Airlines ‘wrong to refuse refund on out-of-date flight vouchers’


Consumers unable to travel because of the pandemic have been told they can demand a cash refund for flight vouchers even if they have expired.

Rolling lockdowns and limits on travel have meant that many passengers who had flights cancelled and were given vouchers for another journey have been unable to use them.

Time limits have been applied by some airlines on how long they are valid for, prompting concern that they may expire even though people are unable to use them.

Legal observers have said, however, that airlines are obliged to issue a cash refund for a voucher no matter if it is before or after the expiry date.

People have been told that they should expect to spend their summer holidays in the UK this year, meaning it is unlikely many would be able to use their vouchers for some time into the future.

Last week the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, suggested it was “too early” for Britons to book summer holidays abroad while the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said they should plan for the “great British summer”.

Richard Colbey, a barrister at Lamb Chambers, said that when an airline gives a voucher for a flight it cancels, the original contract between the two sides still exists. This means that if the voucher expires, the consumer is still entitled to a cash refund. The airline may offer to extend the voucher but the consumer can insist on cash.

Airports are eerily quiet this year.
Airports are eerily quiet this year. Photograph: Stephen Barnes/Alamy

“If a voucher is accepted for the same money the consumer would have been entitled to a refund for, the consumer remains entitled to call for that cash refund instead of the voucher at any time before or after the voucher expires,” he said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic many airlines have been offering alternative flights or vouchers when the flight has been cancelled, even though they are obliged to give a full refund within seven days. However, enforcement has proved difficult as customers have faced hurdles trying to contact carriers. Last year airlines asked the EU to suspend the rules and allow vouchers instead.

The law firm Bott and Co says consumers should not accept vouchers when their flight has been cancelled and should instead pursue their right to a cash refund within seven days.

“If the airline gave you a voucher without you agreeing to it then you have the right to go back and ask for a full cash refund, even after the voucher has expired. If there was no expiry date agreed at the time then the airline cannot retrospectively apply an arbitrary date,” said Coby Benson, a flight delay solicitor.

Passengers have faced difficulties using vouchers. One man found his family of five could not use their vouchers to group book a trip to Málaga because the airline system only accepted four at one time. Another passenger, a 90-year-old woman, was given a blanket refusal for a refund when she told an airline that she would not be able to use a voucher. And a man who could only use a voucher by phoning the customer service department of an airline found the flight was cheaper online – but he could not use his voucher there.



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