What are the rules for airline travel credits?

Aug 8, 2022, 6:15 PM | Updated: 6:55 pm

RIVERTON, Utah — After canceling a beach vacation to Hawaii, a Utah woman believes she has $1,400 in flight credits. Ongoing flight cancellations have plagued the summer travel season, and a lot of travelers are being made whole with flight credits rather than refunds.

As this woman learned, flight credits might not be as good as money in the bank.

“Hours and hours of chats and departments telling me to call another department,” is how Jennifer Burt described her frustration after trying to book a family trip to Hawaii.

She had $1,400 in future flight credits from United Airlines after she canceled her Germany trip last year because of COVID-19. But this new booking got really jumbled. 

“And every time it said there’s an error with your card,” Burt said. “So, I tried that card again. Then I tried another card, and I tried that card twice.”

Jennifer says she wound up getting charged four times. When she called the airline to fix that, another $2,100 got tacked onto her credit cards.

“I said, ‘tap out cancel everything,’ she said. “I was like I’m just not doing this.”

Eventually, Burt got all the extraneous charges fixed and her money back, but not the flight credits.

“I just want my flight credits, my $1,400 in flight credits back.”

Getting nowhere with United, Burt called in the KSL Investigators.

We investigated the federal rules and found, well, nothing that tells airlines how to handle travel credits when a passenger cancels a flight. By law, if the airline cancels the flight, or even bumps it too much, they owe the passenger a refund – and that includes flight credits. But when the passenger initiates the change, airlines have a lot more latitude on whether flight credits need to be refunded.

But in this case, Burt only canceled because United’s ticketing system was acting weird. And she canceled within 24 hours of booking her flight. So, we contacted the airline on her behalf, through the corporate PR folks, and just like that, some good news for Burt. She is getting her flight credits back.

A spokesperson wrote they regret any miscommunication” and “apologize for any frustration this has caused.”

You should know that nearly all airline flight credits expire – usually within a year. Southwest is an exception. Two weeks ago, it dumped expiration dates for its flight credits.

Now, Congress and the Transportation Department are mulling over new rules that require flight credits to be indefinite.

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What are the rules for airline travel credits?