British Airways and EasyJet passengers are still owed about 724 million euros
Unclaimed travel vouchers
Passengers of British Airways-owner IAG and rival EasyJet have yet to redeem about €724m (£643m) in travel vouchers that were issued when flights were cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic. IAG, which owns five airlines including Aer Lingus and Iberia, said it had approximately €600m (£533m) in outstanding vouchers, while EasyJet’s most recent results suggested it had £110m in unclaimed vouchers.
However, the practice of issuing vouchers attracted criticism as many people wanted cash refunds instead. Aviation consultant and former IAG employee Robert Boyle noted that when airlines cancelled a large number of flights during the pandemic, they encouraged customers to accept vouchers for future travel rather than offering refunds. Boyle questioned how many of the vouchers will ever be used and estimated that if even 20% of the original €1.4bn (£1.24bn) of vouchers expire unused, it would represent a €280m (£248m) release to profit. Nevertheless, if the vouchers are never used, IAG will have extra seats available to sell, and given what has happened to ticket prices since the pandemic, the cash value of those seats will be even bigger than the reported voucher values.
Both BA and EasyJet have extended the expiry dates of their vouchers several times. EasyJet stated that no vouchers had expired yet, as expiry dates had been extended “to ensure customers have the maximum opportunity to utilise their vouchers”. It added that the number of unused vouchers at the end of its last financial year on 30 September 2022 equated to £110m, or 2% of its ticket revenue in 2019, so there was a “very small proportion of customers who have not yet used their vouchers”. BA’s vouchers will now expire in September 2023, although the airline said it was “always reviewing that”. It said that last year, 700,000 vouchers were used, and it was sending reminders to customers holding outstanding ones.
Impossible to get a ticket refund
Airlines, including BA, faced accusations during the pandemic of making it difficult for people to claim a refund. BA said that when a flight was cancelled, it always offered the option to obtain a full ticket refund, rebook or reroute. It never automatically issued vouchers, which had to be requested by a passenger. However, it acknowledged that during the height of the pandemic, it could not offer “all the usual channels for customers to request a refund”. As a result, if a customer had been due to travel on a flight cancelled by the airline between 9 March 2020 and 19 November 2020, and they opted for a voucher, BA had already contacted them to offer a full refund.
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