BA owner and EasyJet have millions of unclaimed travel vouchers

  • By Karen Hoggan
  • Business reporter

image source, Getty Images

Passengers of BA owner IAG and rival EasyJet have yet to get back around €724m (£643) in travel vouchers dating back to the start of the pandemic.

IAG, which owns five airlines including Air Lingus and Iberia, said it had around 600 million euros (£533) in vouchers issued when flights were cancelled.

EasyJet’s latest results suggested it had £110 in unclaimed vouchers.

The practice of issuing vouchers drew criticism because many wanted a cash refund instead.

Aviation consultant and former IAG employee Robert Boyle, who flagged the IAG figures, said that when airlines were forced to cancel large numbers of flights during the pandemic, they encouraged customers to accept vouchers for future travel rather than issue refunds.

With so many vouchers yet to be redeemed, Mr Boyle asked how many of the vouchers will ever be used.

The rate of use of vouchers could increase as the expiry date approaches, he said: “However, if even 20% of the original €1.4bn of vouchers expire unused, there would be a release of €280m for profit”.

“However, if the vouchers are never used, IAG will have extra seats available for sale. Given what has happened to ticket prices since the pandemic, the cash value of these seats will be even greater than the reported voucher values.”

Both BA and EasyJet have extended the expiry date of their vouchers several times.

In its latest set of results, EasyJet said no vouchers had expired yet as expiry dates had been extended “to ensure customers have the maximum opportunity to use their vouchers”.

The airline said the number of unused vouchers at the end of its last financial year on September 30 was equivalent to €110 million, or 2% of ticket revenue in 2019, so there was a “very small proportion of customers who have not yet used their vouchers”.

“And it’s also worth noting that numbers will have reduced since then as five months have passed – including a busy booking period at the turn of the year.

BAs will now run out in September 2023, although the airline said it was “always reviewing it”.

It said last year that 700,000 vouchers were used and that it sent reminders to customers who had outstanding ones.

Airlines, including BA, were accused during the pandemic of making it difficult for people to claim refunds.

BA said that when a flight was cancelled, it always offered the option of getting a full refund, rebooking or rerouting. It never automatically issued coupons, which had to be requested by a passenger.

But it said it recognized 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 added, if a customer were to travel on a flight canceled by the airline between 9 March 2020 and 19 November 2020 and they chose a voucher, BA had already contacted them to offer a full refund.

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