I used vouchers to book my flight, and now I need to cancel. Can I get a refund?

American Airlines bumps Hadassah Bennett from a flight and compensates her with vouchers, which she redeems for another flight. But a chronic illness flares up and she is forced to cancel her flight. Can she persuade American to return her vouchers for her to use on a future flight?

Question: We received a $1,500 voucher from American Airlines after we were bumped from a flight in April 2016.

In December, we booked tickets to London using the credit (I believe we had to pay $100 extra or something small like that). I went to the airport and gave them the vouchers and booked the flight. The flight is in September.

I have Crohn’s disease. It has just begun to flare up again. When this happens I cannot travel. Sadly, I am very sick. My doctor said I cannot go on this trip. I need help with how to go about canceling and getting the vouchers back. Do you think that’s possible? — Hadassah Bennett, Baltimore, Md.

Answer: So sorry you’re not well enough to travel. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you to not only feel sick, but also have to go through the hassle of trying to get back your travel vouchers.

This is an unusual case because flights on American that are paid for with vouchers like yours are not refundable or transferable. The airline might have allowed you to rebook the flight by paying a change fee.

You also would have had a smoother experience if you had purchased travel insurance. We strongly urge fliers with chronic health conditions to purchase insurance for just this type of situation. To see if this coverage is right for you, we suggest you consult the list of frequently asked questions about travel insurance on our website.

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But we’ve had positive outcomes in the past in cases of serious illness, even without insurance involved. Usually this involves submitting a doctor’s note stating that the traveler is not fit to fly.

You reached out to one of our advocates, who was confident we could get you a waiver of the change fees. We suggested that you try to negotiate with American by writing a simple, polite letter to one of their customer service executives. We list their contact information on our website.

Shortly thereafter, an American Airlines representative contacted you and agreed to waive the change fees so you could reuse the vouchers on a future flight. No doctor’s note necessary, and you did it on your own.

We’re very happy for your outcome and wish you better health and safe travels.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined.

  • finance_tony

    “You also would have had a smoother experience if you had purchased travel insurance.”

    Maybe, but in this case, I think most travel insurance would have paid – at most – the change fee. And that may not have been worth the price of the policy itself, unless there were non-cancelable fees at the destination. Even CFAR policies can only cover out of pocket expenses, which don’t include miles or voucher redemptions. I tried in vain to find a policy that would cover a similar-but-different situation years ago.

  • jim6555

    The travel insurance would be a good deal for her if the policy covered pre-existing conditions and had medical benefits and trip delay coverage. If the Crohn’s disease were to flare up while she was in the UK, her doctor’s visits, hospitalization and ticket change fees (if any) would be covered.

    My wife and I recently went on a European vacation. When the first flight of our trip landed in Dublin Ireland, she was sick and had to go to an emergency hospital. We were only there for a few hours but missed our connecting flight. The trip insurance policy paid for the hospital charges, taxi fares, a night in a very nice hotel, meals and the change of ticketing so we could travel the next day. It also reimbursed us for a new suitcase when the existing one was damaged by the airline. Our investment in the trip policy proved to be a very wise decision.

  • Koholaz

    Wait, I’m confused. Involuntary bumping is a cash deal, not a voucher, isn’t it? When I was bumped, Delta wrote me a check on the spot.

  • Chris_In_NC

    I doubt that travel insurance would have helped. AFAIK, travel insurance will NOT cover vouchers because officially, the vouchers have no cash value. Travel insurance covers out of pocket costs, Someone PLEASE correct me if I am wrong

  • cscasi

    Thank you for sharing. Glad everything worked out as it should have with your travel insurance.

  • cscasi

    Checked with my travel insurance company and its language states: Benefits will be paid, up to the maximum benefit amount shown on the confirmation of benefits, to reimburse you for the amount of the published penalties and unused non-refundable prepaid payments you paid for your travel arrangements when you are prevented from taking your trip due to: ….Members covered sickness or injury which: a)occurs before departure on your trip, b) requires medical treatment at the time of cancellation resulting in medically imposed restrictions as certified by a legally qualified physician, and c) prevents your participation in the trip.
    The company considers the use of an airline voucher (which is non refundable) used as a prepayment towards the cost of the ticket, a part of the purchase price.
    It would want to know if you plan to use the ticket within a year of purchase and if so, when you use it and pay the airline imposed fee for reissuing the ticket, it will cover the fee up to the stated amount or if you are not going to use the ticket, inform the insurance company of the cost (accompanied by proper documentation) and it will reimburse you the cost of the ticket.
    Sounds pretty good to me.

  • Daddydo

    I am not sure about other insurance companies, but a voucher is a “free” ticket and even though it is for compensation, Travel Guard can not insure it. When out office was an Alliance provider, they could not insure free tickets, points, etc.

  • Mel65

    What irritates me here, is that Crohn’s is not a surprise. She KNEW she had it and it can flare up without warning, and yet took zero steps to protect against that eventually. I’m glad it worked out but i hope lesson learned for the next trip!

  • finance_tony

    That’s exactly what I was trying to say above. Everyone seems to be concentrating on the fact that travel insurance would have covered medical expenses while abroad, but the OP was clearly not wanting to travel and wanted her voucher value back.

  • Pegtoo

    I’m with you. Confused. Maybe the voucher was a higher amount than the cash so they took it?

  • Annie M

    Tony is correct- travel insurance does not cover points, some do cover a re-deposit fee.

  • Lindabator

    these wre not points, but vouchers – so yes, I have had them cover the cost, as the cost on the ticket shows amount paid

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