Flight Delay and Cancellation Compensation: What to Do When Your Flight Is Delayed or Canceled

Flight Delay and Cancellation Compensation

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Traveling can be amazing, but when your flight is delayed or canceled, it can create a cascade of problems to derail your trip. You could miss your connection, the chance to see your favorite team play or another important event. So what are your rights when this happens, and are you entitled to flight delay compensation? In this article, we'll discuss what to do when a flight is canceled and help you determine if you'll receive compensation for the delay or cancellation.

Do airlines have to compensate for delayed or canceled flights?

If your flight has been delayed or canceled, it's possible that the airline owes you compensation for the trouble that it's caused you. The likelihood of compensation and the amount you're owed will depend on a number of factors, including how long the delay was, where you're flying to and from and the reason for the delay.

This chart will help you determine whether or not you have a potential claim for compensation.

Incident
Can I get compensation?
Domestic flight delay under 90 minutes
Domestic flight delay over 90 minutes
Delay to, from or within the EU over 3 hours
Delay/cancellation due to weather
Delay/cancellation due to a security risk
Delay/cancellation due to tarmac issues
Delay/cancellation due to late flight arrival
Delay/cancellation due to airline problems
Canceled and informed more than 14 days in advance
Canceled less than 15 days in advance and offered reasonable rerouting options
Denied boarding on a flight

Flight delay/cancellation policies by region

When your flight is delayed or canceled, your ability to receive compensation depends on the circumstances that caused it and where your flight is headed to or from. Europe has some of the strongest protections for passengers, while other areas have minimal or no formal rules governing what the airlines must do.

Flight delay compensation in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn't have a passenger Bill of Rights to protect passengers when something goes wrong. Airlines are not required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or canceled; U.S. laws only require compensation when a passenger is "bumped" from a flight that is oversold.

Many credit cards with travel benefits offer protections that cover flight delays, cancellations and lost or delayed luggage. These protections can help you get rerouted, cover additional costs like room and board or pay for necessities when you don't have access to your luggage.

Flight delay/cancellation compensation in Europe: EU regulation 261/2004

In 2004, the European Parliament passed common rules (EU regulation 261/2004) on compensation for passengers who were denied boarding, had their flight canceled or experienced a long delay. The rules base maximum compensation on the distance traveled and where you're flying to and from.

EU flights: maximum compensation by flight type

Flight type
Maximum compensation for cancellation
Flights fewer than 1,500 km€250
Flights within EU, greater than 1,500 km€400
Flights into or out of EU, greater than 1,500 km and shorter than 3,500 km€400
Flight into or out of EU, greater than 3,500 km€600

Flight delay/cancellation compensation in the Middle East, Africa and Asia

Unlike the European Union or the U.S., the Middle East, Africa and Asia have numerous countries and governments in charge of them without a central governing body. Because of that, there are no cohesive policies in place to protect passengers.

Your best bet for compensation of a delayed or canceled flight headed to these regions is if your flight is arriving into or departing from the EU, or if your credit card includes trip delay/cancellation insurance. If you're flying through the EU, its generous flight delay and cancellation policies apply as long as the delay or cancellation is related to something within the airline's control. Credit card benefits apply if you've paid for some or all of your ticket with the card, depending on your card's benefits.

When are you reimbursed for a flight cancellation?

U.S. airlines don't have to provide additional compensation when a flight is canceled. However, most airlines will rebook you for free on their next flight to that destination if there are seats available. Some airlines may offer to rebook you on another airline when there are no seats available. If they don't offer, ask the customer service representative if this is an option.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation rules, if you choose to cancel your flight instead, the airline must provide a refund, even if you booked a non-cancelable ticket. Any extras that you've paid for, like checked bag fees or seat upgrades, must also be refunded.

When a scheduled flight to or from an EU country is canceled, you may receive compensation according to EU 261 if the airline fails to do any of the following:

  • Notify you of the cancellation at least two weeks prior to departure, or
  • Inform you of the cancellation within seven to 14 days and offer to reroute you with a departure no more than two hours before your original departure and an arrival no more than four hours after your original arrival, or
  • Offer to reroute you with a departure no more than one hour before your original departure and an arrival no more than two hours after your original arrival.

Compensation if you’re denied boarding

If you’re denied boarding or involuntarily bumped from your flight, you may be entitled to compensation. U.S. and EU airlines must compensate you if you have a confirmed reservation, have checked in to your flight and arrived at the departure gate on time, and the airline cannot reroute you to arrive within one hour of your original arrival time.

The following guidelines apply to U.S. domestic and international flights, although there are a handful of exemptions where you won’t receive compensation. Exemptions include an aircraft change to a smaller plane, weight and balance issues and charter flights.

U.S. flights: maximum compensation by type of delay

New flight arrival time
Compensation

(% of ticket price)

Maximum payout
Within 1 hour of original arrivalNone
Between 1 and 2 hours after original arrival (1 to 4 hours for international)200%$675
More than 2 hours after original arrival (more than 4 hours for international)400%$1,350

For flights governed by EU 261, the airline must offer you the choice of reimbursement, rerouting or rebooking at a later date. In addition, airlines should provide refreshments and food while you wait, and accommodations (including travel to and from the airport) if you need to wait overnight for the next flight.

Compensation for denied boarding is the same as for delayed or canceled flights. You should always receive compensation for denied boarding if you arrived on time for check-in for your flight.

EU flights: maximum compensation by flight type

Flight type
Maximum compensation for cancellation
Flights fewer than 1,500 km€250
Flights within EU, greater than 1,500 km€400
Flights into or out of EU, greater than 1,500 km and shorter than 3,500 km€400
Flight into or out of EU, greater than 3,500 km€600

Compensation for delayed baggage

The rules for compensation when a bag is lost or delayed differ between domestic U.S. and international flights. Rules for the U.S. are actually more generous than those governing international travel.

When your bags are lost or delayed on a domestic U.S. flight, you can file a claim with the airline for compensation. According to U.S. Department of Transportation rules, the maximum liability is $3,500 per person for lost or delayed bags. Airlines may pay more than the limit if they choose, though they’re not required to do so.

International flights are governed by the Montreal Convention treaty, which covers international trips outside the U.S. and international flights into or departing from the U.S. The international limits are indexed for inflation and adjusted every five years. The current maximum liability is 1,131 "Special Drawing Rights" (a currency substitute created by the International Monetary Fund), which is currently equivalent to approximately $1,600.

If your bag is delayed, it’s critical that you file a claim with the airline immediately. You'll be given a claim number that you can use to inquire about your claim status. Each airline has a different policy as to when a bag is officially lost, but most airline policies range between five and 14 days after the flight.

Credit cards that offer compensation for delayed/canceled flights

When a country's laws or an airline's policies won't protect you, the credit card that you used to pay for your flight might. Certain credit cards include benefits for travelers that reimburse them when something goes wrong. The benefits, coverage limits and requirements vary by card, so be sure to compare the benefits of the cards in your wallet before purchasing your airfare.

Some credit cards require you to pay for the entire flight in order to be covered (e.g. The Platinum Card® from American Express), while others require only a portion of the flight cost to be charged to your credit card (e.g. Chase Sapphire Reserve®).

Trip cancellation
Trip delay
Baggage delay
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per tripUp to $500 per ticket for a 6+ hour delayUp to $100 a day for 5 days for a 6+ hour delay
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardUp to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per tripUp to $500 per ticket for a 12+ hour delayUp to $100 a day for 5 days for a 6+ hour delay
United℠ Explorer CardUp to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per tripUp to $500 per ticket for a 12+ hour delayUp to $100 a day for 3 days for a 6+ hour delay
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressUp to $10,000 per trip and $20,000 per card every 12 monthsUp to $500 per ticket for a 6+ hour delayNone
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit cardUp to $2,500 per personUp to $500 per ticket for a 12+ hour delayUp to $100 a day for 5 days for a 6+ hour delay

How do you claim compensation for a delayed flight?

The process to file a claim for a delayed flight is different for U.S. flights versus those in Europe. However, in both cases, you should document everything to provide support for your claim. Hold on to your boarding pass, keep your receipts for additional expenses, ask why the flight was delayed, gather proof of the delay and don't sign anything that waives your rights.

Here’s what to do when a flight is canceled or delayed, depending upon which type of flight you booked.

U.S. flights (domestic and international)

Because the U.S. doesn’t require airlines to compensate passengers for delays or cancellations, your best option is to contact the credit card company that you booked your flight with.

  1. Contact your credit card company and notify them of your intent to file a claim within the required time frame.
  2. Complete the claim forms provided.
  3. Make copies of the claim form and supporting documents for your records.
  4. Return the completed form with supporting documents within the required time frame.
  5. If the claims administrator follows up with questions, reply as soon as possible to ensure that your claim is not denied.

If your flight is scheduled to arrive in Europe, follow the procedures below.

Flights in Europe

To request compensation for a delayed flight under EU 261, you should file the complaint directly with the airline first. While it's best to file the complaint at the airport, some airlines also allow you to file a claim through their website or via customer service.

  1. File claim with the airline in person or online.
  2. Lodge a complaint with the national authority if it's been more than two months without a reply from the airline, or if you're unsatisfied with the reply.
  3. European residents may request an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) (a dispute resolution done outside of a courtroom), or an Online Dispute Resolution (if you purchased your ticket online).
  4. People living in the EU may also submit a small claims complaint using the European Small Claims Procedure.

If you don't want to handle the EU 261 claims process yourself, there are numerous companies that will take care of it for you, such as AirHelp and Claim Compass.

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Does my airline compensate for delayed flights?

Airlines are not required to compensate passengers for a delayed flight within the U.S. However, many airlines offer complimentary meal vouchers and overnight stays if they’re unable to rebook passengers on another flight, depending on the circumstances of the delay.

How long can a flight be delayed without compensation?

Credit card compensation requires a flight delay of six hours or more, depending on which card you used to pay for your flight. Compensation for EU 261/2004 depends on the distance traveled, but requires a delay of at least two hours.

Can you claim compensation for delayed flights due to weather?

Yes — if you paid for the flight with a card that includes trip delay insurance — you may be able to file a claim with your card issuer when your flight is delayed by bad weather, depending on your credit card's benefits.

How long does it take to get compensation for a flight?

The quicker you file your claim and provide supporting documentation, the sooner you'll receive eligible compensation. Compensation involving EU 261/2004 requires the airline to refund you upon cancellation within seven days. If the airline doesn't resolve your request for compensation within two months, you can lodge a complaint with the national authority where the delay or cancellation took place. Reimbursement through a credit card may take much longer, since most claims are handled by a third-party claims administrator.

How much are you compensated if a flight is delayed?

The compensation depends on how long the delay is, where you're flying to and from and which form of payment you used. In the U.S., there is no required compensation from the airlines. Flights into or out of the EU may receive up to €600, depending on whether the carrier is from the EU. Compensation for domestic or international flights typically goes up to $500 per ticket for credit cards that include trip delay benefits.

How far back can I claim flight delay compensation?

It’s best to file your claim for reimbursement of a flight delay as soon as possible. For compensation through EU 261/2004, the statute of limitations varies by the airport's country: For example, Italy is two years, while Germany is three years and France is five years. Credit card policies vary by card type and the bank that issues them, so contact your card's customer service to find out their specific policy. As an example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® requires that you call the bank to request a claim form within 60 days following the date of the delay. The completed form and requested documentation must be returned within 100 days of the delay.

The information related to Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.

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Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).