5 Things to Know About Airline Travel Alerts – The Points Guy

If you booked travel to or from Florida or other east coast destinations last week, chances are you handled a plane travel alert as Hurricane Ian headed south. north.

These alerts are common during hurricanes as well as winter blizzards and particularly disruptive sets of summer thunderstorms, and often cause airlines to relax their policies regarding route changes. Although they may be called differently from one airline to another – travel advisories, advisories, etc. – the idea behind these alerts issued by airlines is that they offer passengers greater flexibility to board new flights, postpone a trip or avoid cities in bad weather.

In the past, I’ve used the leniency offered by travel alerts to go on a trip 24 hours early to beat a snowstorm and avoid a connecting city where stormy weather was forecast. I also canceled a trip affected by an alert and claimed travel credits which I could then use for a future flight.

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Since airlines have generally relaxed many of their cancellation and change policies compared to before the pandemic, it is much easier to change a trip for free now, even under normal circumstances, that there is a few years. Today, the importance of a travel alert for your itinerary often depends on the type of ticket you have booked and its flexibility at departure.

At the same time, these alerts can give any traveler an early warning of impending bad weather, prompt you to change your itinerary, and help provide additional flexibility. So knowing what a travel alert means and how to take advantage of it will help you have the smoothest and cheapest trip possible, whether it’s now, a few days from now, or a few months from now.

A Delta Air Lines plane prepares to take off at Tampa International Airport (TPA) on September 27, ahead of Hurricane Ian. BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

A travel alert is a good warning

I often add my destination city – and even connecting cities – to my iPhone weather app in the days leading up to a flight, but an airline travel alert can also be a good way to know if your itinerary may be affected by bad weather.

Suppose you plan to fly from Providence, Rhode Island, to Cancun, Mexico, with a connection in Atlanta. If you receive a winter weather alert for Atlanta, it could warn you that the likelihood of a delay or cancellation due to snow or ice is high.

These alerts are often based on weather forecasts. They can be a warning sign that the weather somewhere along your route looks dicey and may disrupt your trip.

Everyone should be able to edit a trip

The largest US airlines have relaxed change fees in recent years, allowing passengers in most ticket classes to at least cancel and get flight credit for future travel, or change a ticket and , at worst, to pay a difference in price. The big exception, however, is that under normal circumstances, Basic Economy Class passengers on board American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines do not have the option of changing their journey.

That’s where a travel alert comes in: if your journey is affected by one of these advisories, even if you’ve booked basic economy class, you’ll usually be allowed to change your journey free of charge.

There is often no need to wait in line or call the airline’s customer service number. Check the airline’s application; you may be able to make a new reservation quickly on site.

American Airlines alerts in Georgia and the Carolinas for Hurricane Ian. AA.COM

Rebook the same trip or get flight credit

Some of the specific terms differ from airline to airline regarding travel alert policies, and may also change from specific alert to specific. However, on the three national legacy carriers, travel alerts often feature two general rebooking options.

If your trips are affected by the alert, you can usually rebook your trip in the near future, often directly after the weather event ends. If you choose this option, you may be able to rebook the same trip without paying a fare difference, as long as you are traveling in the same cabin. Read the alert carefully: it should specify which travel dates are acceptable for this option. You will likely need to book the same origin and destination cities you planned on your original itinerary.

Alternatively, you can often claim flight credit to use when booking a future flight. This is a good choice if you no longer wish to travel to the same destination or if this specified date window no longer suits you. Airlines will usually give you the option to claim flight credits for the value of your ticket. American, Delta, and United often give you a year to use these credits. One thing to watch out for: check the alert again to see if you have one year from when you claim the credits or one year from the date the original ticket was booked; you would hate to see those credits expire.

On Southwest Airlines, you can always cancel and rebook your trip with future flight credit, even outside of a travel alert; in fact, some higher-fare tickets are still eligible for refunds.

Again, these are general rules only, and specific policies may vary from airline to airline and weather event to weather event. So be sure to check the particular alert that applies to your trip.

A United Airlines plane waits for takeoff at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) in North Carolina. SEAN CUDAHY/THE DOT GUY

You are not affected by the alert? Keep checking

If you are not covered by a travel alert but are concerned about impending weather conditions, continue to check the airline’s website, app and your inbox. As the weather forecast changes, the cities included in travel alerts change.

For example, when Hurricane Ian began forming as a tropical storm over the Caribbean, airlines issued warnings for destinations like Jamaica, Grand Cayman and some airports in Florida. Carriers added dozens more airports to alerts as Ian strengthened and then moved north.

Changing forecasts can also significantly affect the dates listed under an alert, so be sure to bookmark the alert page and watch for subsequent updates.

Don’t Forget Refunds

Keep in mind that whether or not a cancellation or delay is “the airline’s fault” affects reimbursement for things like an extra night’s hotel or a meal while you wait for a delay. Generally, in bad weather – which is a common cause of travel scares – you will not be eligible for these types of refunds if your trip is interrupted.

On the other hand, if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you choose not to travel, you are entitled to a timely refund in accordance with US Department of Transportation policies. This even applies to weather-related disturbances.

Remember that if you accept the airline’s offer to rebook you or accept credits for future travel, you are not eligible for a refund.

If the airline cancels your trip due to weather and you want your money back rather than spending it on future travel, asking the airline for a refund is certainly an option available to you.

Flight information board at Tampa International Airport (TPA) before Hurricane Ian. BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

At the end of the line

Many travelers have faced travel alerts over the past two weeks as hurricane season upended many fall travel plans. Knowing how these notices work and how they can affect your rides can be crucial. This is especially true as Mother Nature will certainly interfere with the routes in the form of snow and ice storms over the next few months.

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