Did you know you could potentially get thousands of miles as compensation for a delayed flight if you just ask the airline?

A couple years ago, I was in middle of a trip across the US, exhausted not only from the coast-to-coast travel, but also from significant delays that led to missed connections and many more hours wasted at congested airports.

I asked the gate agents at the airport if any compensation would be offered. The response was an unequivocal “no.” 

In the end, the evening flight was canceled, the gate agent sent everybody home, and I got nothing but a 10% discount coupon to stay at hotel near the airport, which was infuriating.

I went home and wrote a complaint to United Airlines out of frustration. My intent was to vent so I was not expecting anything in return.

Surprisingly, I received 5,000 bonus miles of “goodwill gesture.” I was still disappointed by the delays, but getting some compensation was better than nothing at all.

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5,000 miles compensation for a delayed flight

Now whenever a friend experiences a significant delay, I always encourage to at least send in an email and see what comes back.

While most US airlines don’t provide compensation at the gate…

According to data from Bureau of Transportation Statistics, domestic US airlines are delayed as much as 30% of the time. US carriers often leave just enough time to turn around a plane in between scheduled flights 

Reduced time on the ground means higher fleet utilization, which translates into lower cost and higher profit for the airline, but also higher risk of delays. While quick turnaround is great for business, you and I suffer when left stranded during delays with few options.

Airlines in the US rarely provide compensation of any kind regardless of the situation. (Readers from other parts of the world, particularly in Asia, may receive better treatment.) 

Gate agents typically blame delays on the weather or “a late incoming aircraft,” then shrug and send you to “take a seat and we will provide an update shortly.”

You can contact the airline after the fact and will most likely get some sort of compensation.

Internally, many airlines typically budget an allowance for compensation for delays where the airlines are partially at fault, but would offer only to those who ask for it. 

Over the last couple of years, I have been offered $100 travel certificate or 2,500 miles – 7,500 miles for various delays (I typically prefer miles as they are more valuable to me).

Here are the steps to file a complaint:

I am going to use United Airlines as an example. This process should be similar on other airlines, though policies may slightly vary.

  • Go to the airline’s “Contact us” page 

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  • Fill out personal and flight information
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  • Select “Airport experience” for “reasons to contacting us”

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  • In the comment box, write a few sentences on what went wrong. Include detail such as how long the delay was, who you interacted with, and how gate agents / crew handled the delay if it helps you case
     
     
  • Wrap up your comment by saying that you would like to “receive miles as a gesture of goodwill”. Some airlines don’t like to use the word “compensation” as they are not legally obliged to compensate you for anything, but that’s a topic for another day)

Here’s a sample complaint. It doesn’t have to be too long:

“My flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis was delayed by 4 hours due to aircraft maintenance issue. We were boarded but subsequently delayed, which caused confusion at the gate. The staff on the ground also did not provide sufficient and clear updates to the latest departure time. In light of this, I am requesting a 5,000 miles as a gesture of goodwill.”

In my opinion, the best policy is to be honest with the facts. It is okay to elaborate on your frustration on delayed flights / rude staff / lack of communication, but I would not recommend making up anything for the sake of getting miles (airlines do fact check their records, of course).

After all, this is about getting back a fair share of compensation for a disappointing journey. 

Yes, you can also request compensation for other issues too.

I have used this process and received compensation for: 

  • Seats that did not recline
     
  • Paid wifi that did not work
     
  • Lost baggage
     
  • Disrespectful gate agent
     
  • Malfunctioning audio / screen 
     
  • Sporadic power / USB port
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Compensation for malfunctioning power and entertainment system
 

While your requests may not be granted, it does not hurt to try.

You have the right to request compensation, but the airlines do have the ultimate say on whether you will get anything.

For example, you may not get anything in the following situations:

  • You are flying a low fare airline;
     
  • The delay was truly caused by reasons beyond the airline’s control (such as extreme weather or air traffic control due to airport construction);
     
  • You don’t have any prior flying history with the airline;
     
  • You waited too long to file the complaint (e.g. more than half a year).

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Your request may get rejected, but it’s okay.

Conclusion 

Since it doesn’t cost anything to file a complaint and request for compensation, I recommend doing this as long as the airline was partially at fault in causing the delay. Stick to the facts in your complaint, and you could get a big boost in miles for your next trip!

Have you received any compensation from airlines before?

Author

Travel blogger @ travelblob.com. While working full-time as a consultant, I'm constantly planning for my next trip and taking advantage of my weekends and time off to see the world. I have managed to visit more 100+ cities in over 25 countries, and am looking forward to visiting another 25 countries by 2020! I hope the travel tips, reviews and guides on this site will spark travel ideas and help you plan for the next trip!

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