Is a two-hour delay worth 25,000 American miles?


When Maurice Woolman’s flight from Berlin to Madrid was delayed, he worried that he wouldn’t be able to make his connection to Miami, which was scheduled to take off 70 minutes after his arrival in Madrid.

His fears were justified. The delay lasted for two hours, causing him to miss the connecting flight and business meetings in Miami.

Woolman wanted 25,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles as compensation for the delay. Was he asking too much?

His story begins when he booked his trip through American Airlines, and he discovered that the flights were code-shared on Iberia Airlines. Realizing that his connection time was tight, he asked agents of both American and Iberia if 70 minutes was sufficient time to make the connection. Both airlines’ representatives assured him that it was.

But after Woolman boarded his flight, the airplane taxied to a maintenance gate rather than taking off.

“We were a captive audience,” he says. “We were unable to do much other than sit in non-reclining seats while they made repairs. Our departure was over two hours after pushback from the departure gate.”

When Woolman finally arrived in Madrid, the next Iberia flight for Miami was sold out. He would not be able to fly to Miami until the following day. Iberia provided Woolman with vouchers for a hotel room, meals and transportation to and from the airport.

Woolman also learned that the original connection time was too short: “Navigating the airport, poor signage, using elevators, an underground train, going through passport control, and dodging people in the duty-free shop is a minimum of 90 minutes at the best of times.”

Related story:   American Airlines widens its lead in the complaints department

When Woolman returned home, he asked our advocates to help him get his requested compensation. (Our website contains executive contact information for American Airlines and Iberia Airlines.)

American’s International General Rules Tariff indicates that when flights are delayed,

(a) any carrier causing such delay or in the case of a misconnection the original receiving carrier(s), will transport the passenger without stopover on its (their) next flight, on which space is available, in the same class of service as the passenger’s original outbound flight at no additional cost to the passenger; if space is available on a flight(s) of a different class of service, acceptable to the passenger, such flight(s) will be used without stopover at no additional cost to the passenger only if it (they) will provide an earlier arrival at the passenger’s destination, next stopover point or transfer point, or
(b) if the carrier causing such delay, or in the case of misconnection the original receiving carrier(s) is unable to provide onward transportation acceptable to the passenger, any other carrier or combination of connecting carriers, at the request of the passenger will transport the passenger without stopover on its (their) next flight(s) on which space is available in the same class of service as the passenger’s original outbound flight.


Iberia’s conditions of contract provide that:

Carrier undertakes to use its best efforts to carry the passenger and his baggage with reasonable dispatch. Carrier may substitute alternate carriers on aircraft, and may omit stopping places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. If the passenger should miss a connecting flight due to a reason imputable to Iberia, he or she shall be rescheduled on another flight which will enable them to reach their destination as soon as possible or, in default of this, be reimbursed for an equal amount to the price of the flight they paid, so long as no part of the ticket has been used, or the difference between the price paid and the fare applicable to the legs flown, if part of the ticket has been used.

We advised Woolman to log into his AAdvantage account online and file a complaint, making a short, polite request for compensation and omitting any mention of his lost meeting time, for which no airline, including American and Iberia, would reimburse him. Our advocate also suggested that 25,000 miles was a large amount of compensation to request for a two-hour delay, and that American was more likely to offer 10,000 miles in response to his complaint.

In addition, we suggested that Woolman seek compensation under EU 261 from Iberia. Passengers delayed on flights subject to EU 261 of over 3,500 kilometers are entitled to compensation of 600 euros ($713).

Woolman took our advice. American offered him 10,000 miles as a gesture of goodwill. But unfortunately, EU 261 allows airlines subject to its provisions to deny compensation to passengers when delays are the result of “extraordinary circumstances.” His request to Iberia for compensation was denied because the delay was caused by “circumstances beyond [Iberia’s] control” (although neither Woolman nor our advocates are certain of what these circumstances were) and because Iberia had provided him with a hotel room.

As a takeaway, if you believe that your connection time is too short, check airport layouts online for the airports to which you are traveling and determine the amount of time you will need to pass between gates. If the time is too tight, adjust your itinerary to allow for possible flight delays and time to move from the arrival gate to the departure gate. And if you need to request compensation, request it from the correct airline and ask for a reasonable amount. Otherwise, be prepared for the airline to deny your request.

Is a two-hour delay worth 25,000 frequent flyer miles?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • Michael__K

    EC 261 compensation is supposed to cover inconvenience. The only exception is for “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”, and the airline has the burden of proof to demonstrate such circumstances.

    By precedent, the bar for extraordinary circumstances is very high. Unless the delay was clearly prompted by air traffic control because of severe weather, I would be very skeptical of any airline claiming “extraordinary circumstances”, especially without any explanation.

    If there’s any doubt, the customer has nothing to lose by filling out the Spanish National Enforcement Body’s (NEB’s) Air Passenger Rights EU Complaint Form:
    http://www.seguridadaerea.gob.es/media/4411670/aesa_formulario_reclamacion_cia3.pdf

    The NEB can’t force an airline to issue compensation, but they require the airline to respond in writing to every complaint.

    If the NEB complaint doesn’t result in compensation or a very convincing explanation, the customer generally has nothing to lose pursuing compensation through third-party companies which litigate EC 261 claims in exchange for a commission taken out of your compensation.
    Compare your options before committing. Some of the companies out there include:
    RefundMe (http://www.refund.me)
    AirHelp (http://www.getairhelp.com)
    EUclaim (http://www.euclaim.co.uk/)
    GreenClaim (http://www.greenclaim.com)
    Claimair (http://claimair.com/)
    WeClaim (http://www.weclaim.com/)
    Bott&Co (http://www.bottonline.co.uk/)

  • Bill___A

    Although he may be entitled to compensation, I would not have made a booking this tight if I were in his situation.

  • Steve Rabin

    Maintenance issues are not extraordinary, and this has held up in the EU courts. The airlines will always try to claim that they are, hoping lesser informed people will just go away or not bother. But clearly the pax has a case on this one–I would recommend filing an EU 261 claim. American may try to wiggle out of it, but the reality is the pax bought a ticket from Berlin to Miami via Madrid on AA, and they are responsible under EU 261 for flights from the EU to the US. They may codeshare with IB, but it is up to AA to collect from IB, not the passenger.

  • Hanope

    So the poll makes no sense. Either the compensation of 25,000 miles is enough or not. Yet all the answers seemed to indicate it was sufficient (‘yes its enough or no, nothing more was needed).

    Second, never believe what airline people tell you on the phone is sufficient time at the airport, especially if you are flying into the US. You really need at least 2 hours at least at an international airport. You typically have to change terminals (from “domestic” to international), you have to go through passport control, and there’s almost always an extra layer or even 2 of security.

    I’ve done it on 90 minutes, but it was tight, and we made it only because we were familiar with the airport, our preferred status got us a “fast pass” passport line, and the security line thankfully went fast. But if we had any problems, or if our plane did the “tour” of the airport (i.e. driving all the way from one side to the other), and had to use a shuttle bus, we might not have made it. Honestly, I would have preferred more time in the airport to get a bite to eat and to get a seat at the gate.

    That said, I don’t know who you’d write to at the EU, but I would try and do something to get the compensation for the delay. I believe you are owed the money even if you get the hotel. Mechanical problem is not ‘beyond their control.’

  • Lindabator

    thy actually can be, depending on the situation, like a bird strike, which is an unforeseen circumstance which can wreak havoc with an aircraft, requiring extensive maintenance

  • Lindabator

    Actually, some are considered extraordinary, such as a bird strike causing damage requiring extensive maintenance repairs – the real problem here is a 70 minute connection

  • Lindabator

    again – bird strikes can occur, and are considered extraordinary (not the only, but best example) – and yes, they require extensive maintenance when they occur

  • KanExplore

    As a rule of thumb I do agree. But at Zurich I had a 45 minute scheduled connection this summer to the U.S., which I did make, huffing and puffing to the gate before boarding closed. For some reason there actually was no extra layer of security. If there had been, I probably would have been in trouble. In this case, if I had missed the flight and had to wait an extra day it would have been no big deal, and that’s when such an otherwise unwise connection is a viable option. I agree with everyone that he should pursue his EU 261 rights. Those 600 euros would be worth a lot more than 25,000 devalued AA miles.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    And Lindabator is probably right that there are other types of extraordinary maintenance issues that might come up (ie., solar flare burns out electronics or something).

  • Bill___A

    There are a lot of things the airlines do that I don’t like but as I said before, I would have not made a booking like this, and if I were forced to have a booking like this, I would have low expectations. Why did he continue on the trip if he knew he was going to miss the meetings? Go back home, join by phone if you can’t make it.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It’s better to say that “it’s extremely unlikely that maintenance issues constitute “extraordinary circumstances.””

  • BubbaJoe123

    The real problem here is Iberia being late. If Iberia didn’t think they could deliver on that 70 minute connection, they shouldn’t have allowed the passenger to book it.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Weird poll. My answer was “it’s worth €600, which is a lot more than 25k AA miles.”

  • SirWIred

    Looks to me like Iberia is trying the “Broken Plane is an Extraordinary Circumstance” dodge, which they aren’t supposed to, but keep trying anyway. Certainly the actual cash-money he’s due is worth more than even the 25k miles he’s asking for.

  • jim6555

    I agree that the booking time was too tight. When an airline sells a ticket for an impossible connection, they need to take responsibility for doing so. While searching for Delta Airlines flights, I’ve seen listed connections at the Atlanta airport of 30 minutes. Sure, such a connection might be possible if the connecting flight is departing from the same terminal that you arrive at and your flight arrives on time. You need to allow 5 or 10 minutes just to exit the aircraft and you need to arrive at the departure gate 10 minutes before the scheduled departure of your seat could be given to a standby passenger, If your flights are in different terminals, you could have a long walk to the center of the arrivals terminal, then you need take take an escalator to the subterranean level of the airport where you board a train that will take you to the terminal that you are scheduled to depart from. Then it’s the same process in reverse; a long escalator ride to the departures level followed by a possible long walk to your gate. Doing all this in 30 minutes is impossible and even a 45 minute connection presents great challenges. My opinion is that any airline or OTA that acts irresponsibly by selling a ticket for a connection that is impossible should be forced to provide generous compensation to the affected traveler and then be fined by the appropriate regulatory agency.

  • Steve Rabin

    I agree, but but I think what myself and others are referring to are the ‘preventable’ things, like routine maintenance that reduces the risk of later failure (and this is where airlines can skimp–by extending the time between this routine stuff). In the case presented, we don’t know what the problem was since Iberia won’t say, but since the plane didn’t take off it’s a good bet it wasn’t extraordinary. In any event, my statement still holds–they will try to wriggle their way out of paying if they think they can.

  • Noah Kimmel

    MX issues should not be considered “extraordinary”.

    70 minutes is minimum connect time, which is generally something only seasoned travellers should do. But removing that option would be disappointing for frequent fliers looking to shorten their trips.

    He could have booked a different combination of flights, though it might have been more expensive. Sounds like AA-IB did right by getting him on next flight and paying expenses and offering 10,000 miles (one way domestic flight off-peak). I don’t think 25k is justified. Fine to ask, but not unreasonable to get a no.

  • Noah Kimmel

    as a 100k+ mile per year traveller, I appreciate tight connections to make trips possible and more convenient (particularly in ATL!). But I know not everyone should take those flights. Airlines should try to be more transparent about minimum vs. recommended time, and travellers need to be aware of what they book and the implications of trying to make a minimum connect time (potential to miss if they don’t run, or worse if there is any delay out of the passenger’s control). The solution is better information for the customer, not restrict options.

    In this case, AA and IB did pay for his hotel and expenses and offered compensation in miles for the trouble. That seems reasonable to me.

  • joycexyz

    So, from now on, they’ll all be claiming bird strikes.

  • joycexyz

    And not schedule important meetings until at least a day after (maybe two days after) your anticipated arrival. I know, time is money, etc., etc., but you can’t control the flights.

  • joycexyz

    If it’s a bird strike or other extraordinary circumstance, they should say so and have to prove it. And yes, the connection time was too short. Need a couple of hours, at least.

  • joycexyz

    Let the airline prove it.

  • Todd Brown

    As I’ve said before, life ( which includes travel) is not risk free. The traveler should have built in time for inconveniences, weather, transfer time, a coffee or bathroom stop, etc. It’s not up to the airline to make that decision for the traveler. If the traveler booked, knowing that the transfer time was 70 minutes IF things went well, then the traveler assumes responsibility for any mishap. Second, there are 171 miles of wiring and five miles of tubing on a Boeing 747. The notion that maintenance issues are never extraordinary is absurd. If you want a risk free travel plan, buy your own plane, do your own maintenance, and fly it yourself. When you step into the world and rely on other people, things happen, and the relentless pursuit to find the person to blame is sad. Full disclosure, I do not nor ever have worked for an airline, but I do fly my own plane!

  • pauletteb

    I wouldn’t make a booking that tight changing domestic flights at most airports. Who needs the stress?

  • pauletteb

    And didn’t he have to go through customs too?

  • Gary K

    Passport control (exiting the EU) in Madrid yes, customs no. Baggage would’ve been checked and transferred straight through to Miami.

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