alive. Julien Brault, CEO of the personal finance management application hard bacon, explains that using funds quickly and efficiently means taking a holistic approach to spending. For example, you can combine different payment methods.

“If you have points in a travel rewards program that offers general redemption options, use them for flights,” he recommends.

Suzanne Bucknam, Travel Service CEO Connecticut Explorer, used a variant of this strategy. She will book a flight using expiring credit and then cancel it, which resets the credit for one year on some airlines. “It helps stretch the timeline so you can finally determine actual credit usage,” she says.

You can also check for extension vulnerabilities. John Smith, a great traveler who edits the site camper’s guide, was facing the impending expiration of $800 in American Airlines travel vouchers. And American, as you already know, is strict about its expiration dates.

Then a friend told him about a hack: using some of the credit for a cheaper flight, allowing the remaining credit to be extended for another year. “So that’s what I did,” he said. “I looked for the cheapest one-way flight I could find, which was about $53, and booked that flight. Now I have about $747 in travel credits that will expire this year. next.

What about credit card chargebacks? You can dispute your credit card charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act. But you only have 60 days from when you receive your credit card bill to dispute a charge. Your bank can still accept the dispute after that, but the law does not require it.

It’s a favorite strategy for travelers, according to Monica Eaton-Cardone, chief operating officer of Chargebacks911a technology company that monitors credit card chargebacks.

“The pandemic has triggered a tsunami of payment disputes,” she says. “Almost immediately, credit card chargebacks jumped 25%. Suddenly, it became much more common for consumers to actively – and sometimes wrongly – dispute their credit card payments and demand a refund. full from their bank.

Eaton-Cardone says soaring chargebacks could drive up fares and fares as travel companies struggle to make up for their losses. But for now, the delay means using a chargeback as a way to get your money back or negotiate a credit extension is a less effective strategy.

It’s also possible that your travel company did you a favor by issuing a voucher, says Eric Goldring, owner of golden trip. In other words, now is a great time to book other types of trips. “With many cruise lines offering deals 30-50% lower than issuing travel credits, they’re paying for more of your vacation,” he says.

“Add to that the reduced number of people on ships, tours and in the various cities, and the experiential value of using Travel Credits is now even greater.”

But this is a problem that should not exist. There’s already a federal law that says gift cards can’t expire for five years, and some state laws have gone further and made it illegal to expire. A new federal law doing the same for travel vouchers would give consumers the time they need to use them. That would also be the right thing.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advice can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDCs travel health advice webpage.


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