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Worried about losing your airline flight credit? It may still be valid in 2022

Doctor on COVID-19 variants and vaccines
Doctor on COVID-19 variants and vaccines 06:49

If you haven't yet used that year-old flight credit, issued when the COVID-19 pandemic first brought travel to a standstill, there's a good chance it can still be redeemed for an airline ticket. 

Many unused flight credits that were set to expire this year, issued to millions of passengers who either were unable or chose not to travel during the height of the pandemic, are now valid through 2022.

American and United Airlines, two of the world's largest carriers, recently extended their flight credit expiration dates to next year, as the COVID-19 pandemic remains rampant and continues to depress both domestic and international travel. Other airlines have also made their redemption policies more flexible. 

In April of 2020, the Department of Transportation guaranteed refunds for passengers whose flights were cancelled. Meanwhile, coronavirus-leery customers, whose flights took off while they chose to put their travel plans on hold, in most cases obtained flight credits that could be redeemed for future travel within 12 months. Those 12 months have since elapsed, but for many customers their flight credits still hold value because of the policy extensions.

Ready to travel by spring

American Airlines, for example, said that customers who voluntarily canceled tickets for travel beginning on March 1, 2020, have until March 31, 2022, to redeem flight credits.

"Based on the increasing availability of vaccines and the fact that we're seeing more leisure travel booked every day, we are confident that by next spring anyone who wants and is able to travel will be able to do so," an American spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. 

United has also extended the validity of all tickets purchased between May 1, 2019, and March 31, 2021, through March 31, 2022, a spokesperson for the airline told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Travel company TripActions, which manages trips for both business and leisure travelers said that over the past year, it has observed a significant uptick in unused credits among its clients. Indeed, last April a group of U.S. senators estimated that U.S. airlines issued more than $10 billion worth of travel credit.

In January, when TripActions analyzed its pool of clients' unspent flight vouchers, it found that 55% of the credits were set to expire sometime in 2021, with 45% scheduled to expire in 2022. When it performed the same analysis this month, the company found that just 11% of that same pool of vouchers expire this year, while 89% are valid through 2022. 

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A TripActions spokesperson said this shift reflects airlines' recent policy changes, and can also be extrapolated to the industry at large. 

Some passengers have already taken to the skies again, as more Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine, and pandemic-related restrictions on businesses begin to loosen. 

While airfares are no longer dirt cheap, travelers can still score good deals, particularly to Mexico vacation hotspots including Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and Mexico City, according to fare aggregator Kayak.

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