How New Airline Policies To Reimburse Hotel Rooms Make Savvy Fliers Worse Off

Major U.S. airlines have agreed that when a delay or cancellation forces you to overnight in a city where you do not live, and it’s their fault (mechanical, crew) rather than outside of their control (weather, air traffic control) not only will they provide you with a hotel for the night, if they can’t they will offer compensation. This isn’t always as good or as easy as it sounds.

  • You’re going to need to demonstrate that the airline could provide you accommodations. You can’t just say ‘my flight cancelled, I’m stuck for the night see ya’ get yourself a room and send the bill to the airline. You’re going to have to wait to see if the airline can get you a room, and then document that they couldn’t.

  • And you’re going to need to get your claim approved. Hopefully your paperwork will be in order and this gets processed in a reasonable amount of time. You’ll also only get what the airline considers reasonable, which United kind of sort of says amounts under $200 will be (American’s doesn’t specify). Delta caps their liability at $100 and only pays out in a voucher for future travel, not cash.

Airlines already generally provided hotel rooms when they get you stuck somewhere overnight. They don’t always have rooms to offer you, leaving you on your own. American used to be clear they wouldn’t reimburse. However,

  • The rooms airlines often give you may not be ones you want to stay in. Frequently these will be rooms at less than full service hotels.

  • And you may burn a lot of time waiting to get helped to get the room or to find out they can’t help you. There’s progress delivering hotel bookings electronically but those efforts are glitchy and in their early stages at best.

In line for flight info and voucher at #albuquerque airport. Our flight disembarked 2 hours ago. Just 1 service person. Help @AmericanAir I’ve been here for hours #stuckintheairport pic.twitter.com/34QSwA29lq

— Allie Plihal ⁠ (@allie_plihal) September 1, 2022

So you want in line, maybe for an hour, burning time you could have been sleeping only to get a room you wouldn’t want to stay in. I’ve always preferred just leaving the airport and going to my preferred hotel and sending the bill to my credit card company which is likely to reimburse up to $500 in lodging, meal and transportation costs.

Not every card does this but I choose the card I use to buy airfare carefully. Technically these benefits are usually secondary and you aren’t supposed to be able to double dip. So if the airline is offering to cover lodging then you shouldn’t be able to seek reimbursement.

Hopefully these new customer commitments do not lead to a bunch of denied credit card benefit claims, effectively limiting the benefit to weather-related events or at least going through the claims process with an airline before seeking reimbursement from your card (within the card coverage provider’s allowable timeframe). Essentially insurers might presumptively deny claims when the underlying issue is the fault of the airline, because the carrier committed to either provide or reimburse lodging. They could require proof that the airline did not, or refused reimbursement, prior to honoring the claim.

Offering rooms when the airline is at fault isn’t new. Reimbursing rooms when the airline can’t get you one may be. However for those of us in the know on credit card trip delay coverage, these airline policy changes under threat by DOT may wind up being a real negative.

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