Help! Will All My Travel Vouchers Expire Before I Can Use Them?

United and other airlines’ policies have evolved, and will continue to do so, with the pandemic. With 2021 well underway, Consumer Reports and U.S. PIRG, a public-interest advocacy nonprofit, called on 10 domestic airlines last week to ensure their vouchers can be used into 2022.

In addition to the official rules, Mr. Keyes said, “Most airlines have had informal policies to grant extensions to customers who called in and proactively asked for one. Though you shouldn’t be a jerk about it — honey attracts more flies than vinegar — you should be proactive, explain why you’re not comfortable traveling under the current circumstances and ask.”


When the pandemic hit, most air travelers fell into two camps: Those whose flights had been canceled by the airline, and those who voluntarily canceled their tickets. Cruisers were given no such choice: The industry came to an all-out halt last March, after several coronavirus outbreaks were linked to cruises. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order, and most ships have been bobbing emptily ever since. Cruisers, in turn, got either cash refunds or future cruise credits, the industry’s version of vouchers or merchandise credits.

Although the C.D.C. order was lifted in October, cruising still remains largely on pause, and most major cruise companies have preemptively canceled their sailings well into this year while they get their health-and-safety protocols up to snuff. In the meantime, policies about future cruise credits remain flexible.

“We’ve seen the concept evolve since the start of the pandemic, and cruise lines are giving people a fairly long lead in terms of expiration dates,” said Colleen McDaniel, the editor in chief of Cruise Critic, a leading cruise news and planning website. “They’re leaving room for people to sail when they’re comfortable. It also helps navigate the continued pause in the industry — with no definitive end date and cruises continuing to be canceled, it leaves some leeway.”

On Carnival Cruise Line, an industry powerhouse with a fleet of 24 ships, travelers who opted to receive a credit, rather than a cash refund, have through April 2023 to sail.

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How Your 2020 Taxes Are Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic

You’ll need to know how much you’ve already received to claim the credit; If you don’t have the notices detailing the amounts (Notice 1444 for the first stimulus payment and 1444-B, for the second), you can find the information by setting up an individual online account. (Spouses filing jointly will have separate accounts.)

The quickest way to receive the credit is by filing a tax return electronically and having the money direct deposited, even if you don’t need to file otherwise. If you earn $72,000 or less, you can do it free through the I.R.S. Free File program.

It’s possible, particularly if your financial situation or status changed last year.

The recovery credit on the 2020 return is based on an individual’s 2020 tax year information, while the second stimulus payment was based on the 2019 tax year. (For the first stimulus check, the I.R.S. said, a 2018 return may have been used if the 2019 one was not filed or processed.) So if your income dropped in 2020, and you didn’t receive the full amount, you could potentially receive more.

The same goes for changes in life circumstances. If you had a child in 2020, for example, you may be eligible for more money, or maybe you’re no longer a dependent on your parents’ tax return (and were in 2019), which may make you eligible.

Undocumented immigrants without Social Security numbers are ineligible for payments — and the CARES Act, the $2 trillion relief package signed into law in late March, also prevented most spouses and children from receiving checks as well, even if they were U.S. citizens.

The December relief bill changed that, at least in part. Now, married couples filing joint returns may be eligible to recover payments for a spouse who has a valid Social Security number, the I.R.S. said. Each child with a Social Security number is also eligible for payments.

To determine if you qualify, use the Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet or tax preparation software.

The latest relief package includes another stimulus payment of up to $1,400. The I.R.S. will calculate payments based on your most recent tax return.

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A Break for Working Families

The “lookback” also applies to the child tax credit, which is partly refundable. The credit is worth up to $2,000 for each child under 17.

The problem is that some people may not know about the option, Mr. Flacke said. He urged people to have their 2019 tax return handy when they do their taxes or meet with their preparer and to double check which year’s income would result in a bigger refund.

So how do you qualify for the earned-income tax credit? For 2020, the credit is available for families earning up to about $57,000. Individual filers earning up to about $16,000, with no children, can get a credit of up to $538. (There are also limits on investment income.)

You can see if you qualify by using the I.R.S.’s online assistant.

Because many people lost income last year, families who don’t usually claim the credit might qualify for it this year, the I.R.S. said.

Even in a normal year, millions of eligible people fail to claim the credit, according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. Some people have income so low that they aren’t required to file a federal tax return and may not realize they can claim the credit by filing one.

Roxy Caines, director of the earned-income tax credit campaign at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group, encouraged filers to check if they qualify since changes in family situations, as well as income, may affect eligibility. Plus, if you didn’t claim the credit in a previous year but think you would have qualified, you can file and claim it for up to three previous years, she said.

The I.R.S. began accepting tax year 2020 returns on Feb. 12. People expecting refunds usually file early. But because of fraud prevention steps, the I.R.S. must wait until after mid-February to issue refunds to most people claiming the earned-income credit. Early filers should start receiving their refunds this month. They can check the status of their refund using the I.R.S.’s refund tool.

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