As airlines continue to take a beating this week from passenger horror stories in the news, it is important to step back and learn everything you can about how to control your experience when things go wrong. Frequent travelers have an arsenal of tools available to them—many of which you may not know you have! Here are some of them.
1. Go rogue when asking for help.
Let’s face it, air travel is prone to delays. Getting these massive machines into the air, transporting people across the planet takes a complicated logistical dance for crews, baggage, and ground staff to make it all happen—so it can run askew at any moment. In a delay, everyone’s first instinct is to stand in line for rebooking. You know that line is going to take hours, so why not multi-task? Hop on social media and reach out to an airline’s Twitter or Facebook team while in line. At the same time, jump on the phone where an agent might be able to assist faster. This is another reason airline elite status is important since you will receive priority for rebooking.
Consider asking to fly to or from an alternate city nearby; on occasion, airlines may be willing to help with the cost of ground transportation if it gets you there sooner and frees up a space on another full flight. While you’re waiting, do your homework and search for alternate flights. This can help save the agent time, but it also may give you a better idea of what other flights are available. Don’t trust that agents will search all connection options, and they may not search other airlines voluntarily. The onus is on you to provide suggestions; just be friendly when it’s your turn.
2. Lounge while you wait.
A huge perk of elite status is the lounge access that is sometimes afforded to certain status levels. Others choose to pay for a membership, although costs have skyrocketed recently. There’s always the option to buy a day pass at the door (a smart move during a delay). Inside the lounge, agents will have more flexibility to assist with rebooking since there are fewer customers waiting to be helped.
Some travelers may not even realize they have lounge access. For example, if you hold the American Express Platinum card, you are probably aware of the free access to Delta Sky Clubs and Centurion Lounges among others. But did you know that membership in the Priority Pass lounge program comes with the card, too? The key is that you have to call American Express to request the card, but it gives access to hundreds of lounges around the world, free of charge. Other cards, such as the Citi Prestige credit card, also come with this special, oh-so-useful, perk.
3. Seek trip delay protection from credit cards.
Your wallet could hold the ticket to compensation when all else fails. Many credit card companies provide trip delay or trip interruption insurance on travel booked with that specific card. This includes covering hotel or food costs on flights that were severely delayed for various reasons (each card’s protection plan is different) or paying the cost of clothing and necessities in case your luggage is lost. Be sure to read the fine print on your card; cards like Chase’s Sapphire Reserve or the Delta American Express Platinum card offer decent coverage for those who can provide ample proof of the delay and relevant receipts.
4. Know your options.
If an airline asks for volunteers to give up seats, you could be in for some compensation. Some airlines, like Delta, even provide gift cards to popular retailers instead of airline vouchers. If your delay is long enough, airlines should also provide vouchers for food and hotels, but Delta usually shies away from this practice now that gift cards are supplied. If you are involuntarily denied boarding, you can ask for more since you are being delayed due to no choice of your own.
You can also ask to travel on another airline if there is a flight that will get you to your destination sooner. Delta would have been able to recover from its operational challenges much faster had it not canceled a pro-customer interline agreement with American that allowed both airlines to carry each other’s passengers in a delay. With the exception of that pairing, many airlines have numerous partners on which you can be booked.
If your flight is delayed or canceled because of weather or air traffic control, airlines are not obligated to provide food or hotel vouchers. It is worth asking customer service, however, if it has any “distressed traveler vouchers.” These are not for free hotels, but airlines routinely provide a phone number for discounted hotel rates for people with last-minute hotel needs. But you have to know to ask for them.
5. Claim your miles.
If you get rebooked on another airline, be sure to claim the miles for your new flight because frequent flier information does not always transfer over (especially if it’s on another airline). You can probably also “double dip” if you are put on another carrier by earning miles on the new flight as well as asking for the “original routing credit” for your original ticket. This is especially important for those who like to earn mileage in one particular program or are chasing elite status, and airlines routinely provide mileage credit to travelers who were put on other carriers due to a delay or cancellation. One caveat is that Delta stubbornly refuses to award miles to other airline passengers transferred to it.
And if you have been delayed due to a mechanical or operational reason (not bad weather), airlines are always willing to appease distressed travelers with bonus miles or vouchers for future travel. The best thing to do is reach out to customer service once you arrive via the airline’s website; agents on the other end are likely to take a sympathetic view and offer up something for the inconvenience.