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Travel dilemmas 101: Planes, trains and automobiles

July 18, 2013 at 1:29 PM ET

Video: We’ve all been there: You’re all ready for your vacation, and then everything that can go wrong does. Lisa Gill of Conde Nast Traveler offers advice on how to deal with lost luggage, getting bumped from your flight, and other travel travails.

You've planned your vacation carefully, packed only the essentials, and double-locked the front door, only to find out that ... your flight is canceled, the airline lost your luggage and your hotel room is not exactly what you expected.

We have put together the best tips to protect your rights as a traveler, including how to get your luggage back, how to get your flight rebooked and how to negotiate compensation when things go really, really wrong.

If you get bumped from a flight
Airlines are legally allowed to sell more seats than they have, to hedge against no-shows. Most passengers give up seats willingly in exchange for cash or travel. Because this is a problem that just won’t go away, the Department of Transportation has raised the compensation for passengers who are bumped, or, in DOT parlance, “involuntarily denied boarding,” and requires an airline offer cash on the spot to victims — not just a travel voucher.

But some passengers are bumped from their flights before they even get to the gate. You're more likely to be bumped if:

  • You are the last to check in;
  • You paid the lowest fare;
  • You don't have an advance seat assignment.

Advice: Check in at home — from your computer or smartphone — the day before, and get to the airport early. Time solves many problems. If you do get bumped, make sure you know your rights. Not all airline employees appear to have gotten the memo that bumped passengers are entitled to cash, and they don’t always inform travelers of that info.

If your flight gets canceled
If an airline cancels your flight, it will either:

  • Put you on the next available flight;
  • Sign your ticket over to another carrier (especially international flights);
  • Very rarely, refund the canceled fare so you can book own arrangements.

Advice: Do not impulsively buy a new ticket, assuming you will be reimbursed by your carrier. Work with the airlines.

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