weather icon Clear

How to survive being stranded at the airport — without going broke

Updated December 26, 2019 - 1:23 pm

Traveling is my favorite activity on the planet.

But I totally understand why some people hate it — especially air travel. The cancellations, the delays, the crowds, the headaches; when it doesn’t go smoothly, it can be pretty miserable.

Luckily, over the miles and the years, I’ve learned some ways to survive being stuck at the airport — without going broke (or losing your cool).

Here are eight of my best survival tips.

8 Tips for Surviving Being Stuck at the Airport

1. Always Carry These 6 Things

Whether you’re carrying-on or checking your bags, I recommend never boarding a plane without these essentials:

— Airport food = bleh. If you’re stranded for long enough, you’ll of course have to buy some — but healthy snacks can tide you over in a short delay.

— Empty water bottle: You can’t bring liquids through security — but an empty bottle? You’re golden. Don’t fall victim to the $4 airport water.

— Warm sweatshirt: It’s like the universal law of airports and airplanes that they’re either hotter than Florida in July or colder than Chicago in January. If you don’t end up wearing it — but let’s be real, you probably will — you can use it as a pillow.

— Toothbrush and toothpaste: When you’re having a rough travel day, brushing your teeth can make a world of difference. Trust me on this one.

— Phone charger: Do you really need an explanation?

— Good book: Books don’t need power. So instead of fighting at the outlet with a bunch of randos, you can enrich your brain in your own space.

2. Know Your Rights

A woman checks the flight board at Tampa International airport.

Unfortunately, the most common problem won’t lead to any money in the bank: The federal government doesn’t require airlines to offer any compensation for a delayed flight.

That applies to canceled flights, too. (If you’re traveling to or from Europe, the rules are different.)

But even though you’re not entitled to it, you can still ask for meal, hotel and taxi vouchers, frequent flyer miles or airline credit. If you get lucky, the airline might give you something in the name of good customer service.

And if you’re unwillingly bumped because your flight is overbooked, you’re eligible for some big bucks: Arrive more than two hours late, and the airline owes you quadruple the price of your ticket, up to $1,350!

Curious for more details? Click here for a comprehensive look at airline passenger rights.

3. Be Nice

Look, I want you to be aware of your rights — but I don’t want you to be a jerkface about them.

Being stranded in the airport sucks, and nobody knows better than the people who work at the airport.

So don’t take it out on them. Be nice, be patient.

Remember: They didn’t wish this snowstorm or mechanical failure on you. They probably want to go home to their families as much as you do. The only difference is you aren’t getting screamed at by a merry-go-round of very unmerry passengers.

As hard as it can be sometimes, being nice does pay off. One gate agent surprised me with a business class upgrade on an overseas flight just because I was patient during a long delay.

4. Book Your Hotel

As soon as you know you’re going to be stuck overnight, get a hotel on the horn. Book for that night, and if it looks like a massive delay, a few extra just in case (after checking on the hotel’s cancellation policy, of course).

Thanks to the law of supply and demand, some hotels jack up prices as soon as they find out about travel troubles — so booking right away could mean better rates.

If you don’t find availability near the airport, don’t be afraid to venture further afield. With the proliferation of ridesharing services, staying outside the airport’s general vicinity can sometimes save you quite a bit of money.

5. Turn to Your Credit Card

A woman checks her credit card while at an airport.

If you paid for your tickets with a credit card, it’s time to read the fine print.

Why? Because you might just get lucky: Some offer reimbursement for travel delays.

My Chase Sapphire Reserve card, for example, reimburses the cost of meals and lodging when air travel is delayed by more than six hours or requires an overnight stay. The policy covers up to $500 per ticket for the cardholder, their spouse or domestic partner and dependent children under 22. (I didn’t get paid to tell you that, either.)

6. Jump on Twitter

Not getting any traction with the airline in-person or on the phone? Try social media.

It sounds crazy, but I’ve gotten excellent service by sending out tweets and @-mentioning the company. Even on occasions where I wasn’t having any luck over email or on the phone, they’ve responded to me quickly via tweet.

And I don’t think it’s just because I’m with the media either; even airline reps make the same suggestion.

7. Buy a Lounge Pass

Airport lounges typically cost around $50 per day and might seem like an exorbitant cost — until you’re stuck for a significant amount of time, that is.

That’s because they offer outlets, private wifi, showers, comfy seating, snacks and, most importantly, FREE DRINKS.

If you were planning to spend the next 12 hours posting up at the airport bar, a day pass to a lounge could save you a lot of money.

Lounges also have a dedicated service desk whose representatives can help re-book flights — helping you avoid the sisyphean lines in the main area.

8. Find a Quiet Place to Sleep

If you don’t want to spend the night on the floor (gross), Sleeping in Airports might become your new best friend. (Still not getting paid.)

This website reveals all the best nooks and crannies to rest your head, plus lots of other information that might help you survive your delay unscathed.

When my best friend was stranded a few years ago, I used the site to find a yoga room inside the airport — and she got a great night’s rest (for free!).

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
5 Las Vegas chefs to watch - VIDEO
If you want to know what’s next for dining in Las Vegas, we suggest paying close attention to these five accomplished chefs. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Slanted Door in The Forum Shops at Caesars - VIDEO
The Slanted Door, Charles Phan's James Beard Award-winning modern Vietnamese restaurant, will open a Las Vegas location on March 2. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas REview-Journal)
Buddy V opens PizzaCake at Harrah’s - VIDEO
Buddy Valastro, aka Cake Boss Buddy V, is in town this week overseeing the soft opening of his new restaurant, PizzaCake, in Harrah’s Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making mist-shrouded tuna poke at Marssa at the Westin Lake Las Vegas - VIDEO
E.J. Estrella, banquet chef at Marssa at the Westin Lake Las Vegas, makes tuna poke by mixing chunks of bigeye tuna with sliced green onions, julienned white onions and house-made poke sauce and serving it on a bed of seaweed salad garnished with lotus chips and suspended over melon-scented mist. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making baked goat cheese at Ri Ra in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Shea Wafford, sous chef and pastry chef at Ri Ra at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place in Las Vegas, makes baked goat cheese served with honey-nut pesto, pickled red onions, peppadew relish and sourdough baguette. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bruce Kalman cooking at Ada’s - VIDEO
Celebrity chef Bruce Kalman will be cooking at Ada's in Tivoli Village in Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making banana cream pie at Cut in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Nicole Earl, pastry chef at Cut at the Palazzo in Las Vegas, makes an updated banana cream pie by layering banana ice cream, custard and compote with house-made Cool Whip, vanilla wafers and 24-karat gold leaf in a milk chocolate sphere and drizzling it with warm banana-caramel sauce so it devolves into petals. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making Chile Colorado at Kitchen Table and Kitchen Table Squared in Las Vegas
Javier Chavez, chef/owner of Kitchen Table and Kitchen Table Squared in Las Vegas, makes Chile Colorado by braising pork belly with three kinds of peppers and serving it atop stewed black beans with crema and pickled jalapeño, carrots and onions, with flour tortillas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Black Tap introduces its vegan CrazyShake - VIDEO
Black Tap at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip has a new CrazyShake that's vegan -- The Black ’N White CakeShake. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri reflects on the Las Vegas dining scene
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri talks about the Las Vegas food scene while in town celebrating his 52nd birthday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Familiar faces among Circa culinary lineup
Derek Stevens and chefs Barry Dakake and Dan Coughlin talk about some of the new restaurants for Stevens' Circa resort project. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making the Ausser Rand und Band (Over the Top) bloody mary at the Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas
The Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas serves the Ausser Rand und Band bloody mary with Hofbrau Dunkel, vodka, bloody mary mix, a Tajin rim and a soft pretzel, slider, bacon, sausage and more. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Custom Pizza Truck is a 'kitchen on wheels' - VIDEO
Custom Pizza Truck serves pizzas in a one of a kind food truck that traveled to Poland and back. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @elipagephoto
Squidhat Records comes to an end - VIDEO
Founder Allan Carter explains decision to shutter the Las Vegas label. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kaiseki Yuzu relocates to Chinatown - VIDEO
Kaiseki Yuzu restaurant celebrated its move from Henderson to Chinatown at 3900 Spring Mountain Road on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Panic! at the Disco frontman opens studio for kids - VIDEO
Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie launches Notes for Notes at a Henderson Boys & Girls Club. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A sneak peek at the new Mas Por Favor in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Mas Por Favor in Las Vegas’ Chinatown is an Instagram dream come true with original art, an arch of skulls and one of roses. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegan menu unveiled on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Truth & Tonic, one of the two dining spots within The Venetian’s Canyon Ranch Spa + Fitness, rolled out its new plant-based menu on Friday. Executive chef Pete Ghione talks about the menu. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making lobster and avocado flatbread at Vanderpump Cocktail Garden in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Josh Grimes, chef de cuisine at Vanderpump Cocktail Garden at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, created a lobster and avocado flatbread that also has avocado-creme fraiche spread, yellow tomatoes, red onion and Hearts On Fire microgreens. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Riding the new 15-minute "Star Wars" ride at Disneyland
What it's like to ride the new 15-minute "Star Wars" ride At Disneyland (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Main St. Provisions is coming to the Arts District - VIDEO
Kim Owens talks about her new Arts District restaurant, Main Street Provisions, which is under construction. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Artist Wayne Littlejohn on “Spin Baby” - VIDEO
Wayne Littlejohn’s sculpture celebrates Las Vegas entertainers. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tiësto headlines CES 2020 closing party at Hakkasan Nightclub - VIDEO
Tiesto performs for CES conventioneers and clubgoers during the DreamlandXR Closing Night Party at Hakkasan Nightclub at the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip in the early hours of Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Locals cheer on James Holzhauer at 'Jeopardy!' watch party - VIDEO
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But James Holzhauer would have a better chance at winning “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament if Ken Jennings would stop copying his aggressive betting strategy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Drake's first show of 2020 at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Drake performs at the indoor/outdoor XS and Encore Beach Club at Wynn Las Vegas on the Las Vegas Strip in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Ceremony held for Elvis artist Trent Carlini - VIDEO
A ceremony was held for Elvis impersonator Trent Carlini on Wednesday night at The Space in Las Vegas. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Small appliances unveiled in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The small appliances on show at Sands Expo at CES 2020 in Las Vegas include a Keurig cocktail maker, autonomous cooking system, nitrogen coffee ampules and more. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Impossible Foods debuts Impossible Pork in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Before a packed press conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Impossible Foods executives introduced Impossible Pork, its newest product. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lady Gaga joins her band leader at his after-hours show - VIDEO
After finishing her “Jazz + Piano” show at Park Theater, Lady Gaga joined her band leader Brian Newman for a rousing version of "Fly Me to the Moon" during his show at NoMad Restaurant at Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip after midnight on New Year's Day, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Brian Newman rings in 2020 at NoMad at Park MGM - VIDEO
Brian Newman, bandleader for Lady Gaga, performs at NoMad Restaurant at Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip on New Year's Eve 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
US increasing coronavirus screenings among travelers

U.S. health officials are expanding their checks of international travelers for signs of a worrisome new virus from China, even as they say the risk to Americans so far is very low.

Visit US national parks for free in 2020

To encourage travelers to visit new places, the National Park Service will waive fees for five days in 2020.