Airlines find themselves in an unenviable position right now, eager for new bookings, but still working their way through refund woes. And woes, there are.
Many customers simply won’t book new flights until past travel grievances are settled, including some airlines taking over 100 days to process refunds, many denying legally entitled refunds and some making it borderline impossible to receive a refund, rather than a voucher, which allows the airline to hold onto customer money.
British Airways is no exception, and making matters worse, their voucher system wrapped so heavily in red tape, you might think it’s a crime scene when you try to use one. And even once the red tape is unraveled, you still might need a full semester of remote learning to comprehend the rules.
Here’s a look at what’s happened, what you can do with your British Airways vouchers, and most importantly, what you cannot…
Backstory: British Airways Checkered Refund Process
Know this: if an airline cancels your flight, rather than you cancelling, you’re eligible for a refund, not just a voucher. With covid-19, there’s been an unprecedented amount of that, and many customers want their money back, with no plans to travel in the near term, and uncertainty around many jobs.
For many years, British Airways offered a simple, easy to use customer friendly online portal to handle refunds, where you simply followed a link from your cancelled flight booking, and could click “refund” or “voucher”.
Obviously, in uncertain times with even more uncertainty around travel, many people prefer a refund, but few are getting them. When covid-19 hit, in an effort to preserve cash – aka keep customers from taking it back – British Airways re-coded this website to remove the refund option.
Travellers rarely caught on in time, before a voucher was automatically issued, and unless you were plugged into daily goings on of the airline, it was impossible to know that the only way to get a refund was to call the airline. Of course, that was a feat made harder by ‘automatic hang up’ phone lines for most customers, also created by design.
All the while, the airline kept top tier members happy, with a private phone number to handle requests, with a higher level of discretion and flexibility.
The processes were ethically ambiguous at best, and many customers felt tricked into accepting a voucher, but if it’s easy to spend, who cares, right? Spoiler alert: the British Airways vouchers are not easy to spend, and carry more red tape than a crime scene.
Problem One: Three Types Of Vouchers
Like many other airlines, British Airways is facing unprecedented times, and a learning curve is somewhat expected, and fair. A cynic could argue that these simple customer technologies should’ve been in place already, but carrying on…
In the earliest days of the pandemic, British Airways issued vouchers which could only be used over the phone, before promising a new set of vouchers, which could be used online. Some vouchers can be used for flight only, while others can be used for British Airways holidays too.
Most recently, BA added a third type, “mega vouchers” which can be used online, and can combine other vouchers. So the first problem BA customers with travel vouchers have is that they need to figure out which type they have…
- Online Vouchers
- Phone Only Vouchers
- Mega Vouchers
Oh, and some of the phone only vouchers have been converted to online use, which is both good and bad. Good, since they can be used online, bad, because the rules are all slightly different.
As to the “mega vouchers” these can be used online, but only once you’ve called British Airways to have the separate vouchers converted into a mega voucher. You’re gonna’ work for your money…
To save the quizzical face on the phone, BA internally refers to these as EMD’s and BWC’s, so if you hear someone using jargon to make your phone call even more complicated, don’t be alarmed.
What You Can Do With British Airways Vouchers
Once you figure out if your voucher can only be used over the phone, or if online is ok, it’s all about knowing what you can, and of course, what you cannot do with the British Airways voucher. Here’s a few things you can do with BA vouchers…
- Use them to pay for all, or part of a new booking.
- Use them to upgrade a flight with cash.
- Combine up to three vouchers for a new flight booking.
It’s good that you can use up to three vouchers towards one new booking, but keep in mind you’ll need to phone to do this – which can be a task in itself – even if you have online vouchers.
What You Cannot Do With BA Vouchers
Whatever type of voucher you do have, there are quite a few things you cannot do, which you might really like to do. For starters, you can’t use them to pay for any extras for old bookings, or to cover any remaining balance on old bookings. British Airways vouchers cannot be used for…
- Part, or any payment of a previous booking
- Ancillary fees, like seat assignments, checked bags, buying miles.
- Tickets for other people, if you no longer wish to travel.
No Use For Old Bookings
One of the best features of British Airways platform has long been British Airways Holidays, which allow people to book deals which include flight plus at least one other part of travel, like car rental, or hotel, and just pay a small deposit.
You can book a £2500 first class trip to New York, but just pay £300 as a deposit, paying the rest over time, up to a few weeks before travel with no interest or fees. It still works, and it’s a fantastic feature.
Unfortunately, British Airways, isn’t playing fair, excluding people from using their travel vouchers to pay any remaining balances on old trips. Here’s the text from the internal British Airways documents agents use…
A voucher may only be redeemed towards a new British Airways Holidays booking made once you have received the voucher. Vouchers are not eligible to be used in payment or part-payment towards an existing holiday booking.British Airways Internal Policy
Arguably, not allowing customers to use cash they’ve already spent with the airline to cover tickets they still hope to take may lead to further cancellations, with customers eating deposits rather than putting in new funds.
No Use For Trip Extras
In another extremely customer unfriendly policy, vouchers cannot be used for things customers might want to pay for, as trip extras. Unlike some airlines which simply see any amounts as a travel bank, which can be used for any purchase at all, BA is keeping the red tape wrapped right.
If you wanted to convert your £1000 in BA vouchers to help cover checked bag fees, or better seating assignments, you cannot. Same goes for buying miles, or anything other than taking an existing cash ticket, and upgrading using the voucher, since this technically creates a “new” ticket.
Keep in mind, the BA vouchers wouldn’t apply to special upgrade offers in the app or online, and only work for upgrades where you simply pay the difference in one fare and another.
No Transferability To Others
The travel equation has changed for many people who received vouchers. For those most at risk during covid-19, validity dates for vouchers may not be enough time to safely travel again, which has many bookers hoping to use their vouchers for someone who can travel.
Whether it’s a friend, relative, immediate family member, dog or work colleague, British Airways has made that impossible with their vouchers. There’s no ability to transfer a voucher or an amount to book for another person, with one small exception.
British Airways new “mega” vouchers take all the vouchers from a multi person trip and combine them into one large voucher, which rests under the name of the lead passenger.
If the lead passenger then wishes to make a “new” booking, they could change the names of the other passengers on the booking – aka find new friends – but the lead passenger must remain part of the trip, or it won’t work. In other words, choose the lead passenger carefully.
Now, here’s where it gets a bit savage from British Airways, and not in a good way. In Europe, package trips are supposed to include a level of transferability, meaning you should be able to hand them off to someone else, either for a fee, if you cancel, or with better flexibility if the package is cancelled by the operator.
To get around this EU guidance, British Airways states that once you accept a voucher for a holiday booking, it’s no longer an ATOL protected holiday, it’s just a voucher, so you have no rights. And yes, technically the amount is no longer ATOL protected, since it’s just a common travel voucher, and not a package.
Why Make Enemies Right Now?
British Airways is keen for new bookings, but they may lose out on many “old” deposit only bookings, or future goodwill, by making people struggle to use funds from cancelled trips.
It all begs the question: why is British Airways creating a sea of red tape, when they’re so desperate for customers? The airline already faces an unfairly uphill battle due to lack of support from the UK Government, while the rest of Europe has enjoyed over €19 billion in bailouts for the aviation sector.
Accepting a voucher at this stage, rather than a refund is ultimately a favour to an airline, and one that customers will be better informed to seek a refund rather than a voucher in the future.
For many British Airways customers, they did the airline this favour without a fair chance to first weigh their options – aka automatically issued vouchers – which is bad enough, but to then make it hard to spend the cash they’re already holding is questionable at best. Why make enemies right now?