Flight credits issued during the Covid-19 pandemic have begun to expire on Frontier Airlines. And the first expirations of Delta credits will come next month.
But while Covid-era credits on other U.S. carriers don’t begin expiring until at least July, and in most cases much later than that, potential travelers might want to consider putting those credits to work now, before ticket prices make an anticipated leap and airlines reinstate some change fees or basic economy ticket restrictions.
“If you’re thinking about travel this year, it’s a good time to put them to use,” said Daniel Burnham, an analyst for the bargain-flight-alerting service Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Put the voucher toward an itinerary.”
On Frontier, credits issued during the pandemic are valid for bookings made within one year after the original itinerary was canceled. That means customers who canceled flights when the pandemic hit are now having unused credits expire.
Delta, meanwhile, extended credits for tickets booked by April 17 of last year for travel through the end of 2022. But credits for tickets issued beginning April 18 of last year will expire one year after the purchase date.
The first pandemic-era credit expirations on Alaska will occur on July 5, followed by Southwest on Sept. 8 and Spirit at the end of that month. For the five remaining large mainline U.S. carriers, the first such expirations don’t commence until next year.
Despite such leeway, now is a good time to begin putting credits to use for those who are comfortable flying, including the newly vaccinated. Airfares in February were down 25.6% year over year. But with travel demand increasing, fares are likely to rise in the coming months. The travel booking platform Hopper projects that the price of bargain fares, which it defines as those that are less than 90% of the fare quotes it tracks, will be 34% higher this July than in July 2020 and 36% higher this August than in August 2020.
Meanwhile, at the J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference on March 15, various carriers predicted that ticket prices should rise as traffic and load factors increase. On March 21, more than 1.5 million people passed through TSA airport security checkpoints for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The planned resumption of change fees by discount airlines as well as the resumption by full-service carriers of policies prohibiting itinerary changes by basic economy ticket holders are additional incentives to make use of credits now. Barring a late extension of Covid-19 policies, discount carriers Frontier and Spirit will resume charging change fees on most bookings beginning April 1. JetBlue will also implement a $100 change fee on April 1 for most basic economy itineraries and a $200 change for basic economy South American bookings.
Seven of the 10 primary U.S. airlines are slated to resume either change fees or prohibitions on basic-economy itinerary changes.
Meanwhile, on March 31 Delta will revert to its pre-pandemic policy of not allowing changes for basic economy bookings. For bookings beginning April 1, United, Alaska and Hawaiian will once again prohibit basic economy itinerary changes. American will do the same for itineraries within North America and the Caribbean.
American and Hawaiian, however, have said that they will accommodate changes for customers with Covid-19 or Covid-like symptoms.
As of press time, airlines planned to move forward with the reimplementation of change fees or basic economy itinerary change prohibitions, though analyst Bob Mann of R.W. Mann & Co. wasn’t sure such policies would stick, especially if spring break leads to a Covid-19 infection rate surge.
“Airlines need advance bookings to generate working capital, and reimposing change fees will frustrate advance bookings by those who are on the fence, uncertain about taking the risk,” Mann said.
Meanwhile, Burnham said that those who are not ready to travel any time soon should stay on top of when their flight credits on various airlines will expire.
“I would say, make a spreadsheet with your confirmation number, the quantity of money that you’re owed with these airlines, the expiration dates and put that with your financial documents,” he said.