This trick can make American flight credits a whole lot more valuable

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The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped U.S. airlines into more customer-friendly entities with generous change and cancellation policies. You can freely book speculative flights and not worry about losing your money if your plans change. This week American Airlines, Delta, United and Alaska announced that they’ve eliminated change fees forever. It’s a delight.

There are a few catches, however — the hardest to swallow is that these carriers won’t actually refund your money to your credit card when you make a cancellation (unless you bought a laughably expensive refundable ticket). American Airlines is the worst offender, as the flight credits they issue are quite restrictive. It’s still worlds better than their policies pre-COVID, but limiting enough to still make you think long and hard before booking a flight.

There’s actually a workaround to make your American Airlines flight credits more versatile. I’ll explain one big hindrance of American’s flight credit policy, and show you how to get around it.

Lots of plans are being canceled nowadays. Use this trick to minimize the ramifications. (Photo by Thiago B Trevisan/Shutterstock)

American Airlines flight credit restrictions

When you cancel an American Airlines ticket, the airline will deposit flight credit into the accounts of each would-be traveler. It doesn’t matter who bought the tickets.

For example, if you purchased tickets for your family of five to visit Disney World and had to cancel it, the money you spent will be deposited into five different accounts. If you and your partner want to take a weekend vacation to Cancun without the kids, you can only use 2/5 of the money you spent.

RELATED: The Best American Airlines credit cards

I recently purchased two business class flights for my wife and myself for $458 each. When I canceled these tickets, American Airlines deposited $458 in credit into my account, and $458 in credit into my wife’s account. Again, the credits are not refunded to the actual purchaser of the ticket. If I wanted to use part of my $458 flight credit to book a flight for my wife, I can’t do it. My $458 credit can only be used by me, and her credit can only be used by her — even though I bought them both. That stinks.

The workaround

It’s not ideal, but there is a way to shatter the restrictions on these credits. It revolves around the difference between an American Airlines flight credit and an eVoucher.

Here are the details of a flight credit:

American Airlines flight credits are more restrictive in who can use them.

And here are the details of an eVoucher:

American Airlines travel vouchers are much more flexible.

The secret: When you book a flight with your American Airlines flight credit, you can only book a flight for yourself. But if the new flight you book costs less than your flight credit, American Airlines will issue you an eVoucher for the remaining value. eVouchers can be used for anyone — not just the holder of the credit!

Here’s an example of how I will go about “liquidating” flight credits to get money back.

Step 1. Find the cheapest flight from anywhere to anywhere

One of my family members has a $300 flight credit in their name. She has no idea when she’ll be traveling again, so I want to use that credit for myself. I paid for it, after all.

I start by searching for the cheapest American Airlines flight I can find with Google Flights. I found a $36 one-way flight between Miami and Las Vegas.

Step 2. Book the flight

If my family member uses her $300 flight credit to book that flight, she’ll receive a $264 eVoucher, which can be used to book flights for anyone. I can either ask her to book this flight, or I can do it myself online if she gives me her credentials.

Within a day of booking travel with a flight credit, American Airlines will email an eVoucher to her for the value of the flight credit she didn’t use. In other words, she doesn’t need to actually fly that cheap flight to get the voucher. She’ll even get a $36 flight credit back if she cancels that flight.

Step 3. Obtain the eVoucher

An American Airlines travel voucher has a unique number and PIN which you can use at the bottom of the American Airlines checkout page. You don’t need to provide any credentials to use the eVoucher. I tried using it without being logged in and for a made-up traveler, and it worked. All I have to do is ask my family member to forward me the voucher email when she gets it, and bam! I’ve recouped $264 from being tied up in someone else’s account, no sweat.

Using the eVoucher is very simple, and can be redeemed by anyone, for anyone.

Note: If you’ve booked American’s Basic Economy tickets, flight credits can only be redeemed over the phone. You’ll need the participation of each traveler to turn their credits into vouchers.

Bottom line

If you’ve booked and canceled American Airlines flights for others, your money has essentially been deposited into other people’s accounts. But there is a way to get some of your money back — by converting your flight credits into eVouchers.

American Airlines’ eVouchers couldn’t be easier to use. Just select the “alternate form of payment” at the American Airlines checkout page, enter your voucher number, and it will be applied once you proceed to the next screen.

Let us know if you’ve experienced liquidating flight credits, or if you’ve got any other related tips. And subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tricks like this delivered to your inbox once per day.

Featured image by Thiago B Trevisan/Shutterstock

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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