It’s one of the most frustrating parts of travel. You book your flight, pack your bags, and get ready for your trip. Then, just before you were due to fly, your flight was delayed or worse, cancelled.
You are having a hard time trying to salvage the plans and figure out the best way to move on, possibly missed flights, special plans, hotel reservations, etc.
Feels like someone should pay you for all this extra work and grief, doesn’t it?
Ideally, the time-for-money philosophy would apply in the event of a delay. Of course, as with all things air travel, it’s never quite as simple as we think.
Here’s what you need to know about qualifying for and receiving flight delay compensation.
What is flight delay compensation?
At its core, flight delay compensation reimburses you for lost time. Ideally, it holds the airlines responsible for getting you to your destination within a certain amount of time. If they can’t meet the minimum requirements for shipping, they will compensate or financially refund your time.
In Europe, a standard law provides for this form of financial compensation for delayed and canceled flights, which is very transparent and easy to understand. In the US, individual airlines set much less clear thresholds.
Late compensation for international flights
Within the European Union, there are current regulations that provide monetary assistance to passengers for flights affected by delays and cancellations thanks to a 2005 regulation known as EU261.
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Let’s say you’re three hours or more late. In that case, you are entitled to compensation (see chart below) unless the delay is due to “extraordinary circumstances”. These include weather, political conflicts, air traffic control decisions beyond the airline’s control, and security risks.
Things like mechanical and technical breakdowns are not unusual. However, airline strikes, for example, can be considered an unusual case.
As a result, airlines have spent hundreds of millions of euros on passengers inconvenienced by delayed flights.
Since its inception, Europe has extended this rule to apply to domestic connecting flights originating from the EU; this means flights within the European Union, flights departing from the European Union to the US (and other countries) and even connecting flights that you book within the United States all suffice conditions for compensation.
Depending on how long you’ve been delayed, there are clear reimbursements you’re entitled to:
Note that any compensation can be halved if you accept transfers from the airline to your final destination.
Late compensation for domestic flights
Unlike in Europe (see below), the US does not have a central tenant directing how airlines should compensate passengers in the event of delays.
“There is no federal law that requires airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed. Each airline has its own policy on what it will do to passengers. passengers delayed,” the official statement from the US Department of Transportation.
However, the DOT is making strides to create more transparency in the industry in this regard. As part of this, they sought to hold airlines accountable for passenger compensation.
Travelers were entitled to refunds for flights canceled by the airline and flights that were delayed or changed “significantly” after booking.
Until recently, however, the DOT had never determined what constitutes a “significant” delay or change, leaving airlines to self-regulate. In some cases, this resulted in airlines having to delay flights multiple times instead of canceling flights.
DOT has now defined the language and time such that a “significant delay” would be defined as a delay affecting the departure or arrival time of a domestic flight of three hours or more (or at least six hours for international flights).
“Significant changes” will include changing departure or arrival airports or adding more connections to the itinerary than what was originally booked.
Interestingly, it will also include changes to the aircraft type “if it causes a significant impairment in the air travel experience or the amenities available on the flight.”
In addition, recently the faculty reveal airline customer service dashboard — a new tool that shows how the 10 largest US airlines will serve passengers in the event of a delay or cancellation within the airline’s control.
The dashboard only provides information about the adjustments airlines provide when delays are within their control. Many delays have been beyond the airline’s control – often due to weather or air traffic control issues. Airlines often offer little or nothing if a flight is delayed or canceled because of issues beyond their control.
DOT hopes the new dashboard will become a resource for consumers to consider as they choose an airline.
What happens when I miss my connecting flight due to a delay?
Unfortunately, in the US, there is no overall policy for managing delays. If you miss your connecting flight, immediately contact your airline directly at the help desk, by phone (usually a faster option) or through the app. Or, if you have access to the lounge, go there first to speak to an agent who usually doesn’t need to wait in line.
The airline will work with you to arrange you on the next available flight. This may include placing you on another carrier. If you need to stay overnight, ask the airline for food and hotel vouchers.
After you return home, contact the airline about the delay compensation.
Many travel credit cards include delay, interruption, and cancellation benefits to protect you in the event of a flight problem. Once you know your flight will be affected, contact the card company you purchased your ticket from to determine your options (see below).
Which credit cards offer flight delay compensation?
Trip delay reimbursement is a benefit that will reimburse you for costs that your carrier does not reimburse. The “popular carriers” reference tag for this coverage, which usually means the published forms of public transportation for which you purchased tickets — think air travel not road trips for this category.
While airlines may offer hotel rooms and meal vouchers for overnight delays that are within their control, such as maintenance issues, they typically do not provide coverage for cases such as delays due to weather. Furthermore, what an airline offers may not cover all of your costs. This is where late travel reimbursement can help.
Here are some cards that are among the best for late travel refunds. It’s important to note that specific terms can vary from card to card (or issuer to issuer).
Also worth noting is that depending on the card, you must be six or 12 hours late to qualify, which we note here: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card X (six o’clock); Chase Sapphire Reserve (six o’clock) and Chase Sapphire Priority Card (12 hours or overnight); Platinum Card® from American Express* (six o’clock); Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card* (six o’clock); Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card * (six o’clock); Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Bold . Credit Card (12 hours or overnight); Hyatt World Credit Card (12 hours or overnight); United Club Infinite Card and United Explorer card (12 hours or overnight).
*Eligibility and benefit levels vary by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, a Company of AIG.
How to claim flight delay?
Do not delay in making your claim. In the EU, individual countries set deadlines and they can be very different. The deadline for filing a claim is not based on your nationality, where you live or your destination, but instead on the location of the headquarters of the airline you flew on.
You can usually find instructions on how to file a complaint on your service provider’s website. However, if you have trouble finding that information, you can also print and fill out the European Union Air Passenger Rights Complaint Form and mail it directly to the airline.
In the US, it’s best to make a claim as soon as your flight is disrupted. Domestic carriers are not required by law to financially compensate for delays. However, many have policies — which you can find on the DOT dashboard — that offer some financial compensation for extended delays.
Make sure to keep a copy of your flight information, including your ticket number, to claim.
While there’s no consistent policy on compensation for delay, there are a few ways you can get financial compensation if your flight is significantly delayed.
In Europe, for delays of more than three hours, you may be eligible for compensation under EU261. In the US, check DOT’s new service dashboard to see if your carrier will compensate you for airline delays.
If you can’t get financial compensation that way, check with your credit card company to see if they offer trip delay reimbursement.