An electronic travel certificate with United Airlines can be used to book trips on most United flights. These certificates, which can be easily redeemed for flights and/or preferred seating, can be a great way to save money.
Issued when a flight is canceled, these vouchers do not cost anything to you and are worth the full price of a canceled ticket.
So how do you get them, how do they work, and are they worth having? Find out below.
What is United’s Electronic Travel Certificate?
A United electronic travel certificate can be used to purchase tickets for United flights, United Express flights, and flights through other airlines that are United Express-branded. However, these certificates are not redeemable for flights on airlines within the Star Alliance network or United-branded flights elsewhere. These certificates are not the same as award tickets.
In addition to select flight tickets, these certificates can be used to purchase upgrades such as Economy Plus seating, Basic Economy seating, and preferred seating.
Travel certificates are valid for two years after issuance and go into effect immediately after a flight is canceled. They are offered as an alternative to rebooking and paying a change fee to customers that need to cancel their flight. You can apply the full value of your canceled flight to one of these certificates and use it to purchase any qualifying flight even if it is for a different reservation.
Electronic travel certificates are issued by United for situations such as irregular operations, customer goodwill, fare difference during a ticket exchange, and instances of denied boarding. They are also offered as an option to passengers that voluntarily cancel a flight, but not all canceled flights are eligible to receive full refunds in the form of electronic travel certificates (certain payment types such as credit card points, for example, may not qualify). In some cases, you may only be offered future flight credit.
Electronic Travel Certificate vs Future Flight Credit: Which is Better?
Electronic travel certificates and future flight credit are often compared to each other because they are very similar: they are both issued when a flight is canceled and can both be used to book flights. But which is better?
That depends. Travel certificates have the advantage of being more flexible with time and future flight credit has the advantage of being more flexible with flight options; certificates have residual value and FFC does not. Basically, which is better comes down to when and how you’re most likely to use your credit to fly. Here’s a breakdown of how the two compare.
- Allow you to change travel dates and/or cities
- Let you book United or United Express
- Are eligible to earn miles
Electronic travel certificates:
- Can be used to book new travel
- Do not place restrictions on the travel-by date
- Do not carry rules and restrictions from the original ticket
- Can be used to book multiple flights
- Can be used to book travel for someone else
- *May maintain United card benefits such as priority boarding and free checked baggage. Learn more about United’s baggage policy in 2020.
Future flight credit:
- Can be used to book flights on partner airlines
- Maintains United card benefits such as priority boarding and free checked baggage
If you’re a United Chase cardholder, you’re going to want to read this closely. When you use your United card to pay for a ticket and end up canceling that flight in exchange for flight credit, your card benefits will carry over when you rebook. But if you receive a travel certificate instead and the cost of your new flight is less than the value of your certificate, your benefits will not transfer. If, on the other hand, the cost of the flight exceeds the value of your certificate and you pay the difference with your card, you’ll get those perks. If you have a United Explorer, Club, Presidential Plus, United Business, or United Club Business card, one of those perks will include either one or two free checked bags.
Another major difference between the two is that certificates are typically valid for twice as long. Normally, future flight credit expires within 12 months of issuance while electronic travel certificates take 24 months to expire. With that said, future flight credit issued between May 1 of 2019 and March 31 of 2020 gives passengers 24 months to rebook. Please note that the certificate expiration policy has been recently extended and used to be just 12 months. This is subject to change again but unlikely to do so in the near future.
One major benefit of travel certificates is that they can be put toward more than one flight. If you book a flight with your certificate that is valued at less than the value of your certificate and still have credit left over, the extra will remain in your account for use on your next purchase until the full value of the certificate has been used or the certificate expires—whichever happens first.
So as you can see, electronic travel certificates beat future flight credit in many ways because they are generally more flexible. They usually have a longer expiration period and fewer booking restrictions. But if you need the option of traveling through a United partner airline and/or you want to be able to use your United credit card perks with a flight that costs less than your voucher is worth, future flight credit might be the better choice for you.
How To Use or Redeem a United Electronic Travel Certificate
To redeem your United electronic travel certificate, visit united.com and select Deals & Offers navigate to Promotional certificates, then enter the code or PIN on your certificate. This will tell you how much is left on your credit and how long you have until it expires. You do not need to pay anything when you redeem your certificate to book travel online except for service fees associated with any flight. But if you redeem over the phone, you’ll be charged a small redemption fee.
Travel certificates, which are always issued in USD, do not have monetary value and may not be sold, transferred, or redeemed for cash. Trying to sell or trade a certificate will result in said certificate automatically becoming invalid, even for the original recipient. But if you do intend to use a certificate to purchase a ticket for a flyer other than yourself, which is permissible, you’ll need to make sure to do this from your own account and know that the certificate can only be redeemed by you. United will require identification at the time of purchase and your last name will be linked to the ticket.
Travel certificates may not be used in conjunction with MileagePlus awards, PlusPoints upgrades, or prepaid tickets and are not valid when redeemed through a travel agency. Service charges and fees may not be paid for with certificates—you will need to pay these with a card at the time of purchase and check-in. You may combine up to ten separate certificates as long as they are all valid.
Current Status of United Electronic Travel Certificates From United
Due to current and past travel restrictions put in place in accordance with COVID-19 safety regulations, United electronic travel certificates are now valid for 24 months from the date they are issued. They take effect immediately after you cancel a flight and select this option. Your certificate will be automatically sent to your email.
Lately, there has been some debate about whether travel certificates are actually a good alternative to just rebooking a flight like normal. This is because recently and temporarily, United has loosened up its flight change policy by allowing passengers to rebook without incurring a typical change fee of $200. However, this will result in you forfeiting some of the value of your original ticket if you opt for a flight that is priced lower than what you first paid.
Remember that travel certificates maintain the full value of your original ticket and can be used on more than one flight. So even with this flexibility in mind, electronic travel certificates are probably the way to go if you intend to fly through United or United Express in the next two years.
These electronic travel certificates are just another way that flyers can stretch their money and save when traveling. Electronic travel certificates come out on top when compared to future flight credit in many instances and are the logical choice over a traditional flight change. Across the board, these certificates are generally going to save you more than rebooking and the pesky change fees that come with that, but if you can wait to see if United will cancel your flight—in which case they are required to issue a full refund—or make changes to it, do that.