Once you’ve had a $300 price jump while searching your ticket, your third 45-minute flight delay, or your luggage being lost, you wonder what else the airlines might be hiding from you. It turns out there is a lot they haven’t disclosed. Here’s some of the things discovered by our friends at Thrillist:
>Say no to vouchers — you’re entitled to cold, hard cash
If you’re involuntarily bumped from a flight because it’s overbooked, do not settle for vouchers; they’re the airline equivalent of Geoffrey Dollars. The airline must arrange new travel for you within two hours — if they don’t, the US Department of Transportation requires they compensate you in cash, up to $1,350. They’re also required to tell you that you can get a check on the spot. Ask, don’t assume that you can only get a voucher.
If it looks like the delay is going to cost you more than the airline is offering, such as a non-refundable hotel reservation or private helicopter ride, you have 30 days to try and get as much money out of them as you can. Remember, once you put a check into your bank account, you’ve agreed to accept whatever you were offered.
If you are bumped from a flight and the airline manages to get you to your destination within an hour of the original arrival time, there isn’t much to do aside from a grievance (you won’t receive any compensation). However, if you arrive between 1-2 hours past your original arrival time on a domestic flight (or between 1-4 hours for international flights), they owe you recompense of 200% of the one-way fare, up to $675. For domestic flights arriving more than 2 hours later, you are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare.
>You can cancel within 24 hours of booking for no charge
For most airlines, you can cancel/change your ticket up to seven days before you’re scheduled to travel, and still get a full refund. (The notable exception: American Airlines, which instead allows you to hold a ticket up to 24 hours at the price you see.) Additionally, you need to book directly with the airline’s website, and not through a third-party booking site, although big ones like Expedia or Travelocity offer policies close to those of the airlines. Some airlines, like Southwest, have a more generous refund policy that allows you to change plans until right before you take off.
>If you’re delayed, they can book you a seat on a competitor’s flight
Back in the golden age of flying, there was this thing called Rule 240, whereas an airline that delayed you significantly or canceled your flight was REQUIRED to re-book you at no extra cost, even on a competing airline. That ended with deregulation in 1978, but airlines will still do it if you ask nicely or if you have elite status. Don’t expect the gate agent to scour the internet trying to find a seat for you, though. Make their job fast and easy by looking up the flights you want. Then calmly walk up to the counter, with two or three options, and see if they can do anything for you. If those options include flights on their airline, they’re even more likely to assist you.
>Non-refundable tickets CAN become refundable
When the airline’s fault, it owes you money. If a flight is severely delayed (generally over two hours), canceled, or if there’s a schedule change in advance or a route change (like a nonstop flight changing to a flight with connections) you can get a full refund on a non-refundable fare. Don’t let them push you around.
>Your additional fees are refundable, too
Though common decency would dictate that the money you paid to check your bag, get some extra legroom, or board early would also be refunded if you get bumped or severely delayed, airlines don’t always offer it up. Make sure to mention the fees you paid when negotiating any compensation or refund. If you’re nice, and your agent isn’t having a bad day, they’ll oftentimes give you that stuff gratis on your rescheduled flight as a gesture of goodwill.
>In Europe, you’re entitled to even more
Europeans require more from the airlines than Americans. If your flight is canceled because of the airline (not the weather), it’s required by law to feed you and put you up in a hotel. You also must receive a full refund for a canceled flight within seven days. The EU has its own set of delay compensation guidelines as well, ranging from 250 euros for short flights delayed under three hours up to 600 euros for flights between EU and non-EU airports that originate in Europe. That means if your flight home to the US is delayed, you’re still entitled to compensation.
Also of note: These rules apply to many European-held islands in the Caribbean, like Martinique, Guadeloupe, and others.
>They owe you way more for delayed luggage than they’ll offer to pay
If your bag is delayed, not lost, airlines will try to placate you with $25 or $50 each day. But the DOT says it’s not enough to salvage a wedding, a ski trip, or an important business trip. These companies can owe you up to $3,500 in liability for a domestic US trip, if you have the receipts. You will also need to prove to the airline the relative value of what you had in your luggage, and why it was need prior to its delayed delivery. Remember, if you can’t justifiably explain the reason/event you needed the suit for prior to when your luggage showed up, you may not get full reimbursement.
>If the plane sits for three hours, you can hop off
During a lengthy tarmac delay in the US (upon either arrival or departure), the DOT says an airline can’t keep you on a plane for more than three hours (on a domestic flight) or four hours (on an international flight) without allowing you to get off if you wish. Also, the airline is obligated to get the food and water cart running down the aisle after two hours of delay.
>You can get premium seats for free… if you wait
If you fly in exit rows you likely know that the most common seatmate is the Invisible Man, followed closely by traveling flight attendants and pilots assigned available seats at the last minute. Its because those seats cost extra and are frequently the only ones left empty, even on an “extremely full flight.” If you have status with an airline ask for these seats when you arrive at the gate. If you ask nicely and are extremely polite the gate agent has the power to give them to you. Ask at the check-in counter and they likely won’t have time to give you the attention a gate agent might.
>Credit cards might cover travel insurance and bag fees
Airline credit cards may lure you in with the promises of free bags, but other credit cards may offer this perk if you book with their cards too. So, take the five minutes to call your credit card company and see if this is applicable. Many credit cards also offer travel insurance, so remember to ask about that as well.