Best Practices for Unused Ticket Management

By Jessica Sillers

Sometimes, business travel plans fall through. Meetings change, priorities readjust, and even staff changes can lead to tickets going unused. In 2020, business and travel response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic means some individual companies are struggling with $1 million or more in unused tickets.

In pandemic times and beyond, you need recourse to capture the value of unused tickets to the fullest extent possible. Building unused ticket management into your overall travel management system can help you tackle the challenge and use these balances effectively.

What Is an Unused Ticket?

An unused airline ticket is usually a non-refundable ticket that the traveler who purchased it is not able to use due to a change in plans. In most cases, “unused” doesn’t mean “lost cause”; you can generally get a flight credit or even a refund, depending on the scenario.

What Happens to an Unused Ticket?

It’s worth pursuing whatever options exist to recoup the value of an unused ticket through a flight credit or voucher. In some cases, you may even be able to claim a refund on a non-refundable ticket.

Airline vs. traveler cancellation

If the airline cancels or substantially delays the flight, you may be eligible for a refund, even on a non-refundable ticket. Check the specific carrier’s policy for details: Delta’s policy entitles you to a refund if the schedule changes by 90 minutes, whereas United will only offer a refund if the flight is changed by six hours or more.

If the traveler makes a voluntary change or doesn’t use the ticket, it’s probably going to be much harder or impossible to get a refund. The notable exception is if you cancel or change the ticket within 24 hours of booking. Even after this point, though, business travelers can often still get a future flight credit and retain ticket value this way (less any applicable cancellation fees).

How does a flight credit work?

If a business traveler receives a flight credit for an unused ticket, the airline typically specifies a time window to use the credit (often 10-12 months). Some airlines are offering flexible policies or additional accommodations due to coronavirus, so stay updated on any new offers from your preferred carriers.

Penalties or fees may apply if you are allowed to change the name on the flight voucher. Companies may need to decide where the balance is between retaining as much value as possible and risking having a flight credit expire.

Who Is Responsible for Unused Tickets?

Unused tickets can represent roughly 5-7% of a company’s travel budget. One problem in unused ticket management is that it’s not always clear who’s responsible for managing flight credit balances.

It often makes sense for business travelers to handle their own bookings. This can become an issue if an employee isn’t tracking unused tickets effectively, or leaves the company with unused ticket credits attached to their name. Travel managers may need to step in to attempt to redistribute unused tickets or report balances to the finance team.

A combination of a sound travel policy and travel management software can make it easier to stay on top of unused tickets. Your travel policy should note that unused ticket balances and any flight credits or vouchers belong to the company, not the individual traveler. Travel management software can help travelers and managers share information and updates.

Unused Ticket Management Strategies

Following a few best practices can enable you to manage unused tickets more effectively, minimizing losses for the company.

Review balances and expiration dates

Implement a clear system to review unused ticket balances and expiration dates so you can prioritize putting applicable credits toward any upcoming trips. Part of this process may include setting rules about when to reserve unused tickets for the same traveler, and at what point to adjust flight credits as needed so other travelers can use the ticket before it expires if the airline allows for that. For example, you can outline a policy that travelers should notify supervisors of expiring tickets at the 60-day mark so they can take appropriate action.

Use automated ticket tracking

An automated system can be your best safeguard to minimize wasted costs from unused tickets. Some travel management software services may help finance teams and business travelers view unused tickets. For example, TravelBank offers an unused airline ticket tracking service to help your company effectively track and reconcile these travel credits. Our system emails monthly updates with the status of your unused ticket balances for simple reconciliation of your records.

Maintaining unused tickets within a clear system also helps prevent employees from mistakenly using flight credits from cancelled business travel for their own personal use.

Change names where appropriate

At times, changes in staff can mean an employee leaves the company before using applicable ticket credits. That shouldn’t mean that the company loses the ability to use travel credits for a future trip. One option is to see whether the airline is willing to convert unused tickets to voucher credits or reissue tickets under a different name. Another possibility is finding a travel management service that can process some of these changes for you, so you capture value without sinking a lot of time on hold with the carrier. If TravelBank wasn’t previously your travel provider, you can still reach out to our team to see if we can help you track down and process unused ticket balances.

Report ticket losses

It’s possible that even after your best efforts, some ticket balances may expire before you can use them. Document these to report to the financial team. A qualified tax professional can evaluate unrecoverable business losses and recoup a portion of the loss through any tax write-offs that apply.

If the pandemic changed your company’s travel plans, you may still be able to save a lot of the value of your unused tickets. Strengthening your unused ticket management practices can save the company money and make it easier for finance professionals, managers, and business travelers to match flight credits with an upcoming trip.

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