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How to Protect Yourself When Weather Is About to Wallop Your Travel Plans

by on February 1, 2011 · 2 comments

in How To Guides, Points Guy Pointers

Here we go again, another major winter storm about to wreak havoc on air traffic. While we can’t control weather, we can control our actions when it comes to responding to it when it messes up our travel plans. The biggest piece of advice I can give, is to not stick your head in the sand and ignore the problem. For example, I’m supposed to travel from Boston to LaGuardia today and I know there has been a storm ripping through the midwest. So last night, I pulled up today’s flights on Expertflyer.com and I noticed mine was already cancelled (before Delta even told me!). Knowing this information allowed me to plan my rebooking strategy before I even arrived at the airport. I will have long been taken care of before most people know the flight is cancelled.

So in addition to my last post on weather related travel, here are some tips on being proactive when travel is about to ruin your scheduled plans:

1) Check to see if your airline is issuing any weather waivers. A weather waiver will allow you to rebook your travel to another date free of charge and they will usually have an announcement on the main website, like following on the bottom left of delta.com:

The airline will usually let you know what time period is affected and when you can rebook. Alternately, they may also let you get a refund, free of cancellation penalty. It may behoove you to do this if you booked an expensive fare and will be traveling in the future when you can snag cheaper tickets.

2) If your airline hasn’t issued any travel waivers, simply rebook yourself on a new flight(s) as long as your airline offers risk free guarantees. Air Canada, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways all allow a ticket to be cancelled, free of penalty within 24 hours of booking- even if it is a non-refundable fare. American doesn’t allow 24 hour cancellations, but they do allow you to hold fares for 24 hours, which is even more generous in my opinion.  And when you are booking these tickets and you know the trip will most likely be impacted, add on trip insurance,which can help cover the cost if you are impacted. I’m not a trip insurance expert, so read through the fine print to make sure they will cover weather related trip interruptions.

3) If you live in the Northeast, make backup Amtrak reservations. Most Amtrak tickets are refundable without penalty, so you might as well pre-book yourself just in case you need it. While trains do get cancelled as well, they are usually less effected by snow and weather than our fragile air traffic system. Even if you don’t live in an Amtrak city, you can always train to a different city (Boston to DC, for example) and get flights that are unaffected by weather.

4) Book yourself a car. Most car rentals can be cancelled without penalty at any time. With Hertz, I often don’t even show up to pick up my car and they never seem to mind (in my defense, I’d be willing to cancel them more if they didn’t pull the reservations from my online account on the day of rental).

5) Book yourself a refundable hotel room- especially if you are at an airport. Airport hotel rooms are a hot commodity in snow storms, so try to reserve one that has a late-day cancellation policy just in case you need it. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in an airport terminal with thousands of other miserable passengers.

6) Buy a lounge pass. If your flight is cancelled, instead of waiting in a mile long line, having experienced lounge agents working on your behalf can be the difference of getting home that day and getting stranded overnight. Just think- every minute you wait in line, inventory on future flights is being snatched up by savvier travelers. Even though there may be a line in the lounge as well, it surely won’t be as long as the lines in the terminals. Most airlines sell day passes for as little as $25 (and usually around $50), which can be money well spent if it means avoiding a multi-day delay in getting home.

7) Lastly- have your points and miles ready to go! This is one of the times I love having miles. Yeah, jetting off to the Seychelles in business class for almost free is fun, but knowing I can book almost any flight on any carrier at any time (even if at highly inflated mileage levels) is pretty empowering. If your travel day is spiraling downward and you can’t get through on the phone to your airline and the line to speak with a rep is a mile long, simply load up your laptop and book yourself using miles. During the last storm I helped several clients get home using miles when their airlines otherwise told them they couldn’t. This is when having an American Express Platinum card with a 60,000 point advance ready to go can be a lifesaver.

As with all things, don’t take advantage of these tips and start booking yourself a million speculative flights or hotel rooms because they will probably get cancelled anyway and you’ll probably ruin this nice feature for the rest of us.

Please feel free to share your weather related travel tips below. Safe travels, I know I’ll probably be hanging tight in Boston for the next couple of days, which I’m totally okay with!

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  • Mark

    Superb advice. I like to think I know what I am doing but I learned something with this piece (i.e., book a refundable hotel room, book a new flight with miles at the last minute).

  • Chris

    Does the flight subject to the weather waiver have to be cancelled? I am supposed to fly UA from Chicago to Detroit on 2/3. UA website says travel from Illinois on 1/31-2/3 is subject to the weather waiver. I called UA and asked for my refund or to rebook and they said no dice, the flight has not been cancelled yet.

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