Expert Tip #1: Never take a ‘Free Trip’ Voucher

Note: As announced in our UnRoadWarrior 2.0 post, we are starting a new series of posts called Expert Tips. This series will feature, short, to the point, no longer than a few sentences tips from us and experts we have learnt from. The idea is to create a whole set of tips on how to handle situations as you encounter them. Our eventual goal is that anytime you run into a new situation, you should be able to search this set of tips to get advice on how to handle it. Do leave a comment to let us know what you this of the idea behind this series.

Here is the first in this series.

Expert Tip #1: Never take a ‘Free Trip’ Voucher:

When flights are overbooked, airlines ask for volunteers who are willing to fly later, in exchange for a free round trip to anywhere in the domestic flight sector of the airline. In the US, this is the lower 48 states (all except Alaska and Hawaii). Our expert tip is to always ask for a cash value voucher of $300 or higher instead. There are two reason for this: First, the ‘free round trip’ voucher is usually restricted as to when it can be used. It cannot be used to pay for international trips. The trips you can use them for cannot be upgraded. Secondly, you earn no miles on the ‘free round trip’. A cash voucher usually does not have these restrictions AND you earn miles on the trip you use them for.

Also read my articles for more on vouchers:

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  1. I am not so sure that this recommendation is unconditionally true. A lot of domestic tickets that this could be used on are worth may more than $300. If I could get a $450-500 ticket for free, that would be worth more to me than a $300 voucher, a couple thousand miles, and the opportunity for an upgrade. However, I think your points are definitely worth thinking about for some people and some situations.

  2. Except for Alaska Air.

    I used their voucher for a trip to Cancun, and I think that can be used systemwide, even Hawaii.

  3. m henner, thanks for pointing that out. I am sure Hawaiian Airlines would have different rules to their vouchers too.

  4. I have been stuck with “free” roundtrip vouchers as some airlines have then under capacity control. In addition, I have had to pay a small fee to use the last one I was able to use. These have become too difficult to use.

    I no longer will agree to this type of voucher and will only volunteer when unrestricted value fare vouchers are offered.

  5. I got a $400 United travel credit voucher from United last year for volunteering to be bumped, and am having a heck of a time trying to use it: must call or go to the airport in person to redeem (nothing I can do online), only valid on United (not any partners), and I can’t tell if I have to just book an RSVP by the expiration date, OR actually travel by it (can’t find the answer on their website, and haven’t heard back from their customer service by email yet – didn’t want to wait an “estimated 30 minutes” on the phone for an agent). What a hassle! Now I know better…

  6. Heather,

    Sorry to hear of your challenges using the voucher. I would suggest calling late at night or early morning to minimize hold time. Calling is your only opion

  7. Heather– I just used a friend’s $400 United paper vouchers to buy a ticket at the airport. They expired May 16 (tomorrow) and I booked a flight in September of this year. You only have to spend them by the due date, but the flight can be anytime.

    And I would just go to the airport. It’s worth the hassle, rather than dealing with customer service on the phone. I found the flight I wanted online, bought the $3 hold with farelock and brought my confirmation email to the United ticket counter (along with my friend). We were in and out in 10 minutes.

    And next time you get bumped, think about asking for cash. The rules are at the DOT here:

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