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What you can ask from an airline after a delayed or canceled flight

July 05, 2022
6 min read
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Editor's Note

This story has been updated.

If you traveled domestically over the July 4 weekend, congratulations on navigating U.S. airports.

TSA screened nearly 5 million passengers on Friday and Sunday, the busiest travel days of the holiday weekend. This includes a record number of travelers not seen since February 2020 on July 3.

Pre-pandemic travel numbers meant cancellations and delays across July 1-July 4, though not as many as you might expect. Just over 1,400 flights were canceled over the four-day period (1,435 to be exact), with far more delayed (18,266), according to data from FlightAware.

If your flight was one of the unlucky ones, you might be wondering what, if anything, you can do, after the fact.

It's frustrating enough when travel plans go awry. It's even more frustrating when there's no clear sense of what you, as a passenger, can reasonably expect from an airline.

When your flight is canceled or significantly delayed due to reasons outside your control, such as weather or operational issues, you can reach out to airlines afterward to ask for compensation.

Although U.S. federal law requires airlines to compensate passengers who cancel their trip altogether in response to a canceled flight, the U.S. Department of Transportation determines whether a delayed flight warrants a refund on a case-by-case basis.

Therefore, we can't guarantee airlines will give you anything at all, but we suggest being prepared with the tangible requests we've outlined below.

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If you choose to contact an airline's customer service department (see our guide on how to contact them), remember that you're speaking to a fellow human on the other side of the phone who deserves respect. Kindness goes a long way, especially in times of stress.

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If you dealt with a delayed or canceled flight over the weekend, now is the time to ask your airline to pay for your troubles. This starts with any extra costs (aside from the ticket itself) you may have incurred as a result of the issue.

Non-flight-related costs: Hotel, rental car, meals and more

If your canceled or delayed flight forced you to seek alternative transportation options to get to where you needed to be, ask the airline if they will cover those costs. Did you decide to rent a car and road trip instead? Or did you book a last-minute Amtrak ticket?

If your impacted flight led you to book a new flight the next day, see if the airline will cover at least some of your accommodation and food costs for the unexpected night.

"While some airlines offer these amenities to passengers, others do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers," according to the DOT.

If an airline does contribute to costs related to food and accommodations, it'll most likely be for those tied to hotels near the airport and or meals at that hotel or the airport itself. If you chose to book a night at a five-star hotel downtown, don't expect them to offer to cover that stay.

While airlines are not required to give you anything for the inconvenience, it's possible to get them to cover some of the costs you incurred from inconveniencing you in the first place.

Beyond checking with the airline, if you booked your flight using a credit card that offers trip delay or trip cancellation insurance, see if your credit card company can help.

In these cases, some costs might be covered through protection. You'll want to clarify the terms and conditions of protection offered, though.

For example, both the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and The Platinum Card® from American Express cover accommodations in these circumstances.

Related: Your flight is canceled or delayed – here’s what you should do next

Airline miles

There are two scenarios in which an airline might offer you airline miles in return for a canceled or delayed flight.

If you used airline miles to book your flight and proactively canceled your flight ahead of its departure this past weekend because you saw delays and cancelations hitting your airport, ask your airline to credit those miles back to your account.

This would also apply if you used cash to book a refundable flight that you canceled ahead of departure.

The second scenario involves bonus miles, which an airline may award in response to a canceled flight — as was the case recently for TPG points and miles editor Andrew Kunesh.

When Delta Air Lines canceled his first flight from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and then canceled his flight from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) back to New York City, Delta gave him a $200 flight credit to use toward a future flight, which airlines will commonly do.

Beyond offering a flight credit or travel voucher, Delta also awarded Andrew 10,000 SkyMiles for canceling ORD-JFK and 20,000 SkyMiles for canceling AUS-JFK.

At the end of last year, Andrew earned Delta Diamond Medallion status, which is the highest of the four Delta status tiers.

Elite status comes with a number of perks that can help reduce headaches while traveling, but having an airline's highest status level is even more helpful when you are requesting something from an airline.

Even if you have a low-level status or no status at all, inquire with the carrier about receiving bonus miles in return for dealing with a bad flight experience.

Related: TPG’s guide to understanding EU261 flight compensation

Bottom line

If you've made it thus far and are asking yourself if there's a way to be refunded for your delayed flight entirely, it depends on whether your delay falls under the category of a “significant delay," as defined by the DOT.

This is because the U.S. legal system does not clearly outline the circumstances that entitle air passengers to refunds for delayed flights (unlike the European Union with EU 261).

Even still, an airline offering to refund you entirely for your delayed flight is unrealistic since refund policies depend on flight schedule changes overall, according to TPG senior aviation reporter Ethan Klapper.

However, he says you should always ask for more than what they initially offer.

“A lot of airlines act proactively and offer a flight credit or miles in response to a delayed or canceled flight, but you can often ask for more — especially if you have status — and they may give it to you,” he said.

For those of you who faced a disrupted flight this weekend, we suggest contacting the airlines in hopes you can recover at least something from a horrible travel weekend.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees