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Two words no one likes to hear at the airport are delay and cancellation. Most people think of long lines and sleeping on a cold floor – or a bench, if you’re lucky!
While travel interruptions definitely suck, there are ways to make yourself more comfortable – and potentially beat everyone else to the next flight or last open hotel room.
And luckily, perks from some of the best credit cards for travel can make even the worst delays a little more bearable.
I’ll share ways to prevent and overcome delays, or worse – canceled travel plans.
7 Tips to Deal With Travel Delays or Cancellations
1. Track Your Flight
It’s easier to deal with phone agents and hold times from the comfort of home (or a hotel room).
Before you head to the airport, plug your flight information into FlightAware. If there are delays at the airport, you’ll see when your flight is expected to take off.
This site also shows you the status of the inbound aircraft (the plane flying to your airport to give you a ride). If you’re in Chicago getting ready to board, for example, and your plane is in San Francisco… that’s not a good sign.
Keep in mind, airlines can swap equipment. So this isn’t 100% reliable (always cross-check with the airline). But it can give you an idea of what you’re dealing with.
Plus, if you see your flight is delayed, you can spend more time at outside the airport before you walk into a gate full of annoyed passengers.
If you’ve arrived at the airport on a connecting flight to find your next flight is delayed, keep reading for how to make yourself comfortable!
2. Download the Airline’s App
Every major airline has an app these days. And they’re good about alerting you to delays.
Even better, if you keep your phone on you and add your loyalty number to your travel plans, you’ll get alerts automatically.
Many airlines also give you a rebooking option through the app. So if there’s a delay, you can book a new set of flights without any hassle.
Again, this is great if you haven’t left for your trip yet. But if you’re already on the go, learning you have to wait even longer is probably not what you want to hear. That said, I’d rather have some information than none at all!
3. Head to the Airline Lounge!
Airline lounges take the sting out of delays because they offer comfy seats, plentiful outlets, free Wi-Fi, and snacks. You might have to fill up on hummus and carrot sticks, but you won’t starve.
But the best part is the desk agents there have the power to rebook you on the next flight out, as long as your flight is on an airline affiliated with the lounge. And if anything, they can give you direct information in a calmer setting so you can collect your thoughts and make a new plan.
Whenever I get wind of a delay, I head directly to the lounge for assistance. One time in Chicago, an agent there was able to book me on an earlier (non-delayed) flight when I found out my flight was going to be late. Instead of waiting for the next one like everyone else, I actually got to get home earlier than expected.
Plus, the lines here tend to be much shorter. And the agents can check all the same things, like your flight details and rebooking options – but in much more comfort.
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Having the right credit card can get you free lounge access. If you’re loyal to a particular airline, chances are there’s a credit card with a lounge perk so you can get into them.
If you’re facing a long delay, it could be worth buying a day pass to have a couple of drinks, a snack, and a nicer place to wait for your next plane.
4. Call (and Tweet!) While You’re in Line
When you’re in line to deal with a delay or cancellation, get in another line at the same time and see which helps you faster!
I recommend also calling the airline while you’re in line. Others are waiting to get rebooked, too, so time is of the essence.
And many airlines have surprisingly responsive social media teams. While flying to Dallas to connect to a flight to Anchorage, I realized I was going to misconnect because of a flight delay and tweeted American Airlines via direct message.
When I landed in Dallas, representatives picked me up at the gate and whisked me away to the next flight with seconds to spare – all because I’d tweeted them from the plane!
Never rely on one form of help. Get in line, call, and tweet – see which one works the fastest!
5. Pay With a Card That Has Built-In Trip Insurance
If it becomes apparent you’re going to wait for a long time, it’s time to check your credit card’s travel insurance protection. Many travel rewards cards come with built-in trip delay & cancellation insurance, as well as baggage delay protection, as long as you paid for the flight with that card.
At the moment, the best cards for trip delays are:
- Citi Prestige (not currently open to new applicants) – Trip delay insurance kicks in after 6 hours
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – Trip delay insurance kicks in after 6 hours
- Ink Business Preferred – Trip delay insurance kicks in after 12 hours
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – Trip delay insurance kicks in after 12 hours
Team member Jason got his hotel stay, toiletries, and meals reimbursed when one of his flights was rescheduled for the next morning. It still sucks to deal with delays, but this protection can ease the pain if it starts getting ridiculous.
6. Find a Hotel Room
Let’s say there are a ton of cancellations and everyone is scrambling. After a while, folks start booking hotel rooms and the general mood in the airport is sour.
Again, time is running out fast. So it’s time to use every trick in the book to find an open room. Otherwise you’ll be staying at The Gate 23 Hotel (or whatever gate you’re waiting at)!
First of all, if it’s a serious or overnight delay, ask the airline if they’ll give you a hotel voucher. If you’re at your home airport, they’ll likely say no – but it never hurts to ask.
If they won’t, you can try to book an award room using your points (because the cost of rooms might skyrocket during a delay). And if that’s not an option, consider searching multiple hotels at the same time on a site like Hotwire or Priceline so you don’t waste time searching individually.
But if you have a card with trip delay insurance, your overnight stay could be covered (so don’t use your hard-earned points). Be sure to get a note from the airline that clearly states the reason for the delay and how long the delay is for. And save all your receipts – you’ll need them to file a claim!
7. Consider an Alternate Airport or Routing
If all else fails, consider the next closest airport to where you need to be. When all 3 New York-area airports were backed up because of weather, I flew to Philadelphia instead, then took a 90-minute train ride home. It was a hassle and a pain to navigate a new train system – but it sure beat waiting 12+ hours for the next flight!
You could always rent a car from the airport and start driving to the next airport, too. At least you’ll be heading in the right direction. This is a drastic move, but you might consider it if you really need to be somewhere.
It also helps if you know possible routings. For example, if your connecting flight to Minneapolis is delayed because of weather, ask if you can connect in Atlanta instead. Most airlines will check this for you without asking, but it helps if you can get a clear answer. You’ll want to explore every option to get you safely to your destination.
Don’t feel powerless if you find yourself with interruptions to your travel plans. Remember to check your flights before you leave. And, the second you find there’s a delay, know that timing is everything.
The sooner you get in a line, claim a slot on hold, and check your other options, the sooner you’ll get rebooked, rerouted, or get to the comfort of a hotel room. The worst thing you can do is wait around until everyone else snaps up all the remaining seats and rooms!
Always pay with one of the best travel cards that comes with trip delay and cancellation protection. Be sure to document everything and save all your receipts – you’ll need them to file a claim.
If you’ve faced a flight delay or cancellation, do you have tips to add to the list?