BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS

8 Common Air-Travel Snafus (And How to Beat Them)

From missing your flight to losing your passport, flying can be full of nasty surprises. Check out Budget Travel's insider tips for coping with, and avoiding, these headaches.

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YOU FACE A SURPRISE LAYOVER

Airlines can cancel your nonstop flight without much warning and rebook you on a flight with connections.

Why it matters: Nonstop flights usually cost top dollar, but an airline can make such a change without reimbursing you for the premium you paid. That means a financial loss—not to mention an inconvenience.

How to deal: When you learn about the change (usually via text or e-mail notification from the airline, see below), check online to see if there's another nonstop flight available. If there is, call the airline and politely ask to be put on that flight at no additional cost. If your airline has no nonstop flights (even though it sold you one), ask for a refund. Major airlines will comply without charging any change fees if you refuse to accept a new, multistop flight that arrives at your destination more than two hours later than originally scheduled, says Brett Snyder, former airline pricing analyst and current aviation blogger at the Cranky Flier.

Trick to avoid the problem: At the end of the month, many cancellations on U.S. carriers may be due to flight crews reaching caps on the number of hours they're allowed to work, or so we've heard anecdotally through airline employees. Logic holds that, by adding a layover to a flight, airlines can swap out a fresh crew to fly the final leg of a journey. The lesson: When possible, fly early in the month to reduce the chance of a nonstop switcheroo. Insider tip: Sign up to receive text or e-mail notifications about delays and other flight changes when you buy your ticket.

YOU'RE NOT FLYING THE AIRLINE YOU EXPECTED

Two airlines may sell seats on the same flight through a sales strategy called code sharing. This means that you may book your ticket with one airline, but you'll be flying one of its partners.

Why it matters: This sleight of hand can make it confusing to know which airline's customer-service office you should call for help when a problem crops up. For instance, one airline may allow you to check a bag for free, while the other may charge a fee. Whose rules apply on your code-share flight?

How to deal: First, it's important to understand that the flight rules that apply are the ones of the company whose logo is on the plane flying you. But when it comes to re-ticketing, you usually need to talk to the airline that took your money. For instance, if you miss your connecting flight and need to rebook, the gate agent is likely to refer you to the airline you originally bought the ticket from.

Trick to avoid the problem: Keep your eye out for code-share flights so you're prepared. Some travel websites, like Expedia, point out which airline you're truly flying on under the flight details section in their search results. In other cases, you have to call an airline to find out. Insider tip: If you're in need of help at the airport, ask to be pointed to the customer-service counter for the airline that took your money in the first place. If there isn't such a counter at the terminal, ask to speak on a phone to the "duty airport manager" for the airline that sold you the ticket, says David Rowell, publisher of The Travel Insider. This is the person who manages the day-to-day operations of the airline at that particular airport and who can usually help you resolve your issue.

YOUR FLIGHT GETS CANCELED

Your aircraft has to be taken out of service because it needs maintenance—or a snowstorm keeps it grounded.

Why it matters: If you need to cancel, an airline will usually allow you to use the value of your "nonrefundable" ticket on another flight within a year (while also charging you a change fee, of course). But when the airline is the one doing the canceling, it will most likely rebook you on a later one, which could leave you stranded at the airport for hours—or even days.

How to deal: In the U.S., if your flight is canceled for a cause that's within the airline's control, such as a mechanical failure on the aircraft, some airlines will provide modest compensation, like vouchers for meals. But when it comes to weather cancellation, and you're a coach-class passenger, you're on your own until they can rebook you on the next flight, which means you'll be paying for all of your meals and your hotel room. If you're flying from or within Europe, the airline may owe you compensation for cancellations (ask an agent about EU rule 261).

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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