Sunday, April 16, 2006

It Can't Hurt to Ask! Part 1: Airline Compensation

One of the most prominent and useful pieces of personal finance wisdom is, of course, "It can't hurt to ask!" Whether it's asking for a lower price on a service you already use or a product you want to buy; getting a refund or a replacement product when something goes wrong; or myriad other things-- the rule is, if you don't ask, you won't receive! But if you do ask, you'll be surprised what you get.

One area where this has big payoffs is when you're traveling by air. Now, there are very few circumstances where airlines are mandated to offer compensation (at least in the US; flights out of EU airports have a whole list of guarantees for passengers, so look into those if you're a world traveler!). Unless you're involuntarily bumped off an overbooked flight, there's little that falls into the "legal obligation" category. Of course, it's not just about the legal obligations; airlines want your business! Unfortunately, many of the inconveniences of air travel are so common that you're unlikely to get much in return.

But, of course, it can't hurt to ask! I've been particularly successful in situations where my flights have been canceled as a result of mechanical problems. (If it's caused by weather, that's generally considered an "act of God," and it's a whole different story.) Twice in the last few months, I've received $75 vouchers from United because of cancellations. Both times, I was rebooked onto a flight about 3-4 hours later (although in one case, I called and got the voucher processed before successfully boarding as a standby on a flight about 1 1/2 hours after the original). Both times, I was originally told by the frazzled agent at the customer service desk that there was no compensation offered, but when I tried by phone all I had to do was ask and wait for them to verify there was indeed a mechanical cause for the cancellation, and then: "Okay, we can send you a $75 voucher for travel on United anytime in the next year."

So that's one circumstance where I'd especially encourage you to ask for compensation... but at the airport or anywhere else, don't forget, it really never hurts to ask (politely and respectfully, of course) in any situation where you've been inconvenienced.

What are your experiences with getting compensated for inconvenience while traveling?

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