Air travel is becoming as ubiquitous as taking a bus or train — which means it no longer has its traditional mystique. But some mysteries still persist 35,000 feet in the air. There are plenty of things airlines don’t want you to know about flying. Are nonrefundable tickets really nonrefundable? What should you do if your airline cancels your flight? Do free upgrades exist? And how do you actually score the best deals on tickets?
We found all of those answers — and more — to help you become an informed, efficient, and economical passenger.
1. Did you get bumped from your flight? Only take cash, never a voucher
Chances are good that every flight you take these days is overbooked. Airlines need planes that are at least 85% full to start making a profit on airfare. And they won’t consistently achieve that level if they don’t account for missed connections, people oversleeping, or simply choosing not to show. You’ve likely heard a gate agent announce that the airline is offering vouchers when a flight has too many checked-in passengers. Most times, that takes care of the problem. But don’t take those vouchers yourself.
Only about 10% of people get bumped against their will. If that happens, the airline will have to pay up (unless it can still get you to your destination on time.) If you’re involuntarily delayed for two hours or more, the Department of Transportation requires that you’re compensated up to 400% of your ticket value. Compensation is capped at $1,300. If the gate agent or customer service rep places you on another airline, you aren’t required to pay anything extra for your seat or baggage. (In-flight food, beverages, and entertainment don’t apply.)