Airlines have two main ways of providing compensation for incidents that go wrong, major delays, cancellations and other oddities: miles, or a travel voucher. In most circumstances, you won’t receive a refund for the ticket you paid for, but instead be offered an amount of frequent flyer miles or a transportation voucher.
I think for many people, there’s always a concern over which to take, and what the value is. To be honest, and to start off this conversation, it honestly depends on the value of your situation, and which you’d find more usable in the future. For some, frequent flyer miles are useless (gasp…), and they’d prefer hard cash to be able to use on a future flight. For others, the value of the miles far outweigh a transportation voucher, since they can use the miles to upgrade into Business or First Class, which has a much higher cent per mile cost than a coach ticket on the voucher.
Taking The Miles
The amount of miles you’ll be offered varies depending on the airline, depending on the circumstance, and depending on your elite status. With all three being taken into account, there’s a wide range of possibilities here. I wanted to highlight some of the compensation I’ve received on miles:
- 2,000 miles for a broken inflight entertainment screen
- 15,000 miles for a flight that experienced an emergency landing and subsequently a delay
- 20,000 miles for a broken business class seat
In general, my rule of thumb is that if the amount of miles isn’t over 10,000, I generally will take the voucher option.
If you’re close to redeeming an award but don’t have enough miles to complete the transaction, compensation of miles may be able to allow you to ticket that reservation. In addition, depending on the amount of miles needed to upgrade cabins, you may consider getting the miles to confirm an upgrade on a later flight, sometimes with or without a cash co-pay.
An easy way to get miles is by getting the co-brand credit card with the respective credit card, such as the Citi card with American Airlines, or the Delta Air Lines American Express card, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred card which can transfer into United Airlines miles.
Taking The Voucher
If you have an immediate use for a voucher, go ahead and take it. For example, if you have an upcoming trip that you haven’t purchased, but need to, the voucher might come in handy. Keep in mind that most vouchers will expire from one year from date of issue, and may include restrictions on the airline you can fly. If the voucher is on an airline I don’t normally fly, or that won’t help me earn elite status, I’ll generally take the miles, since I consider that more valuable.
I once received a voucher for a flight that actually had empty seats on it. While this is certainly an anomaly, if you’re careful, you can make the most in receiving them.
If the voucher is under $100, I generally don’t take it. While most vouchers will tend to start in the $250-ish range, I’m careful to ensure that the time I need to wait for my next plane doesn’t overvalue the cost of the voucher. Last Spring while flying from Chicago to Palm Springs, CA, I was offered $900 to get on a flight 8 hours later, albeit in economy (I was ticketed in First). I chose not to take the voucher, because I considered the time wit family in Palm Springs more valuable, though, admittedly, there’s still apart of me that regrets not taking it.
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