The Basics

Tips to Make the Most Out of Airline Delays and Cancellations

Written by Charlie

Airline delays and cancellations can be a huge pain and disruption when they occur. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of these airline delays in ways that can help to, possibly, get a better flight, a better seat, and even to earn more bonus miles!

Airline travel is pretty seamless – I mean, you can get on an airplane in your city after going through the various lines and then get off in a destination city thousands of miles away without a whole lot of thought! However, sometimes we get hit with airline delays or cancellations that can pop up with barely any warning at all and things start to unravel and fall apart very quickly. Here are some tips to help get the most out of those situations.

Tips to Make the Most Out of Airline Delays and Cancellations

Note: It is helpful to at first know what the cause of the delay/cancellation is. If it is mechanical or the fault of the airline, you will have more leverage when dealing with the airline. If it is a weather related issue, there is not as much that the airline has to do. One more thing – where you are traveling from/to can also come into play (European flights/airlines have better passenger protections for delays than US airlines).

Things to Have to Help with Delays

  • TripIt Pro (for alternative flight options)
  • Credit card or lounge pass for airline lounge access (to gain access to agents with smaller lines and possibly more options)
  • Foreign frequent flyer program (to credit the new flights to earn more miles)
  • Quickness – getting to the agents quick and early can be the difference between getting the exact flight options you want vs having to stay overnight in an airport
First Step: Know Your Flight Options

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When things start to fall apart, passengers hit the gate counters and information counters very quickly to check their options. If you can get there with options already, it can help get you on the flights that work for you. Alternative flights, especially from smaller airports, will fill up quickly so it helps to know which options are available to be put on.

To start, it helps if you know the airlines in the same alliance as the one you are flying on. The reason for this is that if it is a weather delay, the airline does not have to put you on a flight with an airline outside of their alliance. In fact, American Airlines, for example, won’t even put you on another airline (outside of their alliance) unless you are an elite member for certain delays.

There are many ways you can find other flights and possibly the easiest, cheapest way is to just pull up Kayak on your phone and search for your departure to your destination for that day. Ignore the prices – you just want to see which flights are still selling seats. This gives you a starting point when talking with the agent.

The method I use all the time is actually one I don’t even really need to do anything with – it is TripIt Pro’s alternative flight manager. This only comes with the Pro version ($49 per year) but it works by letting you know of alternatives if they find that your saved flight itinerary has a delay that will cost you a connection. It is a great way to get your information without having to search for it.

Bonus – Hit the Lounge

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If you have access to the airline’s lounge, definitely go ahead and use it! Maybe you don’t have access by elite status or class of travel, but you may have it with things like lounge passes (United gives 2 lounge passes each year for their Unite Clubs to credit card holders). There are agents in there that can help you as well and the lines will not be as bad – plus, you can get some food and drink while you wait. 🙂

Second Step: Look For Quicker Options

If you have booked your current flight with either points or by booking the cheapest, chances may be that the flight you are supposed to be on may not be the one that gets you there the quickest! Once a delay kicks in, you are able to get moved to any flight that airline has that still has seats open. This includes flights that offer more direct or quicker service than the flight you were on.

For example, if you had booked an award flight to Europe and you are flying from your airport to a US hub to a hub in Europe and then another flight before arriving at your final destination (this is very common in summer award travel to/from Europe), you could go ahead and request that you get put on the flights that skip that unnecessary flight between hub and your final destination.

Also, when flying domestically especially, you may be able to get on a flight leaving soon that goes to a different hub and actually gets you to your destination earlier than you would have.

Use Your New Reservation For a Better Seat

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It doesn’t matter what kind of reservation you initially had, including a basic economy ticket that does not allow changes otherwise, when you are rebooked, you are placed in the fare class that is available. This, in my cases in economy, has always meant fare class “Y”. “Y” class is the most expensive and most flexible economy ticket sold by an airline. It is actually so expensive that it can often cost more than a business/first class ticket on the same plane (that does not have flexibility)!

When your ticket is rebooked in Y class, it opens up some advantages to you. If you have elite status with that airline (or maybe even with an airline in that alliance), you may be able to immediately request an upgrade in the airline app or it may automatically upgrade you.

This has happened to me before and even very recently. I was in a rebooked United flight due to a weather delay. While I was in the app to select a different seat, I saw the little notice that I could request an immediate upgrade to first class on the domestic leg. I actually hold no status with United but am a Star Alliance Gold member. I clicked that and, boom, I was in first class! This was thanks to the new ticket being a “Y” class ticket.

Even if you cannot get into first class, the new reservation class will likely allow you to select a better seat than you may have had in economy before. These higher fare class tickets often let you pick seats that would have not be available to you or may have cost more.

Use Your New Reservation to Earn More Miles
airline delays

Credit your rebooked flight to a foreign airline program (in the same alliance) to earn more miles!

That’s right – even if you were originally to fly an award ticket, your rebooked reservation ticket will (almost all the time) let you earn miles! Plus, because of the fare class you are put in, you will likely earn more miles than if you had bought your ticket!

But, there is an important step for thiscredit this new ticket to an airline frequent flyer program that is not the same as the airline you are flying (if it is a domestic airline). The reason for this is that the airline awards miles based on the price of the ticket. Since nothing was “paid,” you would not earn miles on it. Instead, if you credit to an airline that gives miles based on fare class and distance flown, you can actually earn quite a few miles.

This is what I have done and it has really helped me to earn a ton of miles when there are delays. I credit all Star Alliance flights to Aegean Airlines and have earned a lot of miles, thanks to the way the rebooked reservation codes.


Airline delays and cancellations are really not fun at all. But, if you can use these tips, you can make the most out of those delays in ways that could a) help you reach your destination quicker b) get a better seat while on the airplane and c) actually earn more miles. Those little things could help make up a little bit for the problems!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

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