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6 things you must do when weather delays your flight

Board shows many flight cancellations and delays following a ‘bomb cyclone’ in Boston, Massachusetts.

During the first week of 2018, the East Coast was pummeled with strong winds and several inches of snow thanks to a meteorological phenomenon called a Bomb Cyclone. While millions of New Yorkers and New Englanders rode the storm out huddled at home, I was one of the unlucky travelers stranded in the airport. Over the course of two days, I had three canceled flights and incurred unplanned expenses for lodging and food.

For as much as I travel, this was the first time that I had been stranded in an airport for more than a couple of hours.

The silver lining is that I walked away from this stressful situation armed with some new travel strategies. Here are some tips to remember the next time mother nature gets in the way of your travel plans.

Hold your flight, then call

I talked to five different American Airlines agents on the phone during my two days of delays. It was a frustrating experience until I talked with an agent named Vera, who armed me with one foolproof hack that changed everything.

During snow storms and other periods of inclement weather, seat availability changes from second to second. In some cases you can manage your flight digitally, but other times you may have to jump on the phone and rebook with the airline. This means that a flight you’ve found on your own may disappear by the time you get through to speak to an agent.

To prevent this, Vera told me to select my desired flight through the app (or desktop if you’re on a computer), and go through the booking process. This will hold your seat. Right before you click “confirm,” call the airline and have them book it for you. This keeps you from incurring any additional costs.

I used this tactic to secure my final flight back to New York, and was shocked that it actually worked. When I called the reservation line, the agent said, “Wow, there is just one seat left on that flight,” and I knew the hack had worked!

Call the right number

After my first flight was canceled in Dallas, I called the generic airline number to rebook my itinerary. While I was hoping to speak with an agent right away, I was met with an automated message informing me of a 2-hour wait time. Then, out of the blue, an American Airlines employee handed me a card with the phone number to a separate reservations line. Within five minutes I had talked to a human and rebooked my flight.

Even if you’re waiting in the customer service line at the airport (which was hours long in my case), don’t be afraid to pop up to the front and ask the agent for a number to call. In the case of American Airlines, they had the information readily available,  but didn’t have time to pass it out to everyone in line. So take matters into your own hands and ask for the best number to call.

Download the apps

After your flight is canceled, some airlines will allow you to rebook your own itinerary. The easiest way to do this is through the app. All of your information is already on file, and it’s easy to browse through flight options and update your itinerary. I’ve done this dozens of times in the past, but during the Bomb Cyclone, the American Airlines app wouldn’t let me rebook my itinerary. Still, it can save you a lot of aggravation when it works.

Ask for discounts

Be sure to ask for hotel discounts if your travel is delayed.

Unfortunately, airlines are not responsible for your lodging and meals if a flight is delayed for circumstances out of their control, like weather. Still, many airlines will work with travelers by offering discounts at certain hotels and restaurants. A good airline agent will offer you these discounts – but if they don’t, don’t be afraid to ask.

Even with the discounts (American Airlines offered me 35% off a nightly hotel room rate), you may still be able to find cheaper accommodations. Personally, I used the app HotelTonight, which is designed to offer the lowest rates for last-minute bookings. I found unbelievable deals on this app, including hotels with free airport shuttles and complimentary meals.

Check your credit card for coverage

It’s important to read the fine print if you booked your flight with a credit card.

Many cards have insurance included if your trip is canceled or interrupted. For instance, Chase Sapphire reimburses users if a portion of your trip that you purchased with the card is interrupted. Specifically, the issuer will reimburse you for travel expenses (tickets, hotels) you have to cancel because your trip was delayed. This only applies to pre-paid expenses, not new expenses. If you rebook and reuse your old itinerary, Chase covers the change fee (but not fare difference). The maximum amount you could reimbursed is $10,000.

Your credit card can also help with new expenses. With Chase Sapphire, travelers can request reimbursement up to $500 for expenses like hotels, taxis and meals caused by a weather or mechanical delay.

The American Express Platinum and Citi Prestige credit cards have similar perks, so be sure to read through your guide of benefits before your next trip.

Buy insurance

The decision to purchase insurance is always personal, but it’s worth considering if you’re flying at a time when weather can be unpredictable — like hurricane season.

In my case, I opted to buy insurance because I know that flying in December often involves canceled flights. I paid $15 for my plan with Allianz, which provides $500 for expenses during a trip delay. While I struggled to rebook my flight back to New York, I spent $200 on hotels and about $75 on meals. Now that I’m back home, it’s nice to know that I will get all of that money back.  

Buying insurance doesn’t always pay off, but it sure is sweet when it does.  

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. 

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