Claiming Compensation for a Delayed, Overbooked, or Cancelled Flight

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Following up our post outlining methods to get fair compensation from an airline or hotel, we dive into the fundamentals of when you can claim compensation from an airline. We’ll cover the rules and regulations for the US, EU, and international flights outside of these areas, along with additional resources to help you pursue compensation when the normal channels available to you fail.

delayed flight

When Are You Entitled to Compensation From an Airline?

Recent press covering Delta’s forced removal of a passenger after overbooking a flight and BA’s epic IT meltdown, which stranded passengers all over the globe, highlight the need to understand your rights when trying to claim compensation.

Your right to airline compensation also changes depending on the airline you fly, your departure and destination, and whether you are flying domestic or international. In light of the different rules for each country and carrier, we’ve grouped rules by region and the type of flight, in the hope, this makes it easier to understand.

Claiming Compensation on US Domestic Carriers and Flights

Passengers in the US have no blanket protection against delayed or canceled flights like their counterparts in Europe. The US Department of Transport regulations state:

“Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements.”

“Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”

Having said that, you can politely ask airlines to help with food, transport, and accommodation, but it is up to the airline whether they help out. The DOT regulations do cover passengers for tarmac delays of three hours or more, lost or delayed luggage, and if you get bumped from a flight due to overbooking.

  • Tarmac delays – Aircraft cannot remain on the tarmac for over three hours unless the pilot determines it’s unsafe to disembark passengers, or air traffic control advises the plane may not return to the gate.
  • Involuntary denied  – While the rate of involuntary bumping is down to 1/10,000 passengers on domestic flights, with 700 million domestic passengers carried last year, that adds up to tens of thousands of passengers left stranded at the gate. If you are involuntarily bumped from a domestic flight you’re entitled to:
    • 0 to 1-hour arrival delay: No compensation
    • 1 to 2-hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $675)
    • Over 2-hour arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1350)

Claim Compensation on International Flights from the US

US laws are the same for International flights with no federal requirements for delayed or canceled flights leaving the US. The same rules covering domestic flights apply to international ones with different time and compensation limits. International flights leaving the US are, however, covered by the Montreal Convention which we’ll dig into below.

  • Tarmac delays – Aircraft cannot remain on the tarmac for more than four hours unless the pilot determines it’s unsafe to disembark passengers, or air traffic control advises the plane may not return to the gate.
  • Involuntary denied boarding – International passengers can claim the following compensation if they get bumped from a flight due to overbooking.
    • 0 to 1-hour arrival delay: No compensation
    • 1 to 4-hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $675)
    • Over 4-hour arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1350)

The Montreal Convention covers passengers flying between 125 member countries, which includes the US, against losses or damages caused by delayed or canceled flights (including lost or delayed luggage). If the only consequence of a flight delay or cancellation is that it's inconvenient, that on its own will not be enough to enact the Montreal Convention, there must be losses from items such as pre-booked accommodation, connecting flights, car rentals or the like.

The compensation amount claimable under the Montreal Convention is not issued in $, £, or €, rather it’s issued in Special Drawing Rights, a currency issued by the IMF. At the time of writing, 1 SDR is worth US$1.38. If the airline is found liable for the loss or damage, passengers can claim up to 4,694 SDR, or $6,477.

Note: The Montreal Convention applies to all international flights between member countries, but not within those countries unless the flight has a stopover in another country en-route, so won't cover domestic flights.

Claim Compensation on Flights Departing or Within the EU

European Union legislation (EC261) covers flights between EU member countries, within member countries, departing member countries, and flights on EU licensed carriers flying into the EU. Flights must be delayed by a minimum 3 hours for compensation to kick in, and the affected itinerary falls under a single reservation.

Causes for delays or cancellations can’t involve extraordinary circumstances such as severe weather events, airline flight staff striking, medical emergencies, war, and a whole host of things outside the airline’s control. The short of it is; if the airline is at fault, and your claim is legit, it's highly likely you qualify for compensation.

In Europe, airlines are also obliged to take care of you while you wait for passage on another aircraft, with the following stipulated:

  • Refreshments
  • Food
  • Accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day)
  • Transport to your accommodation and return to the airport
  • 2 telephone calls, telex, fax messages or emails

Compensation for delays and involuntarily denied boarding is based on the distance flown and origin of the flight.

  • €250 – 1,500 km or less
  • €400 – 1,500+ km within the EU and all other flights between 1,500 & 3,500 km
  • €600 – 3,500+ km

If the carrier offers you re-routing and you reach your final destination with a delay of 2, 3, or 4 hours, the compensation may be reduced by 50%. You can find all the relevant information on claiming compensation on Europa.eu, or download the claim form directly.

Compensation for flight cancellations is more complicated still. It is based on when you are notified of the cancellation, if the airline re-routes you on a different flight, and what time you arrive at your destination. The distances and compensation amounts remain the same, but when you’re notified of the change, and when you arrive at your destination are also factored into the re-routing requirements. You won't receive compensation if you are:

  • Notified more than 14 days in advance
  • Notified between 2 weeks and 7 days before scheduled departure and re-routing allows you to depart no more than 2 hours before the original departure and reach final destination less than 4 hours after the originally scheduled time of arrival
  • Notified less than 7 days before the scheduled departure re-routing allows you to depart no more than 1 hour before the original departure and reach your final destination less than 2 hours after the originally scheduled time of arrival.

Confused yet? It’s a lot to take in. If you’re struggling to make sense of it and want a quick answer, head to the Europa.eu link above and follow the directions. It offers a quick run down on if you qualify for compensation or not.

Can't Wrap Your Head Around Claiming Compensation?

The different rules and regulations for each region and carrier are enough to give you a headache at the best of times. If you can’t wrap your head around the legislation or you don’t have the time available to go through the process, you can hand over all the details to AirHelp, and have them do all the heavy lifting.

They will check whether your delay or cancellation warrants compensation, contact the airline directly on your behalf, negotiate a settlement, and if necessary, take the airline to court! AirHelp's Service Fee is 25% of the settlement they reach with the airline, the service is straightforward, and if they don’t win, you don’t pay.

Take Advantage of the Travel Insurance Offered by Your Credit Card

We’ve covered this in previous posts so won’t rehash the information in detail, but the majority of premium travel rewards credit cards come with complimentary travel insurances like Trip Delay Reimbursement, Trip Interruption/Cancellation Insurance, Primary Rental Car CDW, and Baggage Delay/Lost Baggage Insurance. This includes some of our favorite travel focused credit cards.

Ensure you use the right card to pay for your flights, or your award taxes & fees, and you could be flying with some of the best airline travel insurance available!

Final Thoughts

Knowing when to claim compensation from an airline is an essential part of the rewards travel puzzle. If the worst you suffered was a late arrival, a changed flight, and a little inconvenience then trying to claim compensation may not be in your best interest and is unlikely to get through. If you suffered financial losses due to a delayed or canceled flight, and the airline is squarely in the wrong, you have a valid basis to claim.

As always, we’d love to know your thoughts on this topic. It can be tricky to wrap your head around, so if you have any questions, please reach out in the comments.

Claiming Compensation for a Delayed, Overbooked, or Cancelled Flight
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Comments

  • Good info and summary. I wish that there was an easy way to search archived blog posts here …

    • There is a big search box at the top of the page.

    • I agree – this was a super helpful article and it’d be useful of AwardWallet had a way to bookmark/archive certain articles for future reference! I can envision a scenario in which you’d need to reference this article in 1-2 minutes based on a sudden flight delay/cancellation. This occurred just 2 weeks ago when our United flight was delayed by 2+ hours (then cancelled altogether) due to equipment issues. We were fortunate to be proactive and at the front of the line at the counter, but we had just a few moments to decide when talking with a the United rep. Based on this article, we certainly left a lot on the table.

  • There are three horizontal lines on the top right of the mobile page, if you click on them, search is on the first line.

  • Very informative! Thanks for posting this although I hope I won’t ever have to use it.

  • Great summary!
    And timely.
    Had an 8 hour delay in a flight Mon night due to issues w air control in DC. Booked with points. Had insurance who will cover meal and transportation.
    JetBlue said they are looking into flight. But wondering what to ask for as I used points.
    Thanks

  • Thanks!! Great post. We often have options. Just need to follow up.

  • Thank you for this information and looking out for our consumer rights.

  • Thank goodness we still have the EU!

    Dread to know what will happen if the UK leave the EU.

  • Thanks very much. This is a very good summary.

  • There is a good website that helps you get your compensation if you’r flight is canceled or delayed in Europe: http://www.refund.me
    You just need to fill in your flight details and they handle everything (they would even go to court if necessary). The service is totally free, but they will take a share of the refund, which in my opinion is totally worth it, as you don’t have to deal with the airline yourself.
    My flight from Wroclaw (Poland) to Copenhagen (Denmark) was canceled last year and I got 170 euros back thanks to them (they is in addition to hotel, new flight, transportation and food that the airline needs to provide).

  • Howie,

    Question about credit card benefit for delays.

    If flight delay of < 3 hours caused a missed connection (because second flight on the same PNR took off on time), and I end up staying in the transit city over night. Would that trigger the Citi Prestige or CSR benefit for ~$500 in compensation per person? Thanks!

    JL

  • Great info!

    We got cancelled by BA from SFO to Heathrow when their computers went down. i put in a claim, havent heard anything except they are ‘too busy’ to process it now.
    Guess ill use your escalation form and see what happens; 1200euros is a nice amount of compensation.

  • Hopefully I never need to use this. Good info

  • You can always reach out the customer service phone number v. working with a busy gate agent as well. I have found that the customer service agent is often under less stress and can often do just as much as a gate agent when working with rebooking a canceled flight or delayed flight. Recently I had better service calling rather than standing in a long line with frustrated passengers. The gate agent suggested to call the customer service line because in fact in that instance, the customer service agent had more options than the gate agent. It worked out really well.

  • Interesting – thank you

  • Thanks for setting this all up in one easy place.

  • This article only covered the US and Europe (aside the Montreal Convention)
    Do other countries not have compensation laws in the event of delays and cancellations??

  • What about a situation where the second leg of a flight with a layover went from a 1.5 hour difference in time to 5+ hours? I have a flight in October where I get into Dallas at 6 AM and was originally scheduled to fly to Newark at 7:30 AM. They now made the connecting flight for 11 AM.

    Being that it’s three months in advance, do I have any recourse? I booked with the Barclay Arrival Plus card. The flight is with American Airlines (they have no earlier flights from Dallas, but United does however).

    Any advice? Thanks!

  • I have found that while US domestic carriers are not obligated to compensate you for delays, they may sometimes offer service credits if you write customer service and ask nicely.

  • What about family that books a flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles at 11am….they are traveling with five kids ages 1-8….the plan was to land by 5 east coast time….they get notification from AA that flight time changed to 3pm…..flight ends up delayed and landing at 8 west coast time….total nightmare….if they had wanted a 3pm flight, they would have booked it….do they have recourse?

  • Tracey Wheeler says:

    This is great info…you do, however, have plenty of Australian readers. Any chance you could include them in your information? The amount of Australians traveling to the US or Europe is huge..and more and more people are travelling overseas from Australia every day, as the flights become more affordable . Thanks

    • Tracey, we try where we can!

    • Tracey, Australia and New Zealand do not have laws determining compensation for delayed or cancelled flights (or involuntary denied boarding) and it is up to the airline whether they compensate you or not. The only cover you have in Aus is consumer rights laws which you’ll find on Choice.com.au. I know that JetStar have the worst policy of the big four, even worse than TigerAir. Qantas and Virgin are more likely to help you with things like food and accommodation but it is at their discretion.

  • Even though I have several of the recommended cards (including Sapphire Preferred), I usually use my AA Aadvantage card for my taxes and fees when redeeming miles. I have the Citi Aadvantage AND the Barclay Aadvantage. How can I determine the best card to use for those charges?

  • angelo fonseca says:

    very informative text. thanks for that

  • Useful info. Will definitely keep in mind for future us.

  • high end credit card becomes handy when such things happen

  • I find that domestic carriers manage to blame almost everything on weather, to avoid taking any responsibility for their mechanical failures.

    • It is important to keep in mind that even weather delays are covered with some of the credit card protections offered.

      • Sebastian says:

        How do we know about this? I mean, how do i find out, whether my CC covers Weather? I don’t have the Contract at hand…Is that to be seen online?

        • Yes, most contracts (in the US) can be seen online. That said, you can always call up your credit card issuer and ask them to send you a copy of the terms and benefits available to you. I’d be surprised if they didn’t send it happily free of charge.

    • The fact is, most delays ARE caused by weather. Significant mechanical delays are relatively rare. (I say relatively when compared to weather delays that happen at some airports almost every day in the summer thunderstorm season.) I realize that this is no comfort to anyone when their flight is delayed but weather remains something that we can’t control, and can cause serious danger to flight.

    • It is amazing how many delays are ‘weather related’.

      However, if it is genuinely unsafe to fly due to the weather I would much rather have the flight canceled or delayed without compensation rather than the airline risk flying. If they had to pay compensation for weather related issues, the risk is that they might feel under more pressure to fly when really they shouldn’t.

  • Great summary! Definitely bookmarking this post, should the rainy IRROPS or denied-boarding day come.

  • This is great information to keep handy. Wish I had it earlier for some previous situations that I have had. I haven’t had any issues for the last couple years of flying though. With any luck, I won’t need this info, but I’m going to keep it handy just in case.

  • Gina Smith says:

    Interesting article. I did not know all this! It could be very useful.

  • Also, don’t forget about lost or delayed luggage compensation that can be claimed via the airlines and credit cards.

  • Always good to be reminded… I never knew about compensation before I got into this

  • I have problem with Latam Airlines ticketing system and would like to hear your advice.
    As a group of 27 people, we came back from South America two weeks ago. We were greatly upset because of the poor arrangement of LATAM Airlines. When we checked in at Iguazu Airport, only 10 of us could check in and got the boarding passes, other 17 people were told that LATAM Airlines had our bookings but they did not have the e-tickets in the system. Finally, 17 of us were refused to check in and forced to buy another new tickets to continue our trip. Being listed at NYSE, I cannot believe LATAM has such bad computer system.
    Here is the whole story:
    We all had the same flight schedules for the domestic flights but different bookings.
    Here were our flight schedules. The problem happened at the third connection.
    1. June-10-2017 1.20 pm Flight: LA2096 Juliaca JUL (Peru) -> Lima LIM (Peru)
    2. June-13-2017 12.30pm Flight: LA2443 Lima LIM (Peru) -> Iguassu Falls IGU (Brazil)
    3. June-15-2017 3.30 pm Flight: JJ3624 Iguassu Falls IGU (Brazil)-> Rio de Janeiro GIG (Brazil)
    4. June-17-2017 6.05 pm Flight: JJ8022 Rio GIG (Brazil)->Buenos Aires EZE (Argentia)
    Through Silkway Travel & Cruise Inc. (Vancouver British Columbia Canada), we purchased
    tickets for 22 people: 10 tickets under group & 12 tickets under ‘individual’
    Through EXPEDIA.CA, we purchased tickets for 5 people:
    For the first 2 connection sectors, we all could check in and took the flights (JUL->LIM & LIM->IGU).
    On June-15 (Thursday), we all arrived at IGU airport 2 hours before the departure time. The LATAM website did not allow advance 24 hours check-in on the internet for our third connection sector (IGU -> GIG). At the LATAM check-in counter, 17 of us (‘individual’ tickets) were rejected by LATAM saying that we were holding invalid tickets. This was LATAM computer problem because all e-ticket numbers and all seat numbers for all connection sectors for all of us were
    already printed on our reservation itinerary which we used for our first two connection sectors. LATAM check-in staff found our bookings but without ticket numbers in the system. This was Only 10 of us (under the group booking) easily checked in and got the boarding passes. During the time, one of the check-in staff tried to call the LATAM head office in Santiago, Chile. She talked for a long time and passed the check-in time. Finally, the head office still found nothing about the ticket numbers. They refused to put us to the next flight to Rio. The staff told us that the only way to Rio was to purchase another ticket. Since there were mainly elderly in my group and most were completely exhausted and due to the urgency, we had no choice but to purchase new tickets to cover this trip in order for us to continue our trip. The cost for the replacement tickets were US$6,018 (i.e. BRL1146.59 each approximating US$ 354.00 per ticket). Then
    we took the next flight (with connection at St. Paulo) and arrived RIO at 11.30
    pm!!
    Upon arrived our hotel in Rio, we immediately followed up with LATAM about this matter
    together with rectification as to the last sector of the ticket (GIG-EZE) even in the midnight. We
    were told that our files were cancelled as the third sector was not taken (“No Show”). In pursuing for a full understanding of the problems, whether this was caused by the travel agency or LATAM, which of course LATAM said that we should get back to the travel agency for
    rectification. As it was after midnight, the LATAM airlines had asked us to call again the next morning.
    On June 16 (Friday), we had numerous conversations with Silkway Travel in Vancouver and was told that they were still awaiting response from LATAM. Upon return to hotel that evening, we contacted LATAM again and were told that the two individual files for the last sector were
    cancelled. In the evening, we found that even the 10 people’s tickets (under group booking) could not be retrieved on-line. We also followed up for these 10 people, and were told same that even the tickets of the 10 people were invalid for the last sector (GIG -> EZE).
    We were very disappointed at that time. After numerous discussions with and LATAM, they also suggested that we should first buy new tickets for the 16 people under individual booking. Since 1 of us went home from RIO, so 16 tickets were bought with Emerates Airlines (GIG -> EZE) at a cost of CAD481 per ticket through Silkway Travel.
    On June 17 (Saturday), with the help of our local tour guide who was a previous owner of a travel agency, we all went to GIG airport in the morning and approached Ticketing Counter to check the status of the group booking. After in-depth investigation, we were told that the booking was found but without ticket numbers. It was then revealed that LATAM systems could not trace the ticket number due to the merge of Latam/ Lan/ Tam airlines. However, LATAM at GIG finally was able to trace the file and re-issued 10 new tickets under the group booking. Then LATAM was also able to trace another 16 tickets file and re-issued 16 tickets from GIG -> EZE. Obviously it was because the LATAM at IGU being a small domestic airport was handicapped in locating our tickets and did not have the experience in fixing their computer mess.
    The problem of the last sector (GIG -> EZE) was basically solved. It was then decided by all that we should have the Emerates tickets sent for refund at USD 100 penalty each.
    Now that we are back to Vancouver, we definitely feel that Latam Airlines should bear the full responsibility of our bad experience. Our total financial loss are USD8,968:
    US$6,018 being the monies spent for the one way LATAM IGU -> GIG USD354 (16 people).
    US$1,600 being the Emirates USD100 (16 people) penalty;
    US$1,350 being our partial loss of morning itinerary of June 17th to Sugar Loaf Mountain at a cost of USD50 each (27 people);
    If possible, plus, our psychological and time loss to pursue with LATAM about the matter.
    Would you please lend me a hand on my misery?

    • tl;dr for most – However, I would suggest reaching back out to the travel agency and Expedia why there were issues with those tickets and have them go to bat for you to be reimbursed.

      I hope you have the names of the individuals that you spoke with that denied boarding. Work through the agencies and then contact corporate offices with LATAM. The travel agency should reimburse you for anything booked through them as well.

    • Since you are in Canada, have you tried filing here: https://www.otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-travel I had good luck with them and they can be very helpful.

  • Alice Chen says:

    Wow! Super useful post – definitely good to know you can get compensation for these delays.

  • Thanks for the helpful information. Is there a statute of limitations in Europe. 7 years ago, when we were flying from Barcelona to Beijing, but there was a strike (can’t remember if it was pilots or flight attendants or what). We got re-routed through Frankfurt and put up in a hotel overnight, significantly delaying our arrival. I wonder if there’s any chance we can still claim compensation.

  • Very good info.
    As European, it’s clear that the legislation EC 261 protect effectly the customers. Anyway it’s necessary to follow the procedure and know how to do when your request is refused by the airlines, it’s almost sure you will receive a negative answer after your first request.
    This has also generate some business. As you say, there are a lot of companies (apart from AirHelp) offering their services in order to receive compensation by the airlines. Usually, they ask a percentage of the money you receive and nothing if your request is unsuccesfull. Personally, I’ve never used their services but it is a good alternative for people who don’t want to follow the time consuming and painful process.
    As suggestion, I would say to ask directly to the company a couple of times and if the answer is negative ask the intervention of this kind of companies to be compensated.

  • Great post! Especially since it seems I usually need to be reminded of the terrific benefits from my CSR card.

  • Are there similar companys like flightright in the US?

    • Check out AirHelp as mentioned in the post.

      • I tried AirHelp and was very disappointed. The CTA did so much more in a short amount of time. BA was stubborn and would not budge even with all the evidence against what they did (provided by their own IT dept). Not saying to skip them, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket, keep looking for assistance.

  • Sometimes just knowing that you are entitled to something makes the airlines treat you better.

    Delta cancelled a flight on me from Incheon to Vancouver via Seattle and were very blase about it.

    Delta: “Yeah, sorry about that, but we can get you on the next flight in 6.5 hours. And here’s a $10 meal voucher. There’s nothing else we can do.”

    Me: “Ok, I don’t think so. Now let’s talk about the Montreal Convention and compensation. I know I am entitled to a lot more than a $10 meal voucher.”

    Delta: *pinched pace and starts punching some keys*

    “Here is a flight on Korean Air direct to Vancouver departing in 3 hours.”

    Me: Thank you!

  • Is anyone aware of any compensation for passengers who are “Involuntarily Bumped” from one class DOWN to a lower class? It has happened twice to our family in 12 months where American moved members of my group from First or Business back to basic coach (not even Main Cabin Extra). Each flight was in excess of 8 hours (DFW-SCL & HNL-DFW) and stuck in Coach after confirming F or J seats at least 10 months in advance was painful.

    Compensation offered was well short of the inconvenience suffered for the long cramped flight.

    Any information or suggestions are appreciated.

    • Ben, were you on a cash/paid ticket or an award ticket? Did you use AA miles or someone else’s miles? You’re due compensation but the method of payment will dictate it. Unfortunately, there are no mandates published that cover the industry as a whole.

  • Howie,

    For the credit card protection: if you were on a round trip itinerary with >1 week stay, and you were delayed >6 hrs both on the outbound and the return flight. Can you claim the $500 trip delay reimbursement benefit associated with credit cards multiple times? or is it one $500 reimbursement per ticket purchased regardless of how many segment?

    Similarly what about multi-city itineraries?

    Thanks for your insight.

  • I was delayed home from Europe by hours, and downgraded in the process. When I called the airline to ask for a credit for the difference in ticket, they gave me a whole story about how my new ticket cost the same ON FLIGHT DAY as what I paid for my business ticket a month earlier

  • It took a while, but in the end they refunded the difference and paid compensation for a delay within their control. Crazy that I had to fight for it.

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