The best travel tip has always been to be well informed and to take responsibility. The best example of this is when it comes to flight delay situations, which are obviously unavoidable when you travel the slightest bit. Instead of just complaining, it’s better to know how to take advantage of it financially — and, more importantly, how to resolve the situation more quickly as well.
I was invited to one of Canada’s largest French-language networks to comment on the current cyber attack against Sunwing, which is causing major delays, and I thought it would be good to quickly publish a post to remind people of the vital things to do when such a situation occurs.
It’s definitely more rewarding and enjoyable to take real, authentic trips that you organize yourself…
But even when you unfortunately book an all-inclusive package (our mission is to help you experience rewarding trips where you can discover the local culture instead), you have to know your rights and the pro tips to avoid being taken advantage of (it’s always better to take charge of things yourself)!
Here’s exactly what to do when your flight is significantly delayed.
(We’ll have additional information in a more detailed post soon, including compensation rules for situations other than delays as well as special European rules — today, we’re focusing on the Canadian regulations for delays — so sign up for our free newsletter like 85,000+ other travelers have done to get all the deals and tips to travel more for less!)
4 things to do when there’s a delay
When an IRROPS situation occurs (“irregular operations,” the airline-industry term for when something doesn’t go as planned), again, like EVERYTHING else in travel: you’re always better served by yourself.
Here are 4 steps on how to potentially get more than $1,000 — and even get where you’re going a lot faster too!
Many people sadly don’t know they have these options. So they get nothing and are stuck waiting.
It’s the perfect microcosm of the travel world: those who are not well informed always get a lot less for their money and always have a less enjoyable trip.
1. Get $500 for a hotel and meals (or even $1,000)
The simplest trick is the most convenient one too, because it reimburses your expenses no matter the reason for the delay.
You just have to always pay for your plane tickets with a credit card that has flight delay insurance included for free!
It will give you $500 to pay for a hotel and meals during your flight delay (or even $1,000 with premium cards, which are meant for frequent travelers; unlike the other cards meant for all travelers).
It’s really simple; I’ve done it 10 times myself now! It’s by far one of the easiest and most profitable tricks in the entire travel world! There’s really no catch.
So it makes no sense to pay for a flight with a card that doesn’t have this insurance. All savvy travelers should always have a credit card with this perk.
Plus, these cards will give you hundreds of dollars in free travel as a welcome bonus! Talk about a win-win situation!
These 5 cards give you over $500 in travel rewards as a welcome bonus and also have flight delay insurance.
Best credit cards
with flight delay insurance
Platinum Card® from American Express
Bonus: spend $6k in 3 mos.
Welcome bonus: $1190
Card Fee: $699
American Express Cobalt® Card
Bonus: spend $500/mo for 12 mos.
Welcome bonus: $900
Card Fee: $156
RBC® British Airways Visa Infinite‡
Bonus: spend $6k in 3 mos.
Welcome bonus: $840
Card Fee: $165
American Express® Gold Rewards Card
Bonus: spend $3k in 3 mos.
Welcome bonus: $768
Card Fee: $250
Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card
Bonus: spend $1.5k in 3 mos.
Welcome bonus: $477
Card Fee: $120
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(We’ll have a lot more content coming soon to help you compare the different record offers, but in the meantime, you can read about the basics of travel rewards so you’re not among those who can’t do the math and want to stick to cards with no annual fee).
It’s simple. With this insurance, as soon as the delay exceeds 4 hours, you’ll get $500 to cover your expenses (some cards require a minimum delay of 6 hours instead, so be sure to check — it’s not the case for any of the 5 in this table, but the RBC one only covers you for $250 instad of $500).
(With the American Express Platinum Card, you can even get $1,000 for free to go to an even nicer and more expensive hotel. Plus, this card gives you unlimited access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide. It’s really my favorite card as a frequent flier.)
Even though airlines sometimes offer a free hotel night themselves in these situations, it’s important to understand that:
- Airlines often offer that ONLY if the delay is within their control
- Insurance covers ALL delays, regardless of the reason
Insurance is much better for other reasons, too. With the airline:
- You have to wait in line to talk to someone
- You have to stay at the very basic hotel that they choose
- You don’t even earn points on your stay
When my flights are delayed, I don’t wait around with unprepared travelers. I book a very expensive hotel on my cell phone, and I’m gone in 1 minute. That’s it.
I’ve gotten $4,000 worth of free hotels like this in the last 5 years (and in Istanbul, for example, I stayed at the beautiful 5-star St. Regis Hotel, where a butler came and prepared my bed for me when I was ready to sleep)! It’s 100% free!
Plus, I have also earned tens of thousands of free hotel points (which gave me several hundred dollars in free hotels for my other trips) by paying for the hotel myself (afterwards, the insurance will reimburse you very quickly and easily if you follow the instructions below).
That’s all thanks to the points earned on the hotel payment:
- with my credit card (5 points per dollar on Marriott hotels with my Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card, the one every traveler should have — and there is currently an enhanced welcome bonus until May 11 that gives 11 free nights for $20 total)
- with the hotel’s rewards program directly (a minimum of 9 points per dollar with Marriott if you have the card I just mentioned, or a minimum of 8 points per dollar otherwise)
You just have to understand that unlike the cash compensation provided under Canadian regulations (I’ll get to that), flight delay insurance doesn’t give you cash: it’s really just to reimburse the expenses you incur.
How to get the $500 or $1,000 for a hotel and meals
Be a savvy traveler and always pay for your airline tickets with a credit card that includes flight delay insurance!
Then, when a delay occurs:
- Keep proof of your delayed flight (original boarding pass, new boarding pass, photo of the flight information board with your flight marked as canceled or delayed, email from the airline documenting the delay, etc.)
- Call the insurer right away (it’s not always required to do this before incurring the expense, but most of the time, I open the claim right away)
- Check your inclusions (usually $500 for a hotel, meals, and transportation to the hotel, but sometimes transportation is not covered so get a hotel with a shuttle if that’s your case)
- Keep your receipts (you’ll obviously have to upload them to get reimbursed)
- Complete the claim within the required timeframe (usually 1 month, but every insurer can be different)
Depending on the insurer, they either send a check or ask where you want to get an Interac transfer during the online claim process (Amex cards). Yes, the whole thing can be done without even talking to a human!!!
I’ve never had any issue all 10 times I needed to do this, even for expensive hotels. And on multiple cards, because when I pay for my flights with points (as I very often do), I have to use that rewards program’s co-branded card to be covered.
But this tip, the most important one, is one you can’t use unless you planned wisely ahead and unless you’ve paid for your plane ticket with the right card, of course!
So it’s the most representative example of all travel tips: making sure a trip goes well happens BEFORE your trip, as always. With good preparation. Once you’re on your trip, it’s too late to start looking into how to travel more for less!
So make sure you are ready for your next plane ticket purchase by getting a good travel credit card now, and you’ll also get hundreds of dollars in rewards to make your next trip cheaper!
2. Get a free hotel night via the airline
As I said, this is obviously a less interesting option.
But if you didn’t know about our tip and a delay occurs, Canadian regulations grant you a few rights.
The airline must provide you with a free meal and Wi-Fi as soon as the delay reaches 2 hours. And they must provide you with a free hotel night (and transportation to get there) if there is an overnight delay.
But only if the delay is their fault.
Of course, no airline owes you anything if the delay is out of their control (like the weather — and most delays are caused by the weather)! They don’t control the weather! Why would they pay for your hotel if the weather prevents them from operating the flight?
Criticizing airlines is fun and all (and they often deserve it), but it’s not their fault if the weather prevents them from flying. Why should they have to pay? It makes no sense. They are airlines, not insurance companies.
So take your own responsibilities and follow tip #1.
But if the delay is their fault, Canadian governmental regulations are clear: the airline is obligated to provide you with a hotel (and meals).
Even at your departure airport. By the way, as soon as there’s a delay, you’re always entitled to a full refund with cash, as we have been telling you for years, if you decide that you don’t want to travel anymore.
But of course, there’s no guarantee that the airline will book you a nice hotel or that it’ll do it quickly. Because it’s not like flight delay insurance that just reimburses you: the airline will often pay the hotel (usually a very basic one) directly. You won’t be able to choose it or earn points for free travel.
How to get a free hotel night via the airline
Tell the airline you know your rights and that Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations require them to provide you a free hotel for an overnight delay if the delay is their own fault.
3. Get rebooked on another airline for free
Another little-known trick is that after 9 hours of delay, the airline is obligated to pay for your ticket on another airline!
That’s right! Not many people know about this pro tip!
However, this requirement only applies to “large” airlines.
In theory, all major airlines are classified as “large” airlines, but since this is based on passenger numbers and
the pandemic the government’s response to the pandemic has brought these numbers way down, Flytrippers contacted the Canadian Transportation Agency to clarify. Their website does not list which airlines are “large” ones (which would be useful information to post obviously, but it’s the government). To be continued.
In Sunwing’s case, they claim to be a “small” airline. It remains to be seen if that’s true. If it’s not, those who have been waiting for days at the airport could have made their way to where they were going by being the first to claim this right and by taking available seats on Air Canada, Air Transat, or WestJet flights to these same destinations for example.
And those who experience a long flight delay on Air Canada and WestJet (and other large foreign carriers) definitely can get rebooked on another airline for free.
Obviously, seats on other airlines are limited (especially to destinations where there are only artificial resorts and little “organic” demand, and which are therefore served by very few flights).
So you have to be quick and be the first to ask as soon as there’s a 9-hour delay.
Again, this Canadian regulation obviously only applies if the delay is the airline’s fault.
How to get rebooked on another airline for free
Tell the airline you know your rights and that Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations require them to rebook you on another airline at their expense when the delay exceeds 9 hours (if the delay is their own fault).
Obviously, and I know I’m repeating myself because I want you to hopefully really get this, it’s THE most important thing to be a pro traveler: you’re always better served by yourself.
So go to your airline having done all the work for them, it will go 10 times faster.
“Here’s an Air Canada flight (flight AC123) that leaves at X time to my destination. Please give me a ticket on that flight right now, as you are required to do by Canadian regulations. Thank you.”
Simple. That’s what you have to do instead of waiting 2 days at the airport. It pays to know the pro tips!
4. Get up to $1,000 in cash compensation
Finally, the best part about having a delayed flight is that at least you’ll get a lot of money.
And not just to reimburse expenses incurred like the $500/$1,000 from credit cards: it’s actually a cash payment that airlines are obligated to give you.
You get this payment on top of everything else; it’s a punishment they get for delaying you. So you would get a free hotel night (and the free points it gave you, if you paid with flight delay insurance) AND the federally mandated cash compensation.
The exact amount depends on the length of the delay and the airline’s size.
Length of Delay Compensation amount (CA$) Large Airlines Small Airlines
3-6 hours $400 $125
6-9 hours $700 $250
9+ hours $1,000 $500
Airlines being what they are, they’re never going to voluntarily give you that without you having to ask for it. And they’ll take advantage of the fact that so many people are uninformed to offer crappy travel credits instead of cash.
You’re owed a cash payment (but you can negotiate to get a travel credit worth more than the cash amount and doesn’t expire, if you prefer that).
Be careful, though!
This specific Canadian regulation is a bit more restrictive since the Canadian Transportation Agency, like the federal government, is excessively lenient and prefers protecting airlines over protecting travelers (contrary to what’s done in Europe).
Anyway… like we said, for the free hotel and rebooking on another airline, the delay has to be the airline’s fault.
But to get this cash compensation, safety-related delays are excluded (mechanical problems, for example). It’s absurd and illogical, but that’s the way it is.
So, of course, all airlines will always try to make you believe that the delay is due to a mechanical problem. How do you know they’re lying? That would be an excellent question to ask our dear government.
I’ll just share this: the evolution of one of my past Air Canada delays that went from “technical issue” to “weather” in a matter of minutes so that I was magically no longer owed a free hotel, once it was clear that I would miss my connection!
So this is a really absurd exclusion; in Europe, of course you get compensation for delays due to mechanical problems!
However, in the current case of Sunwing, it’s their fault and the issue is not safety-related, so they owe monetary compensation to each passenger.
So yes, a family of 4 who would have a 9-hour delay on a large airline would receive $4,000 in cash (or $2,000 on a small one)! Let’s just say it makes the delay a lot more enjoyable.
Personally, I make sure to travel more often, and this means I can celebrate (or at least enjoy) the free hotel and compensation when these things happen. It doesn’t bother me as much since it’s not like it’s my only trip of the year (or 1 of only 2 or 3), as it’s still sadly the case for many people.
So if you want to travel more often, don’t miss our ultimate guide with lots of free tricks to help you get over the idea that a trip should only happen a few times a year!
How to get up to $1,000 in cash compensation
Most airlines have an online form to make your claim, you have 1 year to do so.
It’s very easy to do it yourself. We obviously recommend that. For Sunwing, you’ll find it here and for others, come back soon for the more detailed guide.
But there will always be people who choose something more simple over something more profitable, so for that, we recommend Flight Claim.
This Canadian company will do everything for you (well, you’ll still have to upload your documents and give them your info, so you might as well do it directly with the airline yourself), but they will keep 25% of the compensation you get. If you don’t get any amount, their service costs nothing.
That said, airlines will sometimes do everything to avoid paying and then you can use Flight Claim to help you fight them, if you don’t want to do it yourself.
Want to receive all our tips for travelers?
When your flight is delayed for several hours, it’s very easy to get at least a refund for the hotel and meals (no matter the reason for the delay) thanks to credit cards’ flight delay insurance. You also have other rights under Canadian law… depending on the reason for the delay and the airline’s size.
What would you like to know about flight delays? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: Crowded airport (photo credit: Floris Van Cauwelaert/Wikimedia Commons)
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