Rewards Credit Cards Ease the Pain of Air Travel Delays

For passengers affected by air traffic delays caused by the recent sequester-related spending cuts, some rewards credit cards helped ease the pain.

Sequester-related budget cuts

Budget cuts forced the FAA to require employees to take an unpaid day every two weeks, which effectively reduced the air traffic controller workforce by about 10% each day. Cascading flight delays and cancelations ensued immediately at airports across the country. Although all of the late and cancelled flights over the last couple of weeks can’t be blamed entirely on the furloughs, Congress moved quickly to fund the FAA and get the air traffic controllers back to work, in response to public outcry. Delays and cancellations beyond what is “normal,” are simply unacceptable for many travelers.

Although travelers in all classes were affected by the furloughs, it is a fact that those with elite status or other special privilege generally get better service than low-fare, bargain-hunting travelers and infrequent travelers. Airlines reward customers who are loyal to the airline, who take more trips, and who pay for a higher class of service. United is a great example.

The United MileagePlus Club card, issued by Chase Bank, is a high-level credit card that comes with many benefits. Among them – cardholders skip to the front of security checkpoint lines, get two free checked bags, and enjoy access to private United clubs in airports across the country.

Better customer service for Club cardholders

Even when purchased with a United credit card, not all United fares qualify for no-fee changes (award tickets generally do). But customer service representatives were quick to accommodate United cardholders during the recent travel delays while everyone else waited on longer lines.

Club members with tickets – even in coach class – on canceled flights were among the first to be cheerfully rebooked on another. “The Chase United card was a huge help during the debacle of our returning flight,” exclaimed one satisfied flyer. “My neighbor traveled on the same day. She waited 12 hours for a flight to California. She was going to a wedding. In the end, she got as far as Las Vegas via Denver at 4AM and went to a hotel, at her cost. We relaxed in the airport club for about two and a half hours, got on the next flight, and arrived home only four hours late.”

Standard travel and purchase protections offered to cardholders are far more generous than what bargain travelers can hope for. Weary discount travelers with no affiliation to the airline and no special club card in their pocket were, of course, accommodated to the extent required by law.


The fee for the MileagePlus Club card and all the benefits it offers is $395 per year (recouped easily by two travelers who check two bags each on two trips in one year). Some people with very high credit scores can get the first year’s fee waived; others might be offered a $100 statement credit after their first purchase.

The MileagePlus Explorer card is one level down from the Club card. The fee is $95 per year, waived the first year. It comes with two one-time access passes each year to the private airport clubs, and full or scaled down versions of most of the other benefits (one checked bag per person instead of two, for example).