A common flight credit rule should replace all “secret” workarounds to get your money from airlines
Recently, Christopher Elliott, on his non-profit site, steers consumers through the many “flavors” of airline ticket credits. The thought of having to figure out some workaround to get what should be yours is distasteful. Consumers need a common flight credit rule for airlines immediately to deal with this burgeoning problem.
Any flight credit, cruise line, or tour credit should be permanent. It is wrong to make customers jump through hoops just to use what is theirs. This is not a change that they had any control over. All transportation organizations should go into a personal travel bank. Customers who receive travel credits should be able to use the credit to purchase travel for anyone they desire.
A common flight credit rule will allow consumers to use their own money without onerous limitations.
A common flight credit rule backed by DOT solves this problem. Many DOT executives are unwilling to make customers whole based on restrictions on regulating airfares. However, the pandemic problems are an exceptional case.
Today, airlines hold more than $10 billion in in-flight credits. Consumers should be allowed to use their credits in any way they want. After all, this is money that is rightfully theirs.
Current flight credit rules are seriously unfair and confusing.
Congress needs to make a strong statement. Companies who were forced to issue travel credits should make them non-expirable. The companies were quick to cancel your travels after they had your money. These travel companies all welcome using your travel fare to help their cash positions. Plus, every airline received billions of dollars to help them through their pandemic financial disasters.
Consumers are often admonished that it is best to be polite. However, there should be no need for patience when dealing with travel credits. If your banker were to tell you that you had to be patient to get your money, you would go ballistic. I certainly would. Using flight travel credits should be as easy as using your credit card. This is not the airlines’ money. It is the passengers’.
DOT and Congress’s actions should be absolutely clear. These travel credits are the property of the consumer, not the travel company. Plus, customers who have already been forced to provide funding to travel companies should not have to follow different rules each time they need to use travel credit. We need common flight credit rules and travel credit rules.
Some airlines are converting credits to frequent flier points
These frequent flier credits should never expire as long as the frequent flier is active. In reality, this is not enough. However, it may be all that the government can mandate. Plus, travelers need a written agreement between the airline, or other travel companies, to treat refunds as cash due to the customer.
When airlines transfer flight credits to frequent flier programs, they shift the ownership of the flight credits to the airlines. All frequent flier miles are the property of the airlines, according to agreements signed by members. That must change for the credits.
Some airlines are extending the expiration dates of current airline flight credits. If the credit expires, the passenger normally gets nothing.
If a flight credit expires, passengers will probably have lost any use of the credits. In other words, the airline has confiscated your money. You paid for a flight. The pandemic made you miss your flight. Then the flight credit expires. And the airline keeps your money. There is something wrong with this situation.
All airlines, both network carriers and low-cost airlines, have different rules for these travel credits.
American, Delta, and United all have different rules and expiration dates for airline flight credits. Southwest Airlines limits these flight credits to two years. Others have varying expiration dates. Travelers United believes that there should be no expiration dates.
Airlines already use the money for free as long as they hold the flight credits. There is no justification for having pandemic flight credits or any pandemic travel credit expire. The money belongs rightfully to the travel consumer. Today as you read this, DOT still has not acted. Airlines still control flight credits and use them to punish their customers. Consumers are being forced to play the airlines’ games with airline rules and control over when they can keep consumers’ money.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.