Warning: If a coronavirus flight cancellation left you with some airline vouchers, don’t try to sell them. If you do, you could easily end up with zilch. Here’s why.
This tale is a cautionary one for anyone who is considering skirting the terms of their airline vouchers. There are many hacks out there advising travelers about how to make a profit on these bonuses. But much of that “guidance” overlooks an undeniable obstacle: Selling airline vouchers isn’t allowed, and offering yours for sale can cause them to become instantly worthless.
Not able to check-in for the flight home
April Bickham and her daughter were traveling home during the holidays when an unexpected disruption hit. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, her daughter was unable to check in for the flight.
“Because she had never flown before I had to be also bumped,” Bickham recalled.
But then things took a more unpleasant turn, according to Bickham.
The front desk agent started yelling at us for some reason. [The conversation between] my daughter and this male airline employee got very heated. After I calmed them both down, he gave us each a voucher for a future flight and rebooked us home.
With their $500 airline vouchers in hand, the ladies proceeded to the gate for the new flight.
“American Airlines could not get us another flight going straight to New York,” Bickham explained. “We had to go to Washington, DC, then to New York. And, remember, my daughter had never flown before.”
As unpleasant as the rerouting was, Bickham says she was happy to have the $500 airline voucher. She had already started to make plans for using it.
Unfortunately, someone else did, too.
American Airlines: “You can’t use these vouchers .”
Not long after their return home, Bickham says she decided to use her credit. Her daughter was getting married, and Bickham wanted her brother-in-law there. But when she tried to redeem the voucher for a flight, American Airlines gave her some startling news.
“I wanted to use one of the vouchers to book my brother-in-law’s flight,” Bickham recalled. “However, the airline agent told me the vouchers were reported as stolen. I could not use the vouchers.”
Bickham says the news stunned her. She went to the airport to try to straighten out the situation. But the representative there just reiterated that the airline vouchers were marked as stolen. While still at the airport, Bickham sent an email to American Airlines. She hoped the agents could quickly correct whatever error had caused her voucher to be listed as stolen.
“I’m at the airport now. How can my airline voucher be stolen?” Bickham wrote in an email to American Airlines. ” It has never left my purse since I got it from my last flight. I need a new voucher or someone at American Airlines to fix this one, please.”
She expressed her belief that the agent that her daughter had argued with — the one who issued the vouchers — was the culprit.
“I believe shortly after we left the desk, he marked our airline vouchers as stolen,” Bickham theorized.
But Bickham says that American Airlines seemed unable or unwilling to fix the problem with her airline vouchers. So she left the airport and decided to contact the Elliott Advocacy team to ask for help instead.
Who reported these airline vouchers stolen?
When Bickham’s urgent request for help arrived on my desk, I wondered what could have gone wrong. She insisted that her vouchers had never left her pocketbook, and yet the airline contended they were reported as stolen. It was a real mystery.
“The flight leaves tomorrow and still no help from anyone,” Bickham told me. “Please, please, please, I’m begging you for help!”
Just FYI: Three pleases always get my attention. So I quickly went through Bickham’s paper trail.
I assumed a computer glitch had likely caused her airline voucher to be listed as stolen.
Bickham lamented that no one at the airline was willing to provide her any specifics about the vouchers. In fact, the airline’s response sounded a lot like gobbledygook to me.
We had hoped you would use the voucher to give us another opportunity to serve you better. While we recognize that you are requesting monetary compensation in place of the voucher, we must respectfully decline. There is no question that there are numerous subjective judgments that can be made about the services associated with airline travel. Still, although I know you question the generosity of our offer, we believe it to be fair and reasonable.
When she pressed the issue further, she received an even more confusing message:
We have asked our colleagues in Corporate Security to call you directly. Mrs. Bickham. You should be hearing from someone soon. In the meantime, we appreciate your patience.
I didn’t know what was happening, but it was time to reach out to our executive contact at American Airlines.
Trying to sell your airline voucher is a violation of its terms
Our executive contact at American Airlines is always helpful to our team — and at lightning speed. So given the urgency of Bickham’s request, I sent her case right over.
Soon I received a surprising response that threw a wrench in Bickham’s case.
I have a copy of the social media post where they tried to sell the vouchers on Facebook… (American Airlines to Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)
It happens. But it’s always a bit embarrassing when I send a case to a company and find out that the consumer hasn’t been entirely truthful with me.
I asked our American Airlines contact if I might see the evidence that Bickham had tried to sell her voucher.
That’s when it became impossible to successfully mediate this case.
Yes. She violated the terms by trying to sell the voucher. Here is the post.
I am not going to do anything further with this, as they are not telling the truth. (The final answer from American Airlines about these vouchers)
And there was the online post that caused American Airlines to deem Bickham’s vouchers stolen. But it wasn’t Bickham who had listed her airline voucher for sale.
It was her daughter.
Bickham’s daughter offered both airline vouchers for sale in a Facebook mom’s group.
If you try to sell your voucher, you’ll couch end up with zilch
Our executive contact confirmed that offering this voucher for sale invalidated it. As soon as the American Airlines corporate security system detected that someone had listed the voucher for sale, it deactivated and marked the voucher stolen.
Even if Bickham’s daughter had successfully sold the airline vouchers, the recipient could have never used them. They were worthless.
I broke the bad news to Bickham. Perhaps because her daughter was a first-time flyer, she wasn’t aware of the rules of her airline voucher. However, she should have taken a close look at the face of the vouchers before offering them for sale:
For obvious reasons, this blocked my ability to positively resolve this case. The sudden turn of events similarly caught Bickham off guard. She expressed her shock when I showed her the photo of her airline vouchers up for sale on Facebook.
“I did not know she did this! That explains it,” Bickham told me. “I’m glad to finally find out the reason why [the vouchers were reported stolen]. No one would ever tell me the reason why and you were the only one to tell me. Thank you for that.”
And I suspect there was an awkward conversation around the dinner table that night…
Airline vouchers: What you need to know
- Do not cancel your flight before the airline does
These days, coronavirus flight cancellations are an every day occurrence. Remember, the Department of Transportation requires your airline to give you a refund if it cancels your flight. But if you cancel first, the airline will only owe you a voucher. So don’t cancel your flight too soon (See why: Do not let coronavirus panic make you cancel your trip right now) or you could take the financial hit like Lon and Mary Allan almost did.
- Don’t accept an airline voucher instead of cash
When an airline oversells a flight and involuntarily bumps a passenger*, regulations require the airline to compensate the traveler in cash. But it isn’t unusual for airlines to offer vouchers instead of cash in this circumstance. As a passenger, you’re under no obligation to accept a voucher if what the airline really owes you is monetary compensation. You can read more about your rights when you’re involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight on the Department of Transportation website.
* In this case, the airline did not involuntarily bump these ladies — the two vouchers were goodwill gestures.
- Make sure to read through the terms of your airline voucher
Remember, airline vouchers come with a variety of terms, restrictions and, of course, an expiration date. If you don’t want to violate any of those rules, you need to acquaint yourself with them.
- Spend your voucher before it expires
If you have airline vouchers gathering dust in a drawer or a virtual file, make sure to check the expiration date. Our advocacy team has received many cries for help from passengers who neglected to review or understand the expiration date on their voucher. You can avoid most airline voucher problems by swiftly spending them.
- The bottom line: Don’t sell or buy airline vouchers
Unless you’re looking for trouble, you should steer clear of buying or selling airline vouchers. If you’re a buyer, you won’t know until you attempt to use your new voucher if it really has any value. And if you’re a seller, you could be invalidating your voucher the moment you post it for sale. Is the chance of making (or saving) a bit of illicit money worth the risk of ending up with nothing? (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)