How to get home in time even when the airline cancels your flight (Ticketing agents won’t tell you this!)

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While waiting in the airport for my flight home to Dayton after a recent trip, the gate agent announced a cancellation due to fog. Yeah.

I’m normally not put out by trip delays. I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card that covers me for lots of things that could go awry (baggage delay, flight delay, flight cancellation, etc.). Sometimes I arrive at my gate hoping to get bumped so I can receive a travel voucher for later.

However, I REAAALLY needed to be home the next day. With a little travel logic, I was able to arrive home ~11 hours before everyone else on my canceled flight.

Inclement weather can muck up your travel plans. But you can take these preventative measures to have a more enjoyable trip. (Photo by Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock)

How to manage a canceled flight

Here are a number of tips anyone can follow to prevent a late return:

Don’t park your car at the airport

There are several reasons for not parking your car at the airport.

The obvious drawback is that it costs money. Much better to have a friend take you. Or even Uber to the airport, if it will cost less than your would-be parking bill.

But another disadvantage of parking your car at the airport is that it kind of predestines you to return to that same airport. And in the event of a flight delay or cancellation, it can benefit you to return to a different airport.

If a friend drops you off, they can pick you up from any of the nearby airports (if they’re a true friend). For this reason, I suggest cultivating strong friendships.

I’ll be exploiting this guy’s friendship later. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler)

Know your alternate airports

When my return flight was canceled recently, everyone at the gate bumbled cartoonishly toward customer service to be re-booked on the next available flight. I was near the front of the line. I listened as the airline informed folks that no seats were available on the next flight, and the soonest they could arrive in Dayton was the next morning.

Dayton is my home airport, but it’s very little bother to fly into Cincinnati or Columbus if I really need to get home. So I quickly googled flights to those airports on the same airline. When it was my turn, I had alternatives to present the agent.

There are certainly exceptions, but I’d say the majority of folks have multiple airports within a reasonable distance. If you’re flexible, this could save you from spending hours and hours at the airport, or an unplanned night at a hotel.

The Dayton airport is smack dab in the middle of the Cincinnati and Columbus airports, ~1 hour and 15 minutes in either direction. So both are fine alternatives to my home airport.

Spoon-feed airline customer service

In my experience, airline customer service representatives aren’t the most resourceful bunch. There’s an excellent chance that you’re better at locating and reserving your own flights than the person on the other end of the phone (or desk).

Whenever you’re dealing with a customer service agent, it’s a good idea to have all the information you need. If you’re interested in booking a certain award flight, write down the flight numbers, dates, and departure times, and relay it to the agent. Because they might overlook the flight you want and tell you there’s nothing available.

On this particular occasion, when I approached the customer service desk, the agent offered to book me on a flight to Dayton the next day. I asked her if I could instead jump on the flight to Cincinnati I had found on my phone. After a quick look, she provided me with a ticket to Cincinnati that would get me home ~11 hours before the next Dayton flight.

If I had rigidly insisted to return to Dayton, I would have missed the event I was traveling home for.

Again, not everyone can do this, but it helps in a bind.

Before my latest incident, I kind of assumed this was common practice. But after watching the airline distribute flight delay vouchers hand over fist to seemingly everyone but me, I wondered if many folks hadn’t considered it.

Note:   Keep this tip in mind for flight delays or cancellations at connecting airports, as well. My flight to Dayton was once canceled because my connecting city, Chicago, was having a blizzard. But I was able to arrive in Cincinnati around the same time, because that route connected in Atlanta.

Carry a card with trip delay insurance

Sometimes spending the night at an airport hotel is simply unavoidable. When you pay for a trip with certain credit cards, you get automatic coverage for things like delayed flights, lost luggage, and other travel accidents.

At the moment, the best cards for trip delays are:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Trip delay insurance kicks in after 6 hours
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Trip delay insurance kicks in after 6 hours
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Trip delay insurance kicks in after 12 hours
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Trip delay insurance kicks in after 12 hours

Different cards have varying levels of coverage. So read the fine print to know exactly what you’re entitled to.

Team member Jason recently used the travel insurance benefit he receives for booking his travel with the Ink Business Preferred. Check out this post where he tells you everything you need to know!

Bottom line

If you have a little flexibility, you can shrug off canceled flights and still make it home on schedule — or maybe a tad later.

It’s a good idea to know and understand your options. So if your flight is canceled, you can fly to a nearby airport instead of spending a night at an airport hotel. For example, if your flight to Tampa is canceled, you can ask to be rerouted to St. Pete, Orlando, or Sarasota.

This strategy has helped me twice when I needed to be home by a certain date. Knowing your alternate airport options could be the difference between making and missing Thanksgiving dinner. Or your friend’s wedding. Or your daughter’s soccer game. And it’s never a bad idea to book with a credit card that offers trip delay and cancellation coverage.

I’d love to hear any other tips for combating delayed or canceled flights!

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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