Middle Age Miles

Trip Delay – Flight Cancellation Because of Weather – Case Study & Lessons Learned

trip delay flight cancel cancellation weather what to do case study lessons learned
AA jet parked at DFW during a thunderstorm [featured image courtesy NBCDFW.com]

Introduction

Last Saturday evening (5/18/2019), Middle Age Miles was scheduled to fly from Denver (DEN) to DFW on American Airlines. Severe thunderstorms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area earlier in the day caused ripple-effect delays and cancellations impacting AA’s operations far and wide. Middle Age Miles’ Saturday evening flight was canceled, and ultimately we were able to fly back home to DFW on a very early Sunday morning flight.

We thought that our inconvenient experience would provide a good case study on trip delays caused by weather-related flight cancellations. We’ll review the sequence of events that we encountered leading up to and beyond our flight cancellation, along with the choices we made as the events unfolded. Beyond that, we’ll try to distill some lessons learned, to help you prepare for the unfortunate event of a weather-related trip delay.

Trip Delay – Our Sequence of Events

1. Paying for our flights

Our story began a few weeks before our trip when we decided how to pay for our flights. There were no reasonable mileage award options, so we’d be booking a paid fare. We needed to fly on AA, leaving mid-day on Thurs 5/16. We knew we’d be on the 3rd leg of back-to-back-to-back trips and would be anxious to get home as early as possible, so we booked our return flight on the evening of Sat 5/18 in order to have the entire day at home on Sunday to rest.

There were, of course, many choices of how to pay for our flights, including:

  • Our Chase Ritz Carlton Visa card (RC Visa), to get the Visa Infinite $100 discount on 2 domestic round-trip economy tickets
  • A different premium card with travel coverage and bonus point-earning for airfare, such as the Citi Prestige or the Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Another card with bonus point-earning for airfare but without travel delay coverage, such as the Amex Platinum card
  • A major travel portal to pay with Amex Membership Rewards points (MR), Chase Ultimate Rewards points (UR), or Citi ThankYou Points (TYPs)
  • AA gift cards that we’ve accumulated using credit card benefits

Let me stop here to reflect that we’ve been guilty in the past of not paying enough attention to travel delay credit card benefits when booking nonstop domestic flights. We have tended to think that the risk of a delay is small in that situation. Here, however, we learned a lesson. Especially any time when we’re flying to/from a place that might have weather delays (think DFW in the Spring, or Chicago/Northeast in the Winter), or when we’re flying at a time when weather delays might impact the airline’s entire network (again, like DFW in the Spring), it’s worth it to have trip delay coverage. Going forward, we will gladly forego a few points to have the trip delay coverage.

On this one, payment was a close call – use the RC Visa card to get the $100 Visa Infinite discount, but this would involve spending new money; or use Amex, Chase or Citi points. Note that we may be able to generate these points (especially Citi TYPs) cheaply enough that using points effectively results in even more of a discount than the $100 off.

We chose to use the RC Visa card and the $100 Visa Infinite discount. This was a fortunate choice, as it gave us trip delay coverage that would eventually prove to be quite useful.

Fortunately, we used our Chase Ritz Carlton Visa card and the Visa Infinite Discount flight portal to book our flights for this trip

Note that paying with Chase UR points or Citi TYPs would have also given us trip delay coverage. But paying with Amex MR points would not!

2. AA weather alert

Two days before our Saturday flight that ultimately cancelled (and shortly after we landed in Denver), we received a travel alert from AA. Severe weather was forecast at DFW on Saturday. AA offered us the ability to change our flight to a different date (a day earlier, or up to 2-3 days later).

We briefly discussed changing to a Sunday morning flight. But we wanted to get home on Saturday night so much that we decided to take our chances and not change flights.

3. Our original AA flight cancels & we re-book

Our flight was scheduled to leave DEN at 7:40 pm on Saturday. At about 3:00 pm, we got a notification from AA that our flight was canceled. Severe thunderstorms at DFW had apparently disrupted the entire AA flights schedule.

At this point we sprung into action. We knew that the bad weather had already passed through, and the weather would be fine for the rest of Saturday. And we still wanted to get home on Sat night if possible. We checked, and the AA DEN-DFW flight departing at 6:23 pm was still scheduled to operate. Even if it departed late, this was still our preferred option, to get home on Saturday night.

I tried to change our flight online but was unable to do so. Next up, I called the AA Executive Platinum line (800-843-6200). I was told that it would be 15-18 minutes to speak to a rep, and the automated system asked if I’d like a callback. Since I was in the car and would just be driving, I decided to hold.

This is a good time to mention that, when given the option for a callback, my experience has consistently been that an agent gets on the line in less time than the callback time. This time, it took about 12 minutes for an agent to join the call, but there have been times when the system quoted a longer callback time but I was connected to an agent in only 2-3 minutes.

Once the agent joined the call, she was able to easily move and confirm us on the 6:23 pm flight.

4. New flight is delayed and then cancels; we re-book for a next-day early morning flight and quickly grab the most convenient hotel

Eventually, we made our way to DEN airport and checked our bags for the flight.

This was a point where we made another important choice that turned out to be useful. When we arrived at DEN, we discussed whether to go to Timberline Grill, where we could use our Priority Pass for free food & drinks, or the Admirals Club, where we’d just have snacks & sodas for free and would have to pay for other food & drink. We decided on the Admirals Club. This turned out to be another fortunate decision given later events.

Not surprisingly, our 6:23 pm flight was delayed multiple times, so we were settled in at the Admirals Club for a long evening of waiting. At about 9:15 pm, AA canceled the flight. There would be no getting home on Saturday night.

Once again, we sprung into action. The first thing we did was see if we could re-book ourselves onto a Sunday morning flight. The only option available online in the morning was the 5:00 am departure (ugh), and there weren’t any other online options until after 4:00 pm. We decided to suck it up and take the 5:00 am flight. I re-booked online. The flight confirmed for us, but we were unable to select seats.

Next up was finding a place to stay. There’s a nice new Westin hotel a few steps outside the terminal at DEN. I checked, and it was available (wow!). I also quickly checked our RC Visa benefits and confirmed that we had travel delay coverage. The coverage is for up to $500 per ticket, and the trigger for coverage is a delay of at least 6 hours or overnight.

At that point, we decided to divide and conquer. I would book the hotel, while Philly went to the Admirals Club front desk with 3 asks: (1) select seats for our flight; (2) get a “military excuse” letter from AA confirming our delay/cancellation; and (3) try to get our checked luggage back.

In booking the hotel, I quickly checked portal rates, and it looked like Top Cashback would be the best deal at 4%. So, I went through the portal and booked a Member Rate. Knowing that we had up to $500 per person in coverage, I actually booked one level above the base-level room (at $256), in hopes of increasing the chances to score a nice upgrade. (This didn’t work; thanks again, Marriott.)

And of course, the night at the Westin would be a nice consolation prize for our delay and inconvenience. We’d earn Marriott points, including double points + 500 extra for a weekend night under the current “Double Take” promotion, plus hit the final stay for my “Exclusively for You” promotion, plus notch an additional elite qualifying night. And, we’d earn 3x UR points by paying with our Chase Sapphire Reserve and also collect about $10 via the Top Cashback portal.

As for Philly, she was successful on 2 out of 3 missions. We got great exit row seats together, and our bags would be delivered at baggage claim (they were on the carousel by the time we got down there). The Admirals Club agent wouldn’t give us a letter, though. I hope the trip delay claims administrator doesn’t give us too much trouble over this!

5. Getting home, finally

We collected our bags and made the short walk over to the Westin. We checked in at 9:48 pm, a mere 33 minutes after we received the text canceling our flight. After dumping our bags in the room, we went downstairs for a bite to eat at the hotel’s in-house restaurant, Grill & Vine. The food was good, and the service from Robert was great.

After a short and very restless night, we checked out a few minutes before 4:00 am, walked over to the terminal, and caught our flight home. As we were boarding, the gate agent called our names, and we were handed upgraded boarding passes for first class seats together for the flight home. Even though it was just a 2-hour flight, this was a nice treat, and we enjoyed the first class breakfast.

6. Filing our trip delay claim

I decided to go ahead and file our trip delay claim on Sunday afternoon, while it was top-of-mind for me. Claims for coverage provided by Chase cards are filed online:

We submitted a claim for $364.88 and provided the following description as the reason for our trip delay claim:

And we submitted the following documentation with our claim:

  • Westin folio for $340.88 (room rate + meal)
  • Charge from the parking authority for $24 (extra day of airport parking)
  • Screenshot of original flight itinerary from confirmation email
  • Screenshots of credit card charges for the flight tickets
  • Screenshots from FlightAware showing cancellation of each of the relevant flights
  • Screenshots of texts from AA regarding cancellations and delays

We received an immediate email from the claims administrator confirming submission of our claim:

Hopefully we’ve provided enough explanation and documentation for the claims administrator and we’ll be paid promptly without any hassle. For now, our claim is still pending (but it’s only been 2 days). Fingers crossed!

7 Lessons Learned

We definitely took a few lessons from this experience, and we want to share them with Middle Age Miles readers. For one thing, we undervalued trip delay protection. Assuming that the claim pays out as it should, this will have saved us hundreds of dollars in unexpected expenses (plus we will have earned some extra points too!).

Here are our own lessons learned:

Lesson 1 – If you’re flying to/from a place that might have weather delays (think DFW in the Spring, or Chicago/Northeast in the Winter), or if you’re flying at a time when weather delays might impact the airline’s entire network (again, like DFW in the Spring), it’s worth it to have trip delay coverage. This is true even if the flight is a seemingly-simple non-stop. Going forward, we will gladly forego a few points to have the trip delay coverage. One exception here would be if your work would be covering any additional expenses.

Remember, flights purchased using UR points or TYPs through the Chase or Citi travel portal do have travel coverage, including trip delay protection. Also, if you’re using airline miles or gift cards to pay, be sure to pay part of the charge (even if it’s just taxes and fees) with a card that has travel coverage. For both Chase and Citi, you receive coverage even if you pay only a portion of the fare with your card.

Lesson 2 – When you’re in a delay/cancellation situation, act quickly and use self-help as much as you can. If you can get online, either on the airline’s app or its website, you can get things done yourself much more quickly than you can reach an agent in person or by phone. In-person lines will be long, and phone lines will be flooded.

Lesson 3 – If you’re facing an actual or potential delay or cancellation situation, and you have access to your airline’s club lounge, go there to wait. The club lounge will have the shortest lines of anywhere, and agents in the club are generally experienced and extremely helpful.

We almost blew this one. I was tempted by the better food & free drinks at the Timberline Grill Priority Pass restaurant, but Philly talked me out of that and into the Admirals Club. This was a very fortuitous choice for us, as the Admirals Club agent was able to resolve our seat-selection and checked-bag issues very quickly.

Lesson 4 – Along these same lines, if you know you’re facing a potential cancellation, scope out your options ahead of time, as best you can. Knowing your options will allow you to make quick decisions when needed. Time is of the essence here, as many people will be scrambling for a limited number of good alternative options.

Lesson 5 – Be aware of your trip delay coverage. You don’t have to know the ins and outs of the coverage by heart, you just have to remember to look it up when it’s needed.

Lesson 6 – If self-help can’t get you what you need, try a two-pronged approach. Go stand in the line, and call the airline at the same time (using the dedicated line for your elite status level if you have one).

Lesson 7 – If you have to file a trip delay claim, gather your information as best you can and file the claim right away while it’s fresh on your mind. In this article, we’ve given you an idea of information you should pull together to document your claim. If it turns out that the claims administrator needs more later, that’s fine; you will have gotten the process started and be on the path to quicker resolution and payment.


All in all, we felt pretty lucky on this one. Despite the flight cancellations, we were able to reschedule onto our preferred (albeit very early) flight. We were able to get home with minimal disruption. We were able to book the most convenient hotel, and if everything goes as it should, we’ll be fully reimbursed for our out-of-pocket expenses (plus pick up some extra points in the process!).

We hope that this case study and our collection of lessons learned helps you out, the next time you face an unfortunate trip delay or flight cancellation!

Do you have any other tips for delay/cancellation situations to share with your fellow Middle Age Miles readers? Please let us know in the Comments!


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7 thoughts on “Trip Delay – Flight Cancellation Because of Weather – Case Study & Lessons Learned

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Thanks a bunch, Grant. Your review of the Westin DEN was good and I appreciate you sharing it. We certainly enjoyed staying there; just wish it would have been under more relaxing circumstances! ~Craig

  1. Claire

    Great advice, thank you! I missed the point of the military excuse letter. Can you elaborate on the objective of getting that?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Claire – Thanks for your comment, and good question. A “military excuse” letter is a term of art. Originally, as you might suspect, the military excuse letter was given by airlines to service personnel when their flight was delayed, which caused them to be late to report for duty. Important, right? This term has evolved so that it covers any situation where the airline gives you a letter explaining a delay. When you make a Trip Delay claim, the claims administrator typically asks you for a letter from the airline to document the delay. Hence, that’s why you’ll want to ask for a “military excuse” letter when you encounter a delay for which you’ll be filing a claim.

      I hope that explanation makes sense. Let me know if I can help further.

      Thanks for reading Middle Age Miles, I’m glad we could help, and I hope you continue to enjoy the site! Please share it with anyone you know who might be interested 🙂 Have a great Memorial Day weekend! ~Craig

  2. Ron

    You said Philly was unable to get the military excuse letter, but didn’t explain why. Did AA refuse to issue one? (If so, why?) Did they run out of paper? Congrats on getting yourself situated so quickly after the delays. Curious why you were upgraded to F? Are you high-status AA members?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Ron – Thanks for the comment, and good questions. On the military excise letter, the Admirals Club agent told Philly “we don’t do that” or “we don’t do that here” or something of the like. Philly didn’t press the issue as we felt it would be easy enough to get other proof of the flight cancellation. As for the upgrade, we’re both Executive Platinum so we were up there on the priority list – especially for a 5:00 am flight!

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, and I hope you continue to enjoy Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

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