Does your credit card cover flight delay costs?
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
I recently had an evening flight rescheduled to leave two hours later due to problems at the airport my plane was coming from. By the time we got into our connecting city, there were no more flights out to our final destination (it was midnight) until the next morning. Waiting for the early flight would have meant missing a critical meeting and putting my job in jeopardy. So, we decided to rent a car (quite expensive) and drive the remaining few hours to our final city. The tickets were purchased on United with a United Explorer card. Does that card (or any card) provide insurance to pay for unexpected travel hiccups like this (to cover the cost of the rental, a bus/train or lodging/meals, etc.)? -- Timothy
Your United Explorer is either a Visa Platinum or Visa Signature. If you qualified for the latter, you're entitled to the suite of traveler's insurance offered to all Visa Signature cardholders: travel accident insurance (up to $250,000), lost luggage reimbursement (up to $3,000 per trip), car rental collision damage waiver, roadside dispatch and travel and emergency assistance service.
That last one would be your best bet for covering expenses incurred by a delayed flight charged on your card. Alas, Visa Signature does not cover trip delay or cancellation.
Trip cancellation, interruption or delay is one of three standard problems covered by travelers insurance, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. (The other two are baggage loss or delay and medical insurance and evacuation.) Most comprehensive travelers insurance policies -- the kind you buy specifically for this purpose -- would reimburse you $100 to $150 a day for taxis, meals, lodging and other expenses incurred because of a flight delayed by a storm or strike. Some policies also cover prepaid reservations missed because of the delay.
In this situation, you wouldn't have been any better off with a World MasterCard, such as the Chase Freedom or US Airways co-branded card. While World MasterCard covers trip cancellation (unlike Visa Signature) up to the cost of the trip, it does not cover travel delay. American Express allows you to purchase such insurance as an add-on and premium cards such as the Platinum ($450 annual fee) include it.
Is there a standard travel rewards card that covers trip delay? Yes. If you had charged your flight on a Discover Escape card ($60 annual fee), you would have been covered for up to $150 per day of food and lodging expenses for "a scheduled trip on a common carrier delayed over six hours." (The coverage does not include car rental, so you still would have been out of pocket there.) Discover Escape also covers trip cancellation up to the cost of the trip, luggage reimbursement up to $2,500 per trip and up to $500,000 in flight insurance.
If your flight was delayed by an "act of God," as a flight attendant once described my weather-delayed flight, the airline is not responsible for resulting expenses. (I had to pay for my own hotel that night, thanks to a storm.) However, if the flight was rescheduled for reasons other than weather or strike -- ie, the airline itself screwed up -- you might try hitting up United for your expenses.
See related: Credit card insurance perks: Does your card have you covered?
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