What Happens When Airline Tickets Go To Waste?

What Happens When Airline Tickets Go To Waste?

Shelby Byrnes, Lola.com's Travel Expert and Travel Agent Manager, answers our questions about what happens with unused tickets

If you travel for business, you know that plans are constantly changing —and flight changes do not come cheap. In fact, a recent study of over 650 Finance leaders, revealed that a cancelled trip costs companies an average of $889. To make matters worse, when a flight is cancelled, any reimbursements or travel credits the traveler gets back goes to their own personal travel account, making it impossible for businesses to know how much of their money is sitting out there waiting to be used.

I wanted to find out more about how this process is typically handled, and learn how our Lola.com 24/7 service team takes care of this for our customers. To get the best information possible, I went right to the source: Lola.com’s Travel Expert and Travel Agent Manager Shelby Byrnes. Here’s what she had to say.

Can you explain what happens when someone cancels a flight?

When someone needs to cancel a flight they are essentially releasing the seat on that specific flight back to the airline but keeping the paid fare to apply towards the purchase of another flight with that airline (think of a store credit instead of a refund).

Do you get 100% of the original flight fee as a credit, or are there additional fees for cancelling?

There are fees to re-book in most cases. These charges are processed when you select your new flights though, not at the time of canceling. Most airlines have a $200 domestic fee and a $300 international fee. So if you cancel a $400 domestic flight, when you go to book another flight with that credit, only $200 will be applied to your new flight, and you’ll pay the other $200 as a change fee. Plus you’ll pay the difference between your original flight and the new flight if the new flight costs more.

Does the credit you receive for a cancelled flight have to be used by the same person who booked the original flight?

YES- credits are non-transferrable. This is where things can get tricky for businesses, because when an employee cancels a flight only they can use their credit, it can not be used by anyone else. If that employee never needs to fly again, the credit will sit in their account for one year.

What’s the difference between cancelling a flight, and just not showing up to your flight?

If you no-show a flight you generally lose the full value of it because the airline has to hold that seat open for you until the boarding closes and they can not resell the seat to another passenger. If you cancel ahead of time they give you the credit because they are able to fill your vacant seat with another passenger.

Are there any situations where you would get a full refund for a flight, and not a credit?

Usually a refund will only be permitted when the ticket’s fare rules allow for it, but there are cases when a flight is canceled or severely delayed (2 hours plus) and an airline will offer a refund in place of rebooking. This is very situational though. 

Have you or your team ever helped a customer get a flight refunded when you thought it couldn’t be done?

YES! And it is the best feeling!!! There are times when with a bit of pleading we got a ticket reinstated when the passenger missed their flight, and we have gotten a waiver code to refund a non-refundable ticket for a customer. My personal motto is that it NEVER hurts to ask! And as someone in the travel industry who works with airlines everyday, it definitely helps to understand the rules and the way things work on their end. 

As an individual traveler, what is the best way to track how much money you have in your travel bank?

Most major airlines will link credits to your loyalty accounts so even if you are not a frequent flyer there are added benefits of having a membership to these programs! 

For our customers, another issue that unused flight credit causes is what to do with that money when an employee leaves or is fired. Have you run into this situation before?

Yes, and unfortunately because credits can not be transferred this becomes a “cost of doing business.”  Luckily, our customers have Lola’s 24/7 service team to help them understand when this happens and what it means for them cost-wise.

In our recent study, 23% of Finance leaders admitted they don’t know what happens to unused flight credits. Without Lola.com, how could a company track something like this?

It’s a pretty manual process because the tickets are all associated with individuals and are airline specific as well as tied to a date that they must be used by...I think a spreadsheet would be the only way to go! How you set up that spreadsheet depends on the number of traveling employees you have, and how many changes they typically make. You can sort it by person, but make sure to set reminders for before their credits expire so you can be sure they are used in time.

How do you and your team help our customers keep track of unused flight credits?

The 24/7 Support Agents at Lola track all the unused tickets that a company has and we reach out to give a 90-day warning when a credit is going to expire! 

Do airline’s business rewards programs help with managing unused flights?

Not that I know of, but those airline reward programs do sometimes offer discounts and deals not available to the average traveler so you can still save money by joining them. It’s free to join, and there are tons of perks for your company so we always recommend this!

So, there you have it. Unused flight fees are a big issue for companies that don’t use a managed travel program. If you only have a few frequent travelers it might not be too cumbersome for you to track, but once your pool of travelers grows, consider switching to a managed travel platform and gain visibility into the money your employees are spending. 

About the Author: Emily Parker-Woodland
Emily was the Marketing Programs Manager at Lola.com from 2015-20. She started at Lola.com as a Wombat (our Travel Services team), and has a wide array of travel knowledge.