Winter came early this year, with storms already pounding much of the U.S. If your holiday travel plans are in doubt because of them, there are still steps you can take to make sure you get where you need to go and get there on time. Here’s what you need to keep in mind, whether you’ve already booked your trip or are worried about future travels.
How to Handle Delays Like a Pro
Even the best-laid plans can go awry in the face of inclement weather. Here are five coping strategies you can put to use if Mother Nature conspires against you.
Call abroad. Nobody wants to wait on hold for hours just to talk to a surly, overworked airline agent on her 100th call of the day. So if you’re not a top-tier elite frequent flier with your own dedicated customer-service line, try one of the airline’s international service numbers instead. (You’ll find them on an airline’s international contact webpage.) Crises tend to be limited regionally or nationally, so calling another country is a reliable shortcut to an agent. Just use an app such as Skype to sidestep the calling fees and prioritize English-speaking countries such as the U.K., Australia, and Singapore.
Take the waivers. No, we’re not talking about oversold flights. Airlines often like to become proactive when inclement weather looms and will offer weather waivers for passengers that are most at risk for delays or cancellations. If you see one announced on your airline’s website, jump at the opportunity. It’s a fee-free way to change your travel plans—or cancel them altogether and get a refund.
Join the club. Club agents in airport lounges are empowered to help customers with flight plans and changes and can often go above and beyond the average customer-service rep. So if you’re already at the airport, get yourself into the lounge—even if that means paying for a day pass. Don’t expect miracles; do expect some support, plus a civilized environment with free drinks.
Don’t Forget Twitter. According to a recent study by social-media software tracking firm Conversocial, U.S. airlines respond to about half the tweets they’re tagged in—sometimes within minutes. Whether they can solve your problems is another matter, so squeeze this in while you’re pursuing other methods. It might just be the fastest way to get someone’s attention.
Know your rights. Asking an airline to compensate you for a delay might as well be the dictionary definition of futility. But travelers tend to forget that many credit cards, and especially those linked to a travel reward program, usually offer robust flight delay and cancellation protections when you use them to pay for a ticket.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers trip cancellation coverage of up to $10,000 if your plans are cancelled due to severe weather (or a variety of other circumstances). Its trip-delay reimbursement is good for up to $500 per ticket if your flight is postponed for longer than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay.
Every card is different, but the point is: It’s worth checking what you’re already paying for. You might be way ahead of the game without even knowing it.
How to Book Better
Follow these strategies if you’re still shopping for winter airfares.
Be an early bird. Flight delays tend to stack up as the day goes on, so plan to depart before 10:00 a.m. to maximize your odds of an on-time arrival. That’s the obvious tip. Here’s how you take it to the next level: Look up your specific flight’s on-time record here. If your flight is delayed more than 30 percent of the time, think long and hard about your other options.
Route directly. Every connection is another chance at a delay or missed flight. Paying the premium for a direct flight is like buying peace of mind.
Pick your airports based on data. In addition to on-time arrivals for airlines, the Department of Transportation maintains delay-related data for every major airport in the U.S. If your origin or destination is served by more than one airport, look up your options here and choose the one with the better track record. Get bonus points by checking how long the average delay is and how many flights get cancelled annually at each hub.
If you’re flying short-haul, angle for airports that are within easy access of a train or bus terminal. That way, if delays strike, you can arrange alternate transportation to your final destination.
For airlines, bigger is better. Prioritize the airline with the most extensive route network in a specific region—it will give you more rebooking options if something goes wrong. How to tell which carrier to pick? Do a quick search on Expedia or Kayak and see which company has the broadest range of available flights. The carrier with the lone, affordable route? That’s not your best bet.
Beware change and cancellation fees. Changing your ticket is an easy way to get ahead of a winter storm, but it can come with a big price tag. Here are two ways to avoid those fees—without buying expensive refundable tickets: One is via your loyalty program: Having elite status could help waive same-day change and standby fees. If that’s not in the cards, try booking with Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t charge for changes that are made at least 10 minutes prior to your flight.
Know your (flight) status. Apps such as FlightAware offer real-time data on delays and cancellations. They’ll guarantee that you’re among the first to know when trouble is about to hit—so that you can beat the masses to the customer support lines.
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