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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Craig, who got stuck with an unexpected hotel bill after a canceled flight:
I have a ton of JetBlue points, and got a really great redemption rate on round-trip flights for me and my husband from Boston (BOS) to Charlotte (CLT). We also have JetBlue travel bank credits, which we used to pay the $22.40 in taxes (rather than using either our Chase Sapphire Reserve or JetBlue Plus cards).
Fast forward to the weekend of our trip: North Carolina experienced atypically early snowfall, causing most flights in and out of CLT to be cancelled on the day we were supposed to fly home (including all of the JetBlue-operated flights). Fortunately, we were able to snag a hotel room downtown and extend our vacation for a day, but unfortunately, we had to pay for the hotel out of pocket. Since we used the travel bank credit to pay for the taxes on our award flights, the trip delay coverage offered by our credit cards didn’t kick in!
My new rule of thumb is to pay for award taxes using a card that offers trip delay coverage if I’m traveling when delays are likely. That means anytime in the winter (given that I’m based in Boston), hurricane season when traveling to the Southeast, etc. It’s obviously not a foolproof approach, but it would have helped this time!
Trip delay coverage reimburses you for a variety of expenses you might incur during a delay, such as meals, lodging, local transportation and personal items. It’s a great asset for frequent flyers because you’re not confined to specific hotels or restaurants like you might be with an airline voucher, and because most policies apply even in situations where airlines could decline to help (like inclement weather). Coverage isn’t automatic, however; in order for the benefit to apply, you have to use your card to pay for at least some portion of your fare, even if it’s just the taxes and fees on an award flight.
Consider that the next time you’re redeeming an airline voucher. If the balance of your voucher is less than your airfare, then your delay coverage and other travel benefits should still kick in when you put the difference on your card. Otherwise, take Craig’s approach and try to avoid using vouchers on flights that are highly susceptible to delays. Apart from weather concerns or slowdowns caused by major events, you could check the monthly list of chronically delayed flights provided by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Even if your specific flight isn’t listed, keep an eye out for others involving your carrier with the same origin or destination. Delays are unpredictable, but it helps to know when the odds are a bit higher than normal.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Craig a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to email@example.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald/GettyImages
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