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11 Ways to Get Cash From an Airline Instead of a Voucher

If you’re being inconvenienced, you deserve cash—in fact, you’re often entitled to it by law. Here’s how to get it.

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Cash is king

Sure, being bumped from a flight is always a bummer…but sometimes, it can mean a load of cash, and that’s not a bad thing. The problem is, airlines will do their darndest to get you to accept a voucher—or, worse—their deepest apologies. Nope, that’s not enough. In fact, you might not realize this, but in many situations, you’re actually entitled to that cash. Here’s what you need to know to actually get it when things go awry at the airport.

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Use a secondary travel marketplace

OK, let’s say you’ve gotten one of those vouchers after a travel mishap, but you’d really rather have the cash. Your best bet is to use a secondary travel marketplace. Some of these, like SpareFare, allow travelers to sell their travel reservations and airline vouchers to other travelers. “It’s like eBay, but for flights and holidays,” says Galena Stavreva, CEO of SpareFare. The only requirement, says Stavreva, is that the airline allows the transfer of vouchers to other people. Here’s a guide to transferring an airline ticket. You can avoid this extra step, however, by insisting that the airline give you money for your inconvenience. Keep reading for tips on how to do that.

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Know the rules about overbooking

A whopping 24 percent of Americans accept an airline’s offer of vouchers or food instead of getting the cash they’re owed, according to a recent survey conducted by AirHelp. But under U.S. law, if you don’t volunteer to give up your seat and are denied boarding due to overbooking, you may be eligible to claim compensation of up to $1,350, depending on the value of your ticket fare and the ultimate delay in arrival to your destination. “As the value of the voucher is often less than the cash compensation to which you’re entitled to by law, we at AirHelp advise all travelers to always check whether their flight disruption entitles them to cash compensation from the airline and file a claim for it,” say the experts at AirHelp. Here are more things airlines don’t want to tell you (but every flier should know).

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Change the narrative

“Airlines go out of their way to hide what they are legally obligated to do, relying on your lack of knowledge to simply shrug and proceed,” says Dale Johnson, co-founder of Nomad Paradis. That means if your flight is canceled, delayed, or rerouted, it’s on the airline to make amends. In this situation, Johnson says you should simply refuse the vouchers and stand your ground. The amount of money you can get depends on why your flight was canceled, delayed, or rerouted, but it can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands—and it will usually cover the price of your ticket. “Explain how the situation inconvenienced you, and give specific numbers and receipts to how much out of pocket you are,” he explains. This includes extra accommodation you had to purchase and even the food you ate.

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It’s in the public domain, so your request is far more likely to be taken seriously, Johnson says. He once had a flight from England to Portugal canceled, and he had to stay two extra nights in England. The airline tried to put him on a flight to a different city in Portugal, which he refused. “If I’d taken the flight, I wouldn’t have been eligible to claim a refund,” Johnson says. “I contacted them via email, contact form, and Twitter, and within hours, I was talking to an assistant via Twitter DM.” Johnson was refunded for the original flight and his rebooked flight. Don’t miss these red flags you’re about to book a bad airline.

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Understand the law regarding delays

The Department of Transportation’s aviation laws are a little confusing, but you should try to familiarize yourself with them. Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, and there are no federal requirements when it comes to delays with domestic flights (international flights have their own rules). But often, an airline will provide money for food and drinks and a hotel if the flight is severely delayed. Those who are involuntarily bumped are entitled to compensation in the form of a check or cash. If this happens, and you’re scheduled to arrive at your destination one to two hours after your original arrival time, the airline must pay you 200 percent of your one-way fare that day, with a $675 maximum. If you want to avoid delays, this is the best time of the day to fly.

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Don’t accept

You’re under no obligation to accept the voucher, says Sopiko Dvalishvili, a communications specialist for MyFlyRight. You only have to take the voucher if you specifically signed an agreement to receive a voucher instead of monetary compensation, Dvalishvili says. This typically occurs during a chat at the gate before boarding begins—and everything should be spelled out in writing. “So, if the airline forgets to mention that cash is an option, stand your ground,” he says. Here are a few other things airline gate agents may not tell you.

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Educate yourself

You can find out exactly how much compensation you’re entitled to online with companies like MyFlyRight, Dvalishvili says. It only takes a few minutes and very little effort. One important note, however: You’re entitled to meal vouchers, and they’re not connected to compensation, so by accepting them, you aren’t waiving any of your rights.

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Demand the money

If your flight is canceled, the airline is legally required to give you a cash refund. But they will first offer a voucher, which will expire a year from the flight date. Or they’ll offer to rebook your flight. Don’t accept the voucher, and ask for the money instead. Even if you’re rebooked, you should still receive the money for your inconvenience.

Also remember to mention the fees you paid to check your bag, to upgrade your seat, to check in early, and whatever else. If your flight is canceled or rebooked, they need to refund you for all the extras as well. This equates to cash, not a voucher. If the person at the gate can’t help you (or is refusing to help), ask to speak with a manager. If no one is available, call customer service immediately and try Tweeting the airline your complaint.

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Request cash—even if you volunteer

When your flight is overbooked, they may ask for volunteers in exchange for a voucher or a gift card. But it’s your right to request money instead. In fact, under federal law, you have the right to a cash option. The maximum that most airlines will give is $10,000. Here’s what else you need to know if your flight is overbooked.

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Get help

If the airline still won’t budge, request help from a third-party service like AirHelp. They’ll research and check your compensation for your flight in the moment—and for your flights for the past three years. They’ll even file a claim on your behalf for any of your eligible flights.

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When in Europe…

Policies differ throughout the United States, but they’re very strict in Europe, says Torben Lonne, editor-in-chief of Dive.In, an online travel magazine. If your flight was canceled and the airline was at fault, you can demand a full refund that must be paid in full within a week. You also have the right to free room and board, according to EU laws. “This also includes flights that are outbound from Europe to anywhere in the world,” Lonne says. “So never accept a voucher if a flight is canceled while you are traveling in Europe.” The only exceptions are weather and other circumstances where the airline isn’t responsible for the cancellation.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at Daniellebraff.com. You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff and Instagram at danikarp.