a close up of a seat
Picture by: Nick Morrish/British Airways

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…

LONDON, UK - August 10th, 2018: view of Heathrow airport with stormy skies and British Airways airplanes at their stands

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.
a close up of a seat

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.

a glass of wine next to a window

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?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I think the attitude to staff and customers alike by BA management is clear. Thanks for helping to educate the travelling public.

  2. Another concern is if you accept a voucher you also waive your consumer protection rights built into your Credit Card, hence the Bank cannot claw back the amount owed.

  3. As I have just discovered, and despite being told the opposite by BA over the phone on 31st March, BA are refusing to void/cancel vouchers WHEN NO REFUND IS REQUIRED. My insurers have accepted my claim for a flight to Tokyo on 18th March that went ahead. All BA have to do is void the voucher and provide evidence of that. They will gain financially. Instead they are refusing and causing me to lose the £670 which I can now claim from insurers. Why?? What have they got to lose? Nothing surely. No one has told me why they won’t do it.

  4. They don’t allow the vouchers to be used to offset cash upgrades at the airport, only those paid for prior as I found out to my chagrin last week..

  5. Pick up the phone, tall to somebody (yes it may well take several attempts to get through and when u do it might take 40 mins – an hour +) and BA will more than happily refund your money ( and your avoid and any 2-4-1 vouchers).

    I know this as this far I’ve had ELEVEN refunds, and am waiting on them to talk to a hotel so they can process a 12th.
    The longest I’ve waited for the money to get back in my account is 10 days ( although when I spoke to them Friday I was warned the current backlog could mean a 21 day wait.)

    There’s no need to faff about with a voucher in the 1st place. BA have never argued over a refund during this whole debacle.

    Ask for a refund, get it actioned, get your money back in your account then do with it as you please. – job done.

    1. Clayton DYKWIA Powers?
      “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.”
      #NationalDisgrace #BeyondAbysmal #FlyAbBA

    2. “it may take several attempts of 40 mins to an hour”. That’s not a great look.

      And, that’s assuming, of course, you don’t fall for the button in the cancellation email which kills your odds instantly.

  6. “The airline already faces an unfairly uphill battle due to lack of support from the UK Government…”
    – BA actively campaigned against government funding for the sector, notably with competitors Flybe and Virgin… but wait for it. Then sought and obtained over £300million from HMG treasury in corporate finance support… on top of the furlough funds from the British taxpayer.

  7. They took my money straight away when i booked , same as they did for thousands of others. Asked for ar refund in june , still waiting.

  8. Am I flogging a dead horse? USA stopped travel from UK on 16th march so the group cancelled booking as were unable to travel the following week. No button to ask for refund only vouchers on site.BA then sent email to say that our flight was cancelled on the 18th march as travel not permitted. We have tried to get a cash refund but with no luck. We were going on a special holiday (50th birthday)as a group and now we do not want to travel at all. We have £5k of vouchers now and feel hard done by and out of pocket. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you

    1. We’re in the same position with the airline. Plus we bought travel insurance for our tour and they won’t refund the rest of our money. I’m going to try calling BA again.

  9. I had an Avios booking for a return flight in November which has just had one sector cancelled, can’t wait for the fun of getting my Avios back. By the way as a retired SOCO crime scene tape is yellow and I know you were speaking metaphorically.

  10. I am one of the customers who has ended up with a voucher because when I went online for a refund only the voucher option came up So thinking this was the route to obtain a refund I pressed it Thus discovering an email for a voucher and no route to a refund I immediately telephoned and was told they could not handle it I must use the complaint procedure After a month of back and forth no satisfaction and told that they consider it closed I can accept or go to external arbitration Currently I have emailed the BA CEO – no reply so far and asked my MP to take up the matter At 75 I am disgusted with BA and am in a situation where I may not be able to fly in the future. So much for a national flag carrier and a disgrace for a huge company to fail in using technology to aid customers

    1. I have had exactly the same problem. Complained to CEO of BA and some underling responded to basically say “tough”. Next step, the national press and a claim in the County Court on the grounds of deception.

  11. Flights cancelled 10 days before departure. BA has not contacted me nor the holiday company. Rang the free phone number today that is supposed to deal with refunds, recorded message & then I got cut off. Brilliant how BA treat their customers 😡

  12. I have the same problem. Flights cancelled by ba, requested a refund via email, got sent vouchers, eventually got through to customer services, to be told once a voucher has been issued it can’t be changed back to a cash refund!
    It’s a disgrace, they have my money, and I want it back.
    Been useing ba for 24 years, every year, never again!!

  13. Not sure if anyone else has come across this problem but i am being told because i upgraded my ticket from economy to Club Europe i can’t get a mega ticket? Now this sems like a minor issue but that means i can’t make another booking where i wish to combine it with another voucher…. As you say too much red tape but there is nothing in there web site that references this and i am not sure why the upgrade would make it impossible to make it a mega voucher…..

  14. British Airways offered a voucher against a return business class flight they cancelled. I didn’t ask for this voucher. I have had correspondence by way of resolver where answers come through executive club. where they repeatedly said they cannot refund once a voucher is issued. I bought these tickets 100% with Avios 57000. I paid taxes by Amex. Amex have refunded my taxes and refused BA payment when they disputed on the grounds that I should be refunded if I want that. All I want is my Avios to be put back on my account again. Now they say if I go to CAA ombudsman all offers will be withdrawn. Bully boy tactics is this legal ?

  15. I was duped into the evoucher when my flights were canceled April 2020. I booked 2 seats for my flights. BA changed the evoucher from 1 voucher to 2 vouchers (for 2 passengers) in August. I was able to use 1 evoucher, but can’t use the second one. I think it’s because my companion has a suffix at the end of the name. I’ve called and emailed BA customer service but they won’t help or look into the issue. Anyone out there having this problem? Were you able to get it resolved? Please respond if you have.

  16. Booked flights for four people to New York December 2020, BA sent emails the day before the flights stating looking forward to you flying with us.

    Phoned BA who stated flights were still going to New York, it wasn’t until I pushed the BA staff that they said we wouldn’t be allowed to board the flight. Phoned BA a second time the BA advisor stated the advice was wrong, but when pushed agreed we could not board the plane.

    Got e Vouchers as flight not cancelled, but would say BA dishonest and deceitful, very very unhappy with service. Don’t deserve loyal customers.

  17. So unsurprisingly (even if a bit gut-punchingly) my London to San Jose flights in February were cancelled today. The booking included a Companion Voucher which expires in May ’21, so it makes sense to take a voucher which will effectively extend the life of that voucher by nearly 2 years from it’s current end date.

    A couple of questions… I haven’t accepted the voucher yet and wonder whether the start/end dates are determined by the date the flight was due to leave, or the date the flight was cancelled, or the date I decide to accept the voucher (as there might be some small added value in not accepting the voucher immediately).

    And also whether once I have taken the voucher, it can still be combined with another Companion Voucher on a future booking?

    First World problems I know, but interesting nonetheless?! 😉

  18. Anyone know if I booked a flight with a voucher that is then cancelled by BA, am I entitled to a cash refund or just vouchers again?

  19. Seems I have been very unlucky. I had to cancel flights for a trip to Greece when it was removed from travel corridor Oct. 2020 (booking made in Sept 2020). Phoned BA to get eVoucher number as I didn’t receive an e-mail. Immediately used it to rebook another trip to Turkey. When Turkey was removed from travel corridor a few days later I cancelled my booking online. According to BA agents I should have phoned them to do this since doing so online meant that I only received 250 GBP back to c/c instead of 1200 GBP eVoucher. When I made the online cancellation, I was under the impression that since my ticket was issued under the ‘book with confidence’ policy I’d receive another eVoucher. No where on the page did it say that I’d only get 250 GBP back. BA agent said, tough, refund issued, nothing can be done. So my question is, am I out of luck? Should I keep trying? Do I have a leg to stand on? Or is there really nothing that can be done. Seems very shady of BA. I never received the original eVoucher outlining terms and conditions (I.e. don’t make changes online). I’m so frustrated!

  20. I think it’s very sad that they are treating loyal passengers in this way, I too was hoodwinked into taking a voucher after they cancelled my flight to Rio 3 times, I was travelling business class originally in December last still I thought my voucher would cover a like for like ticket but boy was I surprised, having paid already it seems the cost of the same flight this year is over £800 more expensive why? I appealed to the CEO and customer services yet the answer is tuff you have to pay more. I have been a loyal frequent business class travel for 23 years and while they still have my money there response is basically tuff pay up more. I have learned a lesson BA and won’t make that mistake again and wherever possible I will use an alternative airline

  21. My flights to joburg using 52,000 avios points cancelled by BA last May. I wanted to rebook my flights for July 2021 so didnt ask for a refund and couldnt get through on phone or rebook online. Got conned with the voucher button trap. Phoned September to rebook flights told no seats available. Requested refund as would have to fly with another airline. Told not possible then told It will cost me £70 @£35 per passenger. Complained to resolver &cedre. Got no where. Tried to book flights in BA sale. seats are available but no avios seats. Asked if I could use the cash value of the voucher and pay the extra £800 for a non avios seat & have my avios refunded.
    Told not possible although BAs t&c s say it is.

  22. I tried to book a flight for 2 passengers using the e-vouchers I was misled into accepting. The website only accepted one voucher so in the end I had to make two separate bookings for the same flight. By the time I had completed the second one, which was a few minutes after the first one, the flight price had gone up. I asked BA to refund the difference as their website was at fault but they refused. Any ideas about how I can pursue this? Obviously BA will not budge.

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