Passengers of British Airways (BA) owner IAG and rival EasyJet are yet to reclaim a total of €724m (£643m) in travel vouchers issued since the start of the pandemic. IAG, which owns five airlines including Air Lingus and Iberia, reported that it had €600m (£533m) in vouchers when flights were cancelled. EasyJet’s most recent results showed that it had £110m in unclaimed vouchers.
The practice of issuing vouchers instead of cash refunds has been criticized by many passengers, but aviation consultant and former IAG employee Robert Boyle raised the question of how many of the vouchers will be used. He said that if 20% of the original €1.4bn (£1.24bn) of vouchers expire unused, that would be a €280m (£248m) release to profit. He also noted that if the vouchers are never used, IAG will have extra seats available to sell, which could be worth more than the reported voucher values.
In response to the criticism, both BA and EasyJet have extended the expiry date of their vouchers several times. EasyJet said that no vouchers had expired yet as expiry dates had been extended “to ensure customers have the maximum opportunity to utilise their vouchers”. It also said that the number of unused vouchers at the end of its last financial year on 30 September 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 run out in September 2023, though the airline said it was “always reviewing that”. It said last year 700,000 vouchers were used and it was sending reminders to customers holding outstanding ones. BA also faced accusations during the pandemic of making it difficult for people to claim a refund. The airline said that when a flight was cancelled it always offered the option to get a full refund, rebook or reroute, but admitted that during the height of the pandemic it could not offer “all the usual channels for customers to request a refund”. As a result, it offered full refunds to customers whose flights were cancelled between 9 March 2020 and 19 November 2020 and had opted for a voucher.