If Your Holiday Flight Falls Through, Here’s What You’re Really Entitled To

There's no place like the airport during the holidays. But if your flight gets cancelled or delayed this year, you might be owed way more than you realize.

Few things are more stressful than a holiday flight getting canceled or indefinitely delayed. The good news is, there are some shiny silver linings that you don’t want to overlook this time around.

Here’s what you need to know before catching your next flight.

If Your Airline Cancels Your Flight, Cash In

If your airline cancels your flight and you choose not to rebook, federal law now entitles you to a full cash refund. If it’s a flight with multiple stops, you’ll be reimbursed for every leg of the trip you didn’t take. If significant changes are made to your original itinerary beyond your control, you’ll also be entitled to reimbursement. To find out what a “significant change” looks like, get on your airline’s website and read up.

two male friends waiting and leaning on their luggage in the airport after flight is delayed

Keep in mind, these refunds only apply to cancellations, delays, and changes made by your airline.

If you choose to opt out of your refund and wait for the next available flight, you’ll likely be entitled to upgrades, like extra legroom or maybe even a seat in first class. Just be aware, you’ll likely have to bring up these potential perks to those behind the desk before they ever bring it up to you. Don’t miss out on this one by not checking on what you’re really owed. Speak up and cash in.

When You’re Offered a Voucher, Just Say No

Vouchers always sound like a really great deal, but that’s how the airlines need you to think of it. So don’t buy the pitch. If your flight gets canceled, drastically delayed, or overbooked, you’re entitled to an option rarely mentioned by airlines. Even some of the most seasoned travelers don’t realize that airlines are required to cut you a check if they can’t accommodate you. With that said, if you’re placed on a new flight and you land around the original time, consider yourself lucky for that reason alone.

However, if you arrive at least two hours beyond your original arrival time on a domestic flight (or between 1-4 hours for international), airlines are required to compensate you for the one-way fare to your intended destination. You can potentially pocket up to $775. Per Thrillist, “for domestic flights arriving more than two hours after the originally scheduled time, you are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare—the US Department of Transportation (DOT) requires they compensate you in cash, up to $1,350.”

woman in first class window seat listening to head phones and having a glass of complimentary champagne

So be sure to read up on your fly-rights before you head to the airport. If something does go wrong, and you feel like you financially lost more than you gained (for instance, a booked hotel that you can’t get a refund for), you’ll be given 30 days to get as much of that money back through the airline as you’re able. But don’t be too quick to take their first offer without knowing what you’re owed in advance. Once you deposit whatever they agree to dish out, you can’t go back for more.

If You Agree to a Voucher, Don’t Just Say Yes. Negotiate.

Usually, there’s always more voucher funds available than passengers are initially told. So haggle. If they offer you a $300 voucher, tell them you’ll need the full $600 and be firm. If you find yourself competing against other re-bookers looking to get as much dough out of the situation as possible, agree to volunteer, but tell them you’ll take as much as the highest bidder.

young couple in the airport proudly displaying ticket vouchers

If the airline says they’re out of space on the flight, they’re looking to move people around in any way that works. Use this to your advantage. Most times, they’ll be willing to upgrade your ticket and offer you a better seat, if you’re interested. Typically, no one working for the airline is going to blurt out that you could redeem an $800 voucher and get bumped up to business class. But it’s possible.

So ask about your options rather than waiting for them to tell you.

In Most Cases, 24-Hour Cancellations Are Free

With your average airline, you’ll be able to cancel/change your ticket for a full refund within 24 hours of booking and up to one full week before you’re scheduled to depart. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, including American Airlines. On the plus side, some airlines ( like Southwest) have notably generous refund policies, allowing you to change your flight up until literally right before it’s time to board.

Book Directly on The Airline’s Website To Qualify For Perks

Word to the wise, book directly with the airline’s website to get maximum perks. Third-party booking sites might seem to offer “the better deal,” but they’re limited in some ways. When things go wrong and your flight gets delayed or canceled, the airline will be able to offer you more for your troubles if you’ve booked with them.

There Are Currently Very Few Fees For Switching Flights

Let’s say you missed your 24-hour refund window. While that’s certainly a big inconvenience, you’re not necessarily stuck with that flight if you don’t want to be.

Following the pandemic, this is one of the biggest changes in how airlines operate. Most major airlines have altered their flight change policies, and they’re more flexible than ever. Usually (depending on your seating choice), you should be able to switch free of charge.

Usually, The Airline Pays The Difference

Believe it or not, if your itinerary gets changed, the airline is required to pay the difference… not you.

Whatever they switch up on your behalf, including alternate transportation with another carrier, they will be required to cover all extra expenses. In most cases, this also means if the flight you’re moved to only has one first-class seat available, it has your name on it at no extra charge.

What To Do With Your Unused Ticket

silhouettes of family with child pulling luggage in an airport, traveling
Adobe Stock

If you want, you can hold onto your original ticket for future travel. It’s more or less an airline credit. So when in doubt, don’t cancel it right away. But make sure the airline doesn’t either. If the airline for some reason does cancel it without telling you, contact the reservation agent and let them know you’re going to make use of it.

Read More: Safety Tips You Should Always Remember While Traveling

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