Navigating unexpected flight cancellations and delays can be incredibly frustrating.  Knowing your rights empowers you to make informed decisions and minimize stress during a travel disruption. In this guide, The Miles Market breaks down what you're entitled to and how to get the most out of a less-than-ideal situation.

What to Do if Your Flight is Canceled

A flight cancellation can easily throw your travel plans into disarray. Here's how to take charge when it happens:

Book a Hotel

If your flight cancellation turns into an overnight ordeal, prioritize finding a hotel near the airport.  This offers several advantages:

  • Convenience: Airport hotels minimize travel time, especially helpful when you're dealing with the stress of a canceled flight.
  • Affordability: Contrary to popular belief, many airport hotels have competitive rates. Utilize booking sites like Kayak or Priceline to compare prices and score potential deals.
  • Potential Reimbursement: Check your credit card benefits! Some cards offer trip delay protection, reimbursing you for unexpected expenses like hotel stays and meals if your flight is delayed for a certain number of hours.
  • Amenities: Airport hotels often cater to stranded passengers, sometimes offering shuttle services or even day rates for those needing just a few hours to rest and refresh.

Don't wait until the last minute to book. Availability can fill up quickly during major disruptions, leaving you with fewer options or inflated prices.

Ask for a Refund

While airline credits are the most common initial offer, remember that the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to provide a full refund for canceled or significantly delayed flights. Be sure to understand the limitations of airline credits, as they often have expiration dates and blackout periods.

Reference the DOT Cancellation and Delay Dashboard

The Department of Transportation has created a powerful tool to help travelers understand their rights during disruptions. Here's why the DOT Cancellation and Delay Dashboard is a must-use resource:

  1. Know What's Offered: The dashboard clearly outlines what amenities (meals, hotels, rebooking) each major U.S. airline has committed to providing when a flight cancellation or delay is within their control.
  2. Compare Airlines: Empower yourself by seeing how different airlines stack up. This can be crucial if you have the option to rebook on another carrier that might provide better compensation.
  3. Understand 'Controllable': The dashboard distinguishes between disruptions within an airline's control (e.g., staffing, maintenance) and those outside their control (e.g., weather). This knowledge is crucial when advocating for yourself.

The dashboard is a great starting point. However, airline policies can change, so always double-check directly with the airline for the most up-to-date information.

What You're Entitled to if Your Flight is Canceled

Airlines are obligated to help when cancellations occur. Here's what you should expect:

  • Rebooking: Airlines should do their best to get you on the next available flight to your destination.
  • Full Refund for Trip Cancellation: Opt for a full refund if the rebooking options don't suit your needs.
  • Refund for Associated Expenses: Don't forget about additional costs like baggage fees and seat upgrades – you may be entitled to reimbursement.

What to Do if Your Flight is Delayed

Delays are incredibly frustrating, but taking a proactive approach can significantly ease the stress and potentially even improve your chance of getting to your destination sooner. Here's your action plan:

  • Find out the cause of the delay and its estimated duration as soon as possible. Talk to airline representatives at the gate or check the airline's app for updates. Knowing the reason will help you plan your next steps.
  • Airlines prioritize rebooking canceled flights. Actively explore alternative travel options to minimize the impact on your plans.
  • Tools like Google Flights or your airline's app can show you options the gate agents might not offer, including flights on partner airlines or even different routes to your final destination.

Research Other Flights

Don't wait for the airline to rebook you! Explore alternative flights on the same airline,  partner airlines, and competitors.  Tools like Google Flights can help you find all available options, including those with empty seats.

Inquire About Other Compensation

Check the DOT's Cancellation and Delay Dashboard to see your airline's commitments for controllable delays.  Ask if they'll provide vouchers for meals or overnight accommodations. If not,  research the airline's specific policies and consider filing a claim with their customer service department or under the Montreal Convention.

What You're Entitled to if Your Flight is Delayed

Unfortunately, there's no federal law mandating compensation for delayed flights. However, each airline has its internal policies.  The DOT website outlines commitments major U.S. airlines have made for controllable cancellations which may include rebooking, food vouchers, or hotel accommodations when delays are significant.

What Does Travel Insurance Cover?

A flight cancellation can easily throw your travel plans into disarray, but there are steps you can take to regain control. The first crucial step is to find a hotel near the airport if your cancellation requires an overnight stay. Many airport hotels offer affordable rates, and some credit cards even provide benefits like trip delay protection, which could potentially reimburse you for unexpected expenses.

Next, focus on securing a refund. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to provide a full refund for canceled or significantly delayed flights. Be aware that airlines often offer credits as an initial solution, but be sure to understand the limitations of such credits, as they typically have expiration dates and blackout periods.

Make use of the DOT Cancellation and Delay Dashboard. This valuable resource will show you what amenities major U.S. airlines provide in case of a controllable flight cancellation or delay, allowing you to compare your options across different airlines.

Scenarios in Which Refunds Are Not Available

The DOT outlines limited situations where refunds are not required. These include:

  • Nonrefundable Tickets: Know the terms when you book!
  • Personal Reasons: Changed your mind? You may be out of luck.
  • Beyond the Airline's Control: Events like bad weather or air traffic control issues may not qualify.

Even the best-laid travel plans can sometimes face unexpected delays and cancellations.  Being informed about your rights, taking proactive steps, and understanding options like travel insurance can make all the difference in minimizing disruptions and staying on track.

Remember, your unused miles and points represent potential adventures and valuable experiences. If you're not utilizing them to their full potential, you're missing out. When you're ready to explore your options, consider a trusted resource like The Miles Market. Our secure platform, streamlined process, and industry-leading reputation can help you make informed decisions about your travel rewards, whether you want to cash out, top up for a dream trip, or find the best way to utilize your points.

Turn flight disruptions into opportunities for smarter travel planning. Let The Miles Market help you unlock the full power of your miles and points for the most rewarding travel experiences.