As we head into the winter travel season, it's also the time of the year when bad weather takes a toll on travelers everywhere. When you've got kids along for the journey or are meeting family in another location, there's nothing worse than experiencing delays — or worse — having your trip canceled. Here are some of the top tips to keep in mind to make sure bad weather doesn't ruin your vacation.
1. Know your rights. The law clearly states what the airlines need to do in the case of bad weather in the U.S. Department of Transportation's airline passenger bill of rights, which outlines when you're entitled to compensation — and when you're not. Unfortunately, when it comes to weather-related delays and cancellations, airlines and travel providers are often off the hook.
2. Check cancellation policies when you book. Sometimes, it might be worth the extra money to buy a refundable plane ticket. You should also look at the fine print when booking a hotel room, cruise vacation, car rental and more.
3. Get travel insurance. It's a smart move every time. But be aware that some travel-insurance policies don't cover “acts of God,” i.e. weather disasters. Again, check the fine print.
4. Book with a travel agent. This way, you have an advocate to help you in a bad situation.
5. Book the trip directly. When you go through a third-party OTA (online travel agency) to buy your plane ticket, hotel room, car rental — you name it — you are often the last in line when it comes to customer service.
6. Book morning flights.They're less likely to be delayed or canceled.
7. Be smart about cruising. When it comes to cruise vacations, it's a good idea to book through a travel agent and to buy a flight through the cruise line. The cruise lines are very strict: If your flight gets delayed because of weather problems, the cruise ship isn't going to wait for you. But if you buy your airfare through the cruise line, they will be more inclined to help get you to the next port if you miss the start of the trip because of an airline delay.
8. Fly in early. If you need to be somewhere (a cruise, a family reunion) consider flying in the day before or more, just in case you encounter any flight delays. The cruise ship isn't going to wait for you.
9. Sign up for your airline’s flight notification system. Many airlines will send you an email or text about a delay.
10. Watch the forecast.Check out the weather in your departure and destination city before you leave home, not to mention any city you're flying through. This will allow you to troubleshoot and contact your airline if there are potential delays.
11. Carry on. If possible, don’t check bags. But if you can't avoid it, make sure you have a change of clothes for everyone in the family in your carry-on, as well as any necessary supplies for the kids (bottles, medicine).
1. Mobilize quickly in the face of a delay. Look into rebooking policies; see what your airline can do. Give any travel providers in your destination a heads up.
2. Call the help line immediately. If you're flying and your flight is delayed, call the airline, in addition to getting in line at the airport. Another tip: If you can't get through by phone, find the airline's global customer-service numbers. You might be able to get help by calling an Australian help center. Or if you speak Spanish, try the Spanish-language line.
3. Act fast with hotels. If you're going to be delayed and stuck somewhere, get on the phone right away to book a room. The last thing you want is to be competing with other stranded travelers for space at sold-out airport hotels.
4. Check with the cruise line. When it comes to weather delays that impact a ship — like the ship has to be diverted because of a hurricane or the weather is too bad to dock — you usually just need to go along for the ride. Some cruise lines will compensate you for major changes or cancellations, but it's not a guarantee.
5. Use social media to your advantage. Announce to the world that you need help on Twitter or Facebook. Airlines and other travel providers constantly monitor social media.
6. Always travel with cash. Cash is king in a bad situation. Think about it: What if the electricity goes out and credit card machines and ATMs go down or ATMs run out of money?
7. Bring a car charger. It's a clever way to recharge your devices if the electricity goes out.
8. Get creative. If you need to get out of the way of a storm, think about renting a car and driving or taking a train or bus instead of flying. Or if you want to fly home, but flights are sold out, think about flying somewhere nearby or somewhere that is out of harm's way. A great app to check out is Next Flight: It helps find alternative flights, which can be useful when talking to an airline agent. One important note: If you buy a flight on another airline, ask the original carrier to endorse your ticket to save you a fare increase.
9. Ask for assistance. Even though the airlines aren’t legally required to do much if your flight is canceled because of weather, you should still ask for a meal or hotel voucher. You never know when they will pony up.
10. See if your credit card can help. You might be surprised by what your credit card can do in the case of travel cancellations and delays, not to mention lost luggage. It's often better than what the airlines will do.
11. Stay calm. Maintaining a positive attitude is especially important when you're traveling with kids. And whatever you do, don't yell at the airline employees. It won't help get you anywhere other than in trouble.