One of the advantages in using miles for flights is flexibility that comes with it. Most US-based programs now allow you to cancel your trips for free if your plans change. Programs like Jet Blue deposit your taxes into a Travel Bank, but even then, you usually only have a few dollars on the line.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said about revenue flights, as my sister-in-law has discovered recently. She had purchased tickets on United for her and my mother-in-law, but their plans have changed at the last minute. So, she had to cancel the flights. Thankfully, it wasn’t a loss per se, as they got United vouchers worth $500 apiece.
United issues travel credits as well as travel certificates, and they have a different set of rules:
The biggest difference is that travel certificates are transferrable.
It just so happens that a few days ago, my SIL had to book a roundtrip United flight that cost a bit over $1k. However, this time her mom would not be joining her. So, she was planning to use her $500 credit towards a one-way ticket, and burn miles for the return leg.
She was annoyed that she couldn’t utilize my MIL’s $500 credit and wasn’t sure if we would even be able to burn it at all. Not only was this voucher not transferrable, my MIL also had to travel by the end of next year. But, something is better than nothing.
Before my SIL proceeded with her plan, I told her I wanted to try something first. I logged into her United account and used a Chat option in the bottom right corner of the website. I was connected to the agent and asked if he could possibly convert her travel credit to a travel certificate. As a courtesy, of course. The answer was yes! I didn’t even have to beg. It took maybe five minutes total.
My SIL got an email with the instructions on how to use it, and we proceeded to book her flight, knocking off $1k. In the end, she was left with the balance of $56. Obviously, that $1k was prepaid by her a few months ago, but I was so happy that she was made whole. And we didn’t have to worry about finding a way to burn that second travel voucher for my MIL before the end of next year. A pretty good return on five minutes of work, don’t you agree? My SIL was ecstatic.
First and foremost, always reach out to customer service if you find yourself in similar circumstances. The worst that can happen is that they say No. Plus, in our day and age, you can handle these type of interactions via chat or by reaching out on Twitter. Let’s face it, for many of us the idea of picking up a phone is like having a root canal.
Second, wait till the last minute to cancel your revenue flights. Very often, there is a schedule change, and you may get a refund of actual cash instead of a voucher on a specific airline that expires in twelve months. What would you prefer?
But if you have no other option but to accept a non-transferrable travel credit, look for ways to use it for others before the expiration date. Don’t wait till the last minute. Many of us have relatives in other states, so a possibility may present itself. And it will only cost five minutes of your time to reach out to customer service.
It goes without saying that you should always use a credit card with a built-in travel insurance, especially if you don’t plan to purchase a standalone policy. Many products offer it, and I’ve once successfully filed a claim when I used Chase World of Hyatt Visa to cover taxes on my award tickets.
Speaking of, use miles whenever possible, especially if your plans are not set in stone. And let’s face it, in this travel environment, especially for families with young kids and elderly relatives, every trip is a gamble of sorts.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.