Key takeaways

  • The summer travel season is going to be busy and messy, with record travel levels anticipated as consumers engage in revenge travel and airlines cut down on their services
  • That’s likely to mean more flight cancellations and delays, as well as lost baggage issues
  • Airlines offer some consumer protections for delayed or canceled flights, and you could also take advantage of any travel insurance benefit your credit card offers to deal with travel issues

Summer 2023 is shaping up to be a very busy travel season, with millions of American travelers engaging in so-called revenge travel, making up for travel foregone during the pandemic. For one, the Transportation and Security Administration anticipates a record level of travel, meaning more crowds at airports, which the government agency says it is prepared to handle.

Another issue that could impede your travel plans is airlines’ plans to cut down on their summer services, according to news reports. The Federal Aviation Administration is allowing airlines to hold on to their slots at major airports even though they will be flying fewer flights this summer season, so as to lower stress on the country’s airspace. This comes in response to reduced levels of staffing at air traffic control facilities.

This means you could face more flight delays and cancellations, as well as related issues such as missed baggage. Thankfully, your credit card could offer protections to help you deal with such situations.

Airlines do offer some protections

The airlines do offer some consumer protections for delays and cancellations that are within their control. For instance, 10 big U.S. airlines will rebook you on the same airline at no extra cost, and they’ll also provide a meal voucher if you have to wait three hours or more due to an avoidable delay or cancellation. Nine airlines also commit to providing hotel accommodations for passengers stranded overnight (as well as transportation to and from a hotel).

However, only six airlines commit to rebooking a passenger on another airline at no extra cost if your flight is canceled for a reason within their control (five will do so in case of delay). None of them offer cash compensations for cancellations or delays of longer than three hours, while only two airlines (Alaska and JetBlue) offer travel vouchers in such circumstances and a sole airline (Alaska) offers frequent flier miles.

Reimbursement for incidental expenses?

In the meantime, the Biden Administration has come up with a proposal for regulations (that the Department of Transportation would implement) that would require airlines to reimburse customers for costs they incur due to a flight being canceled or postponed for reasons within an airline’s control.

This means an airline would have to compensate you for all incidental expenses you incur on account of a delay, such as meals, hotels, transportation and rebooking fees. The proposal also aims to make airlines provide their customers with travel vouchers, cash compensation and frequent flyer miles for delays and cancellations of more than three hours that are within the airlines’ control.

In a media release announcing this proposal, President Joe Biden noted that the European Union and Canada already offer protections such as the ones he’s asking for. According to him, after the European Union asked airlines to compensate passengers for flight delays, a study found that the number of delays went down.

“If your flight is very delayed or canceled and the airline could have prevented that, you deserve more than just getting the price of your ticket,” said Biden in the media release. “You deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”

Proposal could incentivize airlines to do better

According to an analysis by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) using data from the Department of Transportation, there were delays on more than 20 percent of flights in 2022. And U.S. airlines canceled 2.7 percent of all scheduled flights in 2022.

Teresa Murray, a “consumer watchdog” with the consumer advocacy group, noted in a media release, “While some flights are delayed because of severe weather, security delays or heavy traffic, the single biggest reason for delays is an issue within the airline’s control, according to the DOT. Examples include maintenance or crew problems, cabin cleaning, baggage loading and fueling. In 2022, issues within the air carrier’s control were the No. 1 reason for delays every month except in July.”

She expects the government’s proposed rules would force the airlines to do a better job since they would prefer to avoid the additional customer compensations.

How your credit card can help

While travelers are not left entirely high and dry by airlines today when their travel is disrupted, the current protections do not always come through and there are loopholes. That’s when your credit card could come to your rescue.

Several credit cards come with travel insurance as a perk, at no additional cost to you. This sort of protection could help you deal with trips that are canceled or delayed, covering hotel and rental car charges (and accidents), for instance. Such insurance could help you deal with lost or delayed baggage and, in emergencies, cover an evacuation situation or even provide for medical expenses that your health insurance doesn’t cover.

To take advantage of such protections, before you book your travel, you should look into the fine print to see exactly what your card’s protections will cover. Then, you can follow up with the issuer in case of any mishap.

Before contacting your card issuer, you should contact the airlines involved and see what sort of protections they offer. For any additional coverage you need, you can then see what your credit card can cover.

Also, in case an airline does not follow through on the protection it promises, you can submit a complaint with the DOT. And if you have issues taking advantage of the travel insurance your credit card offers, you could submit a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The bottom line

The 2023 summer travel season is shaping up to be a messy and busy one, with millions of travelers looking to make up for time lost during the pandemic. On top of that, airlines are cutting down on their services as they deal with reduced staffing at air traffic control facilities. This means that travelers are more likely to have to deal with canceled or delayed flights.

Airlines do offer some consumer reimbursements in these situations, and the government is looking to get them to do more. In case your credit card offers travel insurance, it could also offer reimbursements for expenses you incur due to flight disruptions.

If you run into such issues, first see what your airline is offering you. Then, follow up with your card issuer to take advantage of any protection it offers that the airline is not covering. In case your airline does not follow through with its promises, or your card’s travel insurance doesn’t function as it should, you can submit a complaint with the relevant authorities.