If you received travel credit or a voucher for a canceled trip last year, it’s time to read the fine print

U.S. travelers are holding an estimated $10 billion in outstanding flight vouchers.

With vaccination rates on the rise and cities reopening to visitors, millions of travelers who were issued credit or vouchers for trips that were canceled due to the pandemic are starting to pull up those emails and read the fine print. Many hopeful flyers are discovering their credits will expire before they get to use them — and others will find that the vouchers have restrictions that make them difficult to use.

When the pandemic hit, Vanessa Mumford-Minshull of Campbell, California, scrambled to cancel a multi-leg, multi-airline European trip for four people. She asked for refunds. Airlines automatically issued vouchers. “I sent an email saying, ‘I don’t want this,’ but got no answer,” said Mumford-Minshull, who spent days calling, writing, and documenting her efforts before finally getting refund help, thanks to her credit card company.

“With the vouchers, there were too many unknowns due to Covid-19,” she said. “I could have lost almost $4,000.”

U.S. airlines, which recently received billions of dollars in a third round of federal pandemic funding relief, are holding what is estimated to be more than $10 billion in outstanding vouchers.

“Airlines don’t release the figures, but I can say with confidence there are more outstanding travel vouchers right now than have existed ever before, given the number of trips that got disrupted simultaneously because of the pandemic,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

If you received airline travel credits or a voucher for a trip canceled due the pandemic, experts say to check the expiration date right away. If the expiration date has not passed and you do not have travel plans just yet, call and ask the airline to extend the date. Recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid travel, even if vaccinated, should mean airlines may be willing to do this.

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