Nobody likes a hiccup in their travel plans, and flight delays and cancellations sure can put a damper on your mood and excitement about your trip; however, smart travelers know when it’s deemed appropriate to ask for compensation from (or file a claim against) the airline. Below are 5 ways you can ask for compensation when your flight doesn’t go as planned and some tips to help with the best approach to asking for it.
While there certainly are scenarios where you should request compensation, it’s important to flat out tell you that there are some instances where you’ll just have to put up with it with patience and a positive attitude. You generally will not receive compensation when there’s weather delays (including late incoming aircraft), air traffic control ground delays, airport faults that are out of the control of the airline (such as a closed runway), and your own schedule mishaps causing you to miss your flights.
If none of those examples describe your experience, you may have success in receiving compensation.
Ways to Receive Compensation for Flights
In-Flight Experience/Customer Service
Say you had an unpleasant in-flight experience, such as a broken seat or a crew member who was rude or disrespectful. Sometimes it’s worth it to contact the airline afterwards via their online customer care form and describe the situation. While you may be upset, I recommend keeping your emotions out of it and sticking to the facts. I also urge you to propose a solution at the end of the letter.
For instance, on a recent flight from Stockholm to Newark, my window shade was broken on a daytime flight, and I was unable to see my TV screen because of the glare. I asked a flight attendant if she could reseat me; instead, she chuckled and said, “wow that really sucks – maybe just put the safety card there and deal with it”. I wrote to United a day after I landed and was given a $100 travel voucher to use on a future flight. I thought that was fair compensation because I was traveling on a cheap fare to begin with, and I no-longer had any elite status with the airline. With that being said, the higher your elite status with the airline, the more likely you’ll receive better compensation in the form of miles or vouchers.
Volunteering to Get Bumped
If your plans are flexible and you are traveling without any checked luggage, it can be a lucrative practice to volunteer to be bumped from your flight if there’s a chance that it’s oversold. You can get a feel for how booked-up your scheduled flight is by seeing if they are still selling seats (Southwest will blatantly display “Sold Out” under all fare options), or you can take it a step further and check ExpertFlyer.com to see a complete breakdown of what fare buckets are available.
My recent flight from Newark to Chicago was oversold, and since I had a few hours of leeway and only a carry-on bag, I volunteered to be bumped. I was offered a $400 voucher to take a flight an hour later (with a chance to bump from that one too!). Unfortunately, a few passengers didn’t show up, so I was not needed – I really was bummed, to be honest!
When you volunteer to bump from your scheduled flight to a later flight, you’re entitled to monetary compensation (usually in the form of travel vouchers) and rebooking. In some cases, you may also receive meal vouchers, hotel accommodation, and a refund. If by chance you are involuntarily denied boarding, DOT rules indicate that airlines are required to pay involuntarily bumped passengers up to $1,300.
Mechanical Cancellations & Delays
If there is a delay or cancellation that’s due to the fault of the airline, such as a mechanical problem or crew shortage, you may be entitled for compensation. Compensation may vary depending on your travel circumstances (for instance, if a mechanical delay or cancellation causes you to miss a connecting flight). DOT rules are pretty cut and dry in determining flyer rights.
Sometimes there are operations-failures such as the recent system-wide Delta computer outage that affected hundreds of thousands of travelers. Thankfully Delta took ownership of the situation and compensated travelers that were canceled or delayed more than 3 hours $200.
Sometimes a tool to receiving compensation for flights can be right in your back pocket. Using the right credit card when booking travel can offer you trip-interruption and delay protection. Not all credit cards offer this type of protection, and every credit card has their own parameters that coverage falls under.
I personally believe the Citi Prestige offers the best trip delay benefit (it even provides coverage when the tickets are partially paid for with the card). Coverage kicks in starting at 3-hour delay, and the Citi Prestige card will cover all expenses incurred for you and your traveling companions for up to $500 per ticket. Be sure to do your research and strategically book your flights ahead of time using a credit card offering trip delay and cancellation insurance.
Compensation for flights departing from Europe can be super lucrative:
In 2014, my United flight from Zurich to Newark eventually cancelled after many hours of mechanical delays. As a United 1K at the time, I got rebooked in Swiss Business class later that evening and was given a $500 “good will” voucher from the airline for the inconvenience. While the $500 was a nice way to off-set my troubles, I knew I was entitled to much more monetary compensation.
Under European regulation EC 261/2004, if your flight was delayed from EU member state by three or more hours and this wasn’t the result of extraordinary circumstances, you are entitled to financial compensation.
Flights of less than 1500 km’s are due compensation of €250, between 1500 km’s and 3500 km’s due €400 and flights over 3500 km’s €600. Aside from financial compensation, you’re also entitled to receive care from the airline in the event of a delay, cancellation or overbooking (includes food, drinks and/or refreshments, two free phone calls, fax messages or emails, and in some cases hotel accommodation).
I contacted the United several times and filed several claims on my own. United denied all of my attempts, saying they already “made good” with the $500 voucher.
Life got in the way… until I learned that you can get paid on claims for flights dating up to 6 years back, so it was time to revisit the case. I contacted a third-party company that specializes in these claims called GoPogo (there are a number of these, including AirHelp). Three days later, I had $674.91 in my checking account!!
It may not be fun when you run into circumstances that change your intended travel plans, but being educated about the types of scenarios where you may be entitled to receive compensation makes you a smarter traveler. With anything in life, sometimes it takes a few hiccups and detours to serve as a learning experience. Whether a delay or cancellation may impact your itinerary, remember to keep traveling, and don’t sweat the small stuff!
Have you ever received compensation for a flight? If so, feel free to share your experience!