Like millions of others, each year we travel home for the Christmas holiday.  We fly from Lincoln or Omaha to Albany, NY, typically via O’Hare, BWI, or Detroit, and the threat of winter-related flight delays or cancellations is a concern every year.  Over the last eight years, we’ve been stranded once, delayed a couple of times, and missed the trip entirely on one occasion.

We try to pad our schedule if possible, leaving on the 22nd, for instance, and always try to fly early in the morning, as doing so affords us a bit more flexibility; in addition, we don’t check luggage.  If Mother Nature wreaks havoc on the airlines, however, all our planning may not be enough.

There’s a solution, albeit a bit one that’s a bit of an unnatural act: if you absolutely must be somewhere on a certain date and are worried about the weather, an option is to buy a full fare, refundable ticket on another airline as a backup.  (This is also a great tactic to employ any time of the year if an employee strike is a possibility on your airline).  Let’s say you’re traveling on the 23rd, and absolutely must be at your destination sometime on the 24th.  Book your normal discounted ticket, leaving (preferably) early on the 23rd.  Then book a refundable ticket from another airline’s website, with an early departure on the 24th.  If a blizzard hits, you’ll be in a far better position to get to your destination in time.  If you don’t use the refundable tickets, you can file for a refund – even after flight time.

A few notes:

  • Not to state the obvious, but refundable tickets are expensive; you’ll pay at least double for them
  • (Of course), try to fly direct if at all possible!
  • Never check bags – the degree of flexibility you have will be decreased substantially
  • Try to avoid airports known for delays during bad weather – JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, O’Hare, etc.
  • Your backup ticket(s) need to be on another airline; your primary airline will likely frown upon speculative or “throwaway” ticket purchases

If your original flight is canceled, you ought to be able to receive a credit from the airline.

How about you? Do you have any tactics you’ve employed to make certain you get to your destination on time?  If yes, please share them by commenting.

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