Can stranded Allegiant passengers get compensation from their credit cards?

About 200 Allegiant Airlines passengers heading home from a summer weekend in Las Vegas found themselves stranded — for several days — when the airline grounded their flight to Oklahoma City due to mechanical issues.

The next Allegiant flight from Vegas to Oklahoma City was the following Thursday — and passengers were informed that this would be the flight they’d be rebooked on. Some opted to book other flights on other carriers (on their own dime) or on other Allegiant flights to cities close to Oklahoma City. But others had no choice but to spend extra few days in Vegas with $300 in compensation for food and lodging (and were left to pay out of pocket for anything beyond that).

In these very frustrating situations, you may have some help from your credit card. But only if it provides the right coverage. If you ever get stranded, here’s what to know.

Look for trip delay coverage in your card’s benefits

If your card’s benefits packet does not specifically list “trip delay coverage” as one of its benefits, you won’t be covered for mechanical delays.

Unfortunately, relatively few cards on the market include trip delay coverage (just 10 percent do, according to our survey). In fact, this is generally a benefit limited to the top tier of travel rewards cards.

If your card does provide trip delay coverage, you may be in luck because this coverage will reimburse you for incidental expenses accrued as a result of the delay (like lodging, food, cab fares and more).

Cards that include trip-delay coverage include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Chase Hyatt Credit Card
  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer and Club cards
  • Citi Prestige

Know when your coverage kicks in — and its limits

Just because your card covers trip delay coverage doesn’t mean you can immediately book the fanciest resort and reserve a table at the most expensive restaurant and expect to be reimbursed. Trip delay coverage has limitations, including:

  • The situations in which it kicks in: Luckily, “mechanical delays” are generally covered, but you’ll want to check. Chase cards with trip delay coverage mention it specifically as a covered situation (“A Covered Hazard includes equipment failure, inclement weather, labor strikes, and hijacking or skyjacking,” the terms read.). The Citi Prestige, meanwhile, covers delays that were “caused by the Common Carrier” (which would include maintenance issues).
  • Length of the delay: Your benefit won’t kick in for short delays. The Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, requires the delay to be at least 12 hours (or overnight). The Citi Prestige requires a delay of at least three hours.
  • Amount covered: In general, you can expect your card to cover up to $500 per ticket per trip. So, if you are traveling with a spouse and your kid (and therefore bought three tickets), you’d have up to $1,500 in coverage. You must also have used the card providing the coverage (or rewards earned on that card) to pay for at least part of your fare.

Follow the rules

Card benefits generally have deadlines for filing claims, so file as soon as you get home. You’ll also be required to provide documentation of your purchases, so be sure to save all receipts.

Alternative flights you book won’t be covered

If you decide you don’t want to wait for whatever flight the airline decides to rebook you on and purchase a different flight that gets you home earlier, your card won’t reimburse you for the flight you opted to purchase. Even if the airline books you on a flight that’s four days later.

Wait, shouldn’t the airline have to cover all this stuff anyway?

The Allegiant story is making headlines, not only because of the sheer length of the delay, but because airlines often do provide hotels and meal vouchers in the case of mechanical delays. Mechanical issues, unlike acts of god (such as storms) are considered within the airline’s control. So, while an airline may not get you a hotel and a meal during a snowstorm, most major carriers will do so if its plane malfunctions and can’t take off.

Allegiant, however, is an ultra low-cost carrier. And it considers mechanical issues to be out of its control. The Points Guy found this snippet in Allegiant’s Contract of Carriage:

Carrier shall not be liable for any failure or delay in operating any flight due to causes beyond Carrier’s control, including but not limited to, acts of God, governmental actions, fire, weather, mechanical difficulties, Air Traffic Control, strikes or labor disputes, or inability to obtain fuel for the flight in question.

So, according to the terms you agreed to (but probably didn’t read) when you purchased your ticket, you can expect nothing if the Allegiant plane you’re flying on experiences mechanical issues.

Allegiant is reimbursing passengers $300 each for food and lodging — whether that’s enough to cover everything depends on whether you found a cheap enough hotel. Other airlines would provide vouchers on the spot at a nearby hotel (if available) in a mechanical-delay situation, rather than have customers spend their own money and be reimbursed.

The bottom line

The chances that you’d have to call on your card to cover you for a mechanical delay are slim — and cards that even provide this coverage are rare. But, if you have trip delay protection, it can be an immense relief if you’re stranded for several days.

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