To avoid taking financial losses from overbooked flights, remember these 5 tips.
Protest as you may, airlines do indeed have the power to deny you a seat. Overbooking is sadly an industry practice; and there may come a day when it happens to you.
Don’t start swearing (that just makes for an embarrassing Youtube video), just focus on getting your proper due.
Here are 5 tips for recouping your losses.
1. Secure a Written Admission
Retain all the relevant documents, such as your boarding ticket and luggage tags. You need to approach the airline counter in the airport, and ask for a written statement that you were unable to board.
This could be a printed letter or an email, but ensure it’s signed off by the relevant staff member – you may need to produce these documents, if you want to claim compensation from the airline (or an insurance payout) later.
Never accept verbal agreements (e.g. someone from the call centre assuring you that you’ll be compensated). Whatever the airline wants to communicate, insist on having it written down.
2. Don’t Accept Compensation for Voluntarily Getting Off
This applies especially if you’re flying within the US or EU.
In order to get people off an overbooked flight, airlines will offer compensation, which gradually rises until enough people have volunteered to give up their seats. Tempted as you may be, resist the urge to take the offers.
if you are forcibly told to get off (this means you are now involuntarily denied boarding), the airline must find an alternative flight for you.
If you fly within the United States, any late arrival from your alternative flight (defined as two to four hours from the original timing, for international flights) means you’re entitled to a compensation of either twice your ticket amount, or USD$675 (S$915), whichever is higher.
If you arrive later than that, the compensation rises to four times your ticket price, or USD $1,300 (S$1,762).
If you fly within the European Union, you will be entitled to food, hotel accommodations, transport to the hotel, and two free telephone calls or fax messages. The total compensation package is around S$400 for flights of 1,500 kilometres or less. For flights between 1,500 kilometres and 3,500 kilometres, this rises to about S$638. For flights longer than this, the compensation is around S$957.
Note that compensation for being involuntarily denied boarding is usually higher than what you’d get for choosing to give up your seat; hence our advice that you stay on until told to get off.
3. Stick to a Cash Refund
Some airlines offer vouchers as compensation. Unless you’re absolutely certain you’ll be flying again soon – and with this particular airline – ask for a cash refund instead.
Vouchers tend to come with a lot of strings attached. They may only be usable within a certain time limit (e.g. within the next three months), and restricted to certain purchases (nothing outside the plane’s in-flight catalogue, for example; and who wants the stuff in there so bad?)
Free gifts are often even sillier; you can be sure that giant stuffed bear or wristwatch they’re giving you isn’t really worth S$250, no matter what price tag their catalogue puts on it.
In this situation, insist on a cash refund to really ensure you recoup your losses.
4. Contact Your Travel Insurance Company
Your travel insurance company will need some documents and details. Don’t wait till later to make your claim; contact them on the spot, and find out what you need.
If you can’t get what the insurer needs (e.g. the airline doesn’t issue the kind of document they’re talking about, or you can’t communicate because no one can understand your language), let them know immediately. If things get too complicated, pass your phone to the person at the airline counter, and let the claims officer talk to them.
Always get the full name of the claims officer you spoke to. This will be handy later, if it turns out you were given the wrong information.
5. Don’t Forget Your Credit Card Concierge
Some credit cards, such as American Express cards, come with a concierge service. If you urgently need a flight home, and all the alternatives offered to you are too slow, try the concierge – sometimes, they’re able to get you a last minute flight that you can’t find elsewhere.
You’re not paying those annual fees for nothing – you may as well use those credit card advantages.
Try the American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer credit card. Not only does it come bundled with the aforementioned concierge service, you’ll earn 1.1 KrisFlyer miles per S$1 spent locally, and 2 miles per dollar overseas.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.