- Most airlines make it hard for travellers to get compensated for flight delays and cancellations. Filing a claim yourself can take months even if it proves eligible for compensation
- Flight compensation brokers provide claim support but cherry-pick the cases most likely to receive compensation
- There is a way to get instant and guaranteed compensations on flight delays of 1-3 hours. To do so, you trade your very slim chance to get 350 EUR in 6 months for a 100% guarantee you will get 20-110 EUR now
This article is the ultimate guide on how to get compensated under the “EU 261 directive” which obliges airlines to pay out compensations on flight delays of 3+ hours, cancellations and overbookings.
To better understand your rights, we will first explain how compensations work. Then, we will say a few words about the different compensation options you have when your flight doesn’t go as expected. This will help you know what to do in case of a flight delay or cancellation.
The Unfair Fight For Your Right To Be Compensated
Let’s admit it. Most airlines make it hard for you to get your compensation. Yes, they are obliged by law to pay passengers for flight delays and cancellations that are the airline’s fault. BUT the EU directive does not explicitly state two very important things:
- What exactly qualifies as an “airline’s fault”
- When exactly they should compensate you (Weeks? Months? Years?)
Imagine you are the CEO of an airline for a second:
- Would you quickly respond to passenger questions regarding a delayed flight if you knew that many of them would give up on their claim if they don’t hear back from you in a few weeks? Airline companies are well aware that most people lack the persistence and motivation to keep on trying to reach them. Hence, airlines only need to prolong the claim process to save thousands of EUR.
- Would you tell passengers whether the delay was your company’s fault if you are not required to do so and if it would make them more insistent on their compensation? Especially knowing they can share this information among other passengers, resulting in more compensation claims towards your company. We should mention here that that only ⅓ of all flights that are cancelled or delayed 3+ hours are the airline’s fault.
Of course, not all airlines play dirty. Some companies will provide delay information and compensate you within a couple of weeks’ time when you’re eligible. If you’ve heard stories of people sending a single email to the airline and getting compensated within a week or two, you might be tempted to go with:
OPTION #1: Go Through The Whole Claim Process Yourself
How it works: You visit the airline’s website. You work your way around it to find their flight compensation form or at least an email to contact them on. This can prove hard, as airlines benefit from making it harder to claim. When you succeed to file your claim, you just sit and wait for the airline to reply. This can take from a week to forever.
Whatever you’ve heard, quick and easy compensation from airlines is rare. Most often they would say your claim is ineligible for compensation, as it hasn’t been their fault. Only, how do you know that for sure? It’s clear they have an incentive to deny all responsibility. And with no public information available, there’s no way to prove otherwise.
The reason only ⅓ of all flights that are cancelled or delayed 3+ hours are eligible for compensation, is that there are dozens of factors outside of the airline’s control — technical issues with the aircraft, airport strikes and emergencies, other plane delays, health problems with a passenger, etc. Not to mention plain bad weather.
If you’re starting to doubt that claiming directly to the airline is a good idea, ask yourself the following question: Do you have the time and energy to do it, even if they never reply to your emails or if they keep repeating your flight is not eligible for compensation. If the answer is “NO” but you’d still like to get compensated, you might want to go with one of the two types of professional services aimed to aid you in the process.
OPTION #2: Flight Compensation Brokers
This type of companies (e.g. AirHelp, FlightRight, EUFLIGHTDELAY, etc.) may help you get compensated, provided your flight belongs to that lucky eligible ⅓ of all delays and cancellations.
How it works: You visit the broker’s website. You type in your flight number and they tell you whether you have a CHANCE of getting compensated.
CHANCE here is a critical word. Let us explain.
Flight compensation brokers make you sign a PoA (power of attorney) which they use to represent you in front of the airline. If they succeed in getting your compensation, they charge a success fee of 20-40% for their service, depending on the compensation amount. It usually takes between a few months and half a year to receive your money, unless the airline refuses to pay it and the broker is forced to file a lawsuit on your behalf. This will typically prolong waiting for over a year in total.
What flight compensation brokers won’t tell you is that they cherry-pick their clients and cases, based on how likely they are to succeed. After all, they only charge a fee on their successful claims. Brokers also avoid cases that are more complex and expensive to claim. Of course, they would rather say you’re not eligible for compensation than admit helping you is worth too much time and effort. By focusing on the “lower hanging fruit”, brokers can optimize their profits.
To summarize, say YES to flight compensation brokers if you have no problem waiting an average of 6 months to receive your compensation and if you’re willing to risk ending up with no compensation at all, like ⅔ of all cases.
Say NO to flight compensation brokers if you want to make sure you would get compensated, whatever the delay reason. The way to do that is by using your third option.
OPTION #3: Instant Flight Compensation Products (Colibra app)
The alternative to claiming yourself / flight compensation brokers is Instant Flight Compensation. It works on all delays of 1+ hours and it’s provided by a new mobile app called Colibra.
With instant flight compensation you’re guaranteed an immediate payout on every flight cancellation or delay of 1+ hours, regardless of what caused them. As 1+ hour delays are 20 times more frequent than 3+ hour delays, this means you will get compensated a lot more often.
How it works: Instant flight compensation only works pre-flight. You register your non-delayed/non-cancelled flight within the app for free, prior to its departure. Then you use the app slider to choose the “delay pay time” that will trigger your instant compensation.
Choosing a 90 min. delay, for example, triggers a compensation of 40 EUR the moment your flight arrives at its destination with a >=90 minutes of delay. The flip side is that by agreeing to receive this 40 EUR, you transfer your hypothetical right to seek further compensation from the airline, even if you meet EU requirements (3+ hours of delay, caused by the airline).
In other words, whenever your delay doesn’t exceed 3 hours (which is usually the case), there is no downside. Such claims aren’t eligible under EU law but you still receive your compensation (e.g. 40 EUR for a 90-minute delay). But if your flight is 3+ hours late or gets cancelled, you would still get 40 EUR although you MAY be eligible for a bigger compensation from the airline.
Тhe Mathematics Behind
I know what you’re thinking — this “Instant compensation” thing must be a trick to pay you less for your claim. But is it really? Let’s see what math has to say about those two options…
- FLIGHT COMPENSATION BROKERS
Airport stats show that roughly 1 in every 120 flights is cancelled or 3+ hours late. Multiply this by ⅓ (the 33% chance your flight delay would be the airline’s fault). What you get is a 1:360 chance to receive 150-480 EUR (~350 EUR on average, after success fees) in 6 months (the average waiting time to get compensated). That is, you would need to travel 360 times to get 1 full compensation. Given the fact that most people don’t fly more than a couple of times a year, the vast majority of passengers will never be compensated for a flight in their lifetime.
In short: 33% chance of getting compensated 350 EUR in 6 months. But ONLY if your flight is 180+ minutes late or cancelled and ONLY if the airline is directly responsible for it. No bad weather, no strikes, no technical issues, no unforeseen circumstances.
2. INSTANT FLIGHT COMPENSATION
Stats show that about 1 in every 20 flights is cancelled or 1+ hours late. If you receive Colibra’s minimum compensation of 20 EUR every time your flight is 60+ minutes late or cancelled, you would get compensated 18 times over your next 360 times, instead of just one. This way, you would still get 18 x 20 = 360 EUR. Individual compensations are thus smaller but 20x more frequent, making the long-term financial effect almost identical to the one using flight compensation brokers.
In short: 100% chance of instantly getting 20-110 EUR (after success fees). No email threads, no waiting time, no questions asked. Up to 20 times more frequent payouts. Same money over the long run, different business model. This finally allows less-frequent fliers a chance to also get flight compensations for their delays.
SUMMARY: Whether you choose to trust a broker or Colibra, you can now see there’s no trick behind any of those two compensation options — just different business models. While flight compensation brokers stick to EU requirements to help a few lucky passengers, Instant flight compensation uses elaborate probability algorithms (very similar to insurance products) to make compensations more frequent and distribute them between more people. If we consider claiming yourself as the original innovation, we can look at brokers as version 2.0 of flight compensation — a lot more convenient for the end user, although far from perfect. In this sense, Instant compensation products are version 3.0 of flight compensation — easy, fast and a lot more democratic, allowing a lot more people to share their benefits.
Something important to consider when choosing which option to go with is how you want to manage compensation probabilities. Let us explain what we mean:
OPTION #1: Claiming alone
- Lowest probability (one person against a huge company = no leverage)
- Lowest frequency of getting compensated (1 in 360 flights)
- Highest compensation amounts (250-600 EUR)
- Average compensation per flight: 0.5-1.5 EUR
- You do all the work
- Time to get your compensation: 6 months on average
OPTION #2: Using a Flight Compensation Broker (after delay)
- Low probability (but this time you have someone to represent you)
- Low frequency of getting compensated (1 in 360 flights)
- Compensation amounts: 350 EUR on average (success fee included)
- Average compensation per flight: ~1 EUR
- Little work: Brokers take care of your case if it’s NOT complicated
- Time to get your compensation: 6 months on average, depending on the airline
OPTION #3: Using an Instant Compensation Product (before take-off)
- Highest probability to get some money
- Highest frequency of getting compensated (1 in 20 flights)
- Compensation amounts: 20-110 EUR (success fee included)
- Average compensation per flight: 1 EUR
- Minimum work: all you do is register your flight in a mobile app before take-off (only on flights that are not delayed or cancelled yet)
- Time to get your compensation: A few hours
Choose The Option That Suits You
To sum up, you have three options to choose from. Pick the one that best suits your context, your flying habits and your character. Here are a few examples:
CONTEXT 1: “My flight has already been delayed/cancelled/overbooked”
- “I am willing to claim myself and see what happens. I don’t mind writing multiple times to the airline” => Go for Option #1
- “I don’t want to deal with emails or airlines. Let somebody else do the work.” => Go for Option #2
CONTEXT 2: “I will fly soon” or “I’m a frequent flyer”
- “I am a risk taker. I will wait to see if my flight gets delayed and hope I’m lucky to get a nice compensation” => Go for Option #1 / 2
- “I want to do the least amount of work possible. I’m fine receiving lower but guaranteed and more frequent compensations” => Go for Option #3
As you can see, there’s no silver bullet in flight compensations. You have to consider what’s most important for you — effort, time, size, probability. You will need to compromise something in all three cases, but you finally have a good understanding of all the options available, with their respective pros and cons.
If you enjoyed this article as much as we enjoyed writing it for you, please share it with a friend who can benefit from it.
P.S. Has your flight ever been delayed or cancelled? Tell us all about your case, we’d be happy to give you a hint or two.