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Travel: Here’s what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled

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In 2019, nearly 20% of all U.S. flights arrived late, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And 1.8% of them were canceled altogether.

Whether it is weather, a stretched aviation system, a strike or other unplanned event, you can find yourself stuck at your origin, destination or even in the middle of your journey in a place you hadn’t planned to visit.

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When you draw the unlucky straw and have a very delayed or canceled flight, sometimes you just have to wait it out. Other times, how you react to airline delays and cancellations will greatly influence how and when you get where you are going.

Airlines including Delta, Spirit and American, have been facing record numbers of delays and cancellations due to weather, operational challenges and crew shortages, among other things. With all that happening, TPG offers tips on how to decrease your chances of getting stuck during airline delays and cancellations and increase your chances of getting home faster.

Related: After 6 days and 2,000 cancelations, Spirit Airlines’s operation meltdown continues

In This Post

How to find out your flight might be delayed

You can see general flight trends across the country on FlightAware, which gives you a good overview at how a day in the sky looks. Here’s a direct link to the page that focuses on delays. I recommend manually checking the status of your flight in the 24 hours leading up to travel on your airline’s website (and check where the plane is coming from, if possible).

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graphical user interface, text, application © The Points Guy

Also opt in for flight notifications with your airline and have the carrier’s app on your phone. Here are some details on that process with American and United. Alternatively, you can get flight status updates sent directly from FlightAware.

When to arrive at the airport if your flight is delayed

(Photo by People Image Studio / ShutterStock) © The Points Guy (Photo by People Image Studio / ShutterStock)

This can be a tricky question to answer. If your flight is still listed as “on time” when you check the app, leave for the airport according to schedule. Once you’re at the gate, you may or may not experience a delay. Sometimes you’re really at the whim of airline operations or Mother Nature. Even if your flight does show as delayed in the app, that is usually subject to change, so it’s best to be at the airport ready to go at the originally scheduled time in most cases.

Remember that bad weather will sometimes cause a temporary ground stop at the airport. As soon as the weather gets better, the stop is lifted and airlines try to get their flights off the ground ASAP.

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What to do if there is bad weather

(Photo by Bychykhin Olexandr / Getty Images) © The Points Guy (Photo by Bychykhin Olexandr / Getty Images)

Bad weather is the bane of all travelers. Monitor weather patterns starting a few days before your flight. It’s especially important to check the forecast on the day of travel to see how any issues are affecting your departure or arrival airports. Again, be sure you have opted in to getting updates on your flight’s status. If you know weather is coming later in the day, ask for an earlier flight if you can.

Related: How the weather affects your flight — the atmosphere and winds

More and more airlines are allowing travelers to change plans in advance of severe weather problems, like an impending blizzard, ice storm or even heavy thunderstorm day. Some will even proactively change your flight for you.

If you know bad weather is on the horizon, either go to your airline’s website and look for an advisory notice or call the airline. If an airline gets ahead of weather issues, you may be able to reschedule your flight by a few days in either direction with no change fees. However, if the airline hasn’t issued its own advisory, you could have to pay out of pocket for any flight change fees.

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What to do if your airline has a strike

If the airline you’re flying goes on strike when you’re supposed to travel, you can be in a tough spot. If the airline has advance notice of the strike, it may be able to rebook or refund your travel, but the airline is not necessarily required to do that.

Your best bet, if your airline isn’t operating on your travel days, is to try to reach out via Twitter for assistance (it’s almost certainly more efficient to reach them online than over the phone when call volumes are likely to be astronomical). You should also see if your credit card offers any extra trip protections. You may be covered there, even if the airline can’t help.

If you are traveling to the Europe, you’ll want to brush up on some extra protections offered for cancelled or severely delayed flights to or from that region.

If your flight is delayed or canceled

If you realize your flight is likely to be delayed based on where it’s coming from, keep a close eye on your flight’s status. If a delay becomes reality and you want an alternative to waiting it out, check the airline’s app or in-airport kiosk for rebooking options.


Video: Why there are suddenly so many canceled flights (CNBC)

You do not have to stand in line to talk to a real person in many cases, as you can self-service the rebooking with many major airlines. In fact, it may be faster to do it online or at a kiosk in the airport — and speed matters. You may have the option of not only new flight times, but new “nearby” origin and destination cities.

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There are times when the automated rebooking systems are not your best option. Facing hours of delay and potential cancellation on a recent flight, my only automated option for a Thursday evening flight to from Orlando to Houston was a flight that got me home Sunday morning at 12:10 a.m. via Cleveland or Dulles … roughly three days later.

a screen shot of a computer: Summer Hull © The Points Guy Summer Hull

If you can’t find what you need online, you might need a human in uniform — but not just any uniform. You need an airline employee who knows how to work the ticketing desk. Look at the uniforms and name tags so you can get a ticket agent and not a baggage handler or similar.

If you have airline club access at a United Club, Delta SkyClub or similar, you can head there for help with potentially shorter lines. Also, consider calling the airline or utilizing social media (such as messaging the airline on Twitter) if lines at the airport are long. If the U.S. call center has a long hold time (which happens during widespread weather issues), you can try dialing an international number for faster service.

a group of people in a room: (Image by Zach Honig/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Image by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

If there are no reasonable bookings options left with your carrier, ask if there are options on another airline. If the delay is weather-related, and you are on a Basic Economy ticket or on a low-cost carrier, there might not be other airline option at your fingertips. Still, it is worth asking, and — if possible — presenting available options you have researched yourself.

In my case, an airline employee got me on the standby list for another flight to Houston. Unfortunately, I missed getting on by three people, so that didn’t help me get home faster. Travelers with elite status will generally get preference on the standby list.

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Shop for new tickets

Sometimes, if you really need to get home, you may need to do the work and lay out the expenditure yourself. In an Orlando-Houston delay, I found that American Airlines had an award on a connecting itinerary available that night for 30,000 miles, and Southwest had a nonstop flight to Houston Hobby available for $463. In the end, I went for that option and my original United ticket was refunded, offsetting some of the pain of a new ticket.

a group of people standing in front of a store: (Image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Your credit card’s built-in trip delay or trip cancellation coverage can help with many expenses, but a brand-new flight home isn’t likely to be one of them.

Related: When to buy travel insurance versus when to rely on credit card protections

Check airport hotels

While thinking through what to do in case of a flight delay or cancellation, consider your options at airport hotels, which can fill up if there are major delays and cancellations. Sometimes it is best to pull the plug on getting home that day, get some good rest and try again in the morning. Airport hotels are generally pretty affordable on points, although cash rates can skyrocket when demand surges.

a person standing in front of a building: Hyatt Regency Orlando airport entrance. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Hyatt Regency Orlando airport entrance. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Retreat to a lounge

If you can get into a lounge at the airport, use it as a spot to gather your thoughts, charge your phone and make level-headed decisions. In airline lounges such as the United Club or Delta SkyClub, the agents might be able to help you change or track your flight. In third-party lounges, such as the Amex Centurion Lounge, you won’t be able to get that type of airline-specific assistance, but you’re still probably in a better spot to wait out the storm than in a crowded terminal.

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

a group of people performing on a counter: Amex Centurion Lounge. (Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Amex Centurion Lounge. (Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)

Make a decision

If you are indecisive in the face of delays and cancellations, your flight options are likely to disappear, as hundreds (or thousands) of other passengers will beat you to the rebooking if you don’t move quickly. Weigh your realistic options and make a quick decision if you want to keep some control of your schedule.

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If you are OK getting stuck somewhere for a bit or taking a creative route, waiting for the airline to direct you is a feasible option. Just don’t stress about your decision once you make it. If you are stuck along your journey, your credit card’s built-in travel protections may cover unexpected expenses not covered by the airline (such as a hotel for an overnight weather delay, though not a new flight).

In my Orlando example, my original flight was stuck in Denver with a five-hour weather delay, so those odds of that flight getting me where I needed to be that day didn’t seem great to me. When I didn’t clear standby on the other United flight to Houston from Orlando that night, I made a decision and stuck with it.

chart © The Points Guy

I left the terminal that United utilizes and headed to my new Southwest flight in another terminal (having Clear and PreCheck helped with that quick transition). Yes, that cost me a new flight home, but it was make that call right then or roll the dice on my United flight making it out that day. I wasn’t in a gambling mood when it came to getting home.

a group of people standing in front of a building: PreCheck and Clear saved tons of time when changing terminals. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy PreCheck and Clear saved tons of time when changing terminals. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Ask for a refund

If you decide not to fly your originally scheduled flight in light of major delays and cancellations, get your money or points back — do not settle for a voucher. You may have a cancel and refund option available to you online or in the airline’s app. If not, you can ask an airline employee for assistance in person or over the phone. Just be sure to cancel your original flight before its eventual departure so you can get the money or miles (hopefully) returned.

How to keep earning miles from home

Your routine may be changing but that doesn’t mean that you have to stop earning valuable rewards. These cards help you rack up points from the comfort of your home.

a close up of a hand: (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy) © Provided by The Points Guy (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

American Express® Gold Card – For grocery and food deliveries from Grubhub and Seamless. Use this card to earn 4x points when ordering groceries online or ordering meal deliveries via Grubhub and Seamless (up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x). TPG values these points at 2 cents each, so that’s an 8% return on spending. You may even be able to score additional savings via Amex Offers. Once things get to back to normal, your stash of Membership Rewards points will go a long way toward booking a much-deserved vacation.

Chase Sapphire Reserve – For free food delivery, credits and bonus points. If you’re already tired of cooking your own meals, switch things up with a food delivery service. Enjoy free DashPass membership, which includes free deliveries via DoorDash and Caviar.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – For select U.S. streaming services, U.S. gas stations and groceries at U.S. supermarkets. Whether you’re stocking up on groceries or re-upping your Netflix subscription, this card has you covered with generous category bonuses. You’ll earn 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets every year, plus 6% on U.S. streaming services. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – For future travel insurance. You may not be traveling now, but once things go back to normal you’ll be glad to have this card in your wallet because of its generous sign-up bonus and suite of travel protections. We’ve all learned the value of travel insurance and these protections lately. The Chase Sapphire Preferred includes trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, travel and emergency assistance services and more.

Bottom line

Roughly 80% of the time, your flight will get you where you need to be, when you want to be there. Even if your flight is delayed by an hour or two, there’s not usually much to do other than be patient. However, when facing a long delay or cancellation, it’s good to have a plan so you reduce the odds of being stuck. Given the common theme of full loads of flights these days, acting quickly, researching options and making a (quick) decision will put you ahead of the pack.

Related: Best credit cards that offer trip delay reimbursement

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson

Featured photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Fascinating ghost towns around the world .
Around the world, there’s an impressive number of towns and cities that have been abandoned by their inhabitants. From closed mining camps and disaster areas to former battlefields, many of these locations have been deserted. Frozen in time, these neglected places draw an increasing number of curious visitors each year. Check out these 20 fascinating ghost towns from the four corners of the globe.

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