Ever Been Bumped Off a Flight? The Airline Could Owe You $700

Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder.

Traveling is full of adventure and fun — and often, headaches. If you’ve flown at some point in the past few years, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of delays and cancellations.

Though all are inconvenient, the most frustrating experience is being “bumped” off an overbooked flight, which happens most often around the holidays and other peak travel times.

You may have thought that getting bumped was just the price of admission for flying. In reality, though, it’s illegal for the airlines to overbook flights — and you’re entitled to compensation if it happens to you.

AirHelp, a startup based in New York City, is here to help you with the process of getting paid when you’re delayed.

Who Can Use AirHelp

If you’ve been denied boarding, or your flight has been delayed or canceled within Europe or the United States in the past three years, you may qualify for reimbursement of up to $700.

As outlined by AirHelp, the laws vary greatly between Europe and the U.S.:

For flights to and from the European Union:

Unless caused by extraordinary circumstances beyond the airline’s control, you must be financially compensated if your flight is canceled, overbooked or arrives late by three hours or more.

For flights in the United States:

If you’re denied boarding, you’re eligible for 200% of your one-way fare if you get to your final destination between one and two hours late, with a cap of $675.

If you arrive at your final destination more than two hours late, you’re eligible for 400% of your one-way fare, with a cap of $1,350. (You’re not eligible for compensation for delayed or canceled flights.)

How AirHelp Works

If you think you might qualify for a reimbursement, fill out a simple online form on AirHelp’s website or in its app.

You’ll answer a few basic questions about your flight: airline, date and time, why it was delayed or canceled or why you were denied boarding.

Once you submit your information, AirHelp immediately notifies you whether your flight is eligible for compensation. If your flight qualifies, AirHelp starts to petition the airlines on your behalf.

The company has a “no win, no fee” policy, which means you only pay if it wins compensation from the airline. If and when AirHelp successfully receives compensation, it will transfer the money directly into your bank account, minus a 25% fee for regular customers and a 35% fee for online travel agency customers.

What It’s Like to Use AirHelp

It sounds like a great idea, but does AirHelp actually work? I decided to test it out.

Since I didn’t think any of my recent flights would be eligible, I entered the information for a friend’s Spirit Airlines flight that was more than 12 hours late. Since domestic flights are eligible for compensation only if you’ve been denied boarding, AirHelp said it didn’t qualify.

Trying to assuage my disappointment, AirHelp asked if it could search my email for old itineraries that might qualify. I synced it with my Gmail, and 15 minutes later, I received an alert that it had finished searching. Unfortunately, I once again came up empty-handed.

Lauren Lowther, of Kansas City, Missouri, had better luck. This past holiday season, she’d paid a whopping $2,200 for a round-trip ticket to Paris to see her husband’s family.

When it came time to return home, she ended up sitting on the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle Airport for five hours waiting for a spare part; eventually, the captain announced they weren’t leaving until the next day.

When they disembarked, the flight attendant told them they qualified for reimbursement and even gave them information about how to get it. But when Lowther submitted her claim through the online portal, it was denied.

“I thought that was odd since they told us at CDG [the airport] we had the right to be reimbursed,” says Lowther. “So I submitted again and was rejected again. I know I tried at least two times — I believe I also tried a third. It just said, ‘Unfortunately, we are unable to honor your request.’ I was shocked, because it was completely their fault.”

Understandably frustrated, Lowther enlisted AirHelp. Two months after submitting her claim online, the company wired €450 (about $487 at the time) into her bank account — her compensation after AirHelp’s 25% commission.

Kate May, a Hajoca Corporation recruiter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also received €450 thanks to AirHelp — as did her husband. The best part? Neither of them had to lift a finger.

On their way home from a vacation in Denmark, May and her husband were delayed by eight hours due to an engine issue. They hadn’t pursued any reimbursement when, six months later, AirHelp contacted her husband.

“Honestly, we thought it was a scam,” she says, “but after researching it and providing a little personal information, we got a pretty big refund.”

It took a little more than two months for her husband (who filed first) to receive his reimbursement of €450, and then six weeks for her to collect.

Close to $1,000 for filling out a brief form? It sounds like a good deal, and May agrees. “While they do charge a service fee,” she says, “they did all the legwork, and that was worth it.”

As for Lowther, would she use AirHelp again?

“Oh, completely,” she says. “I would’ve had zero compensation if it wasn’t for them.”

In a world of rising airfare, baggage fees, and endless delays, it’s nice to see a company giving a little bit of power back to the consumer. The next time you’re bumped off a flight, you know who to call.

Susan Shain (@Susan_Shain) is a freelance writer and travel blogger who is always seeking adventure on a budget.