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You asked: What are my rebooking rights after a canceled flight?

Can an airline rebook you five days after your original flight? By The Way Concierge investigates.

(María Alconada Brooks/Washington Post illustration)

Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

I’m wondering whether there’s a reasonable amount of days an airline can rebook you from a canceled flight? Spirit canceled my flight last night and wants to put me on another one in five days! María Alconada Brooks, art director at The Washington Post

The short answer: The company can do that.

I asked a few experts whether there’s a law or rule hiding somewhere, and “there’s not,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Going, formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights.

When an airline has to cancel your flight, it will usually put you on the next available flight, said Brett Snyder, who runs the consumer air travel blog Cranky Flier and the travel planning company Cranky Concierge. But it doesn’t have an obligation to get you to your destination in a certain time frame. If Spirit gave you an option for a flight five days away, Snyder said that probably means there wasn’t anything sooner when it checked.

The only rules airlines have to follow in this case are to (1) get you to your destination eventually and (2) give you a cash refund if you don’t want to take the new flight offered. Of course, taking that refund may only be worthwhile if you no longer take the trip.

Air travel is a mess. Consider a travel backup plan.

“The issue is that booking a new flight at that point is going to be a lot more money,” said luxury travel adviser Ashley Les.

Don’t forget: Airlines won’t normally offer you a cash refund straight up; it would prefer you take a flight credit or voucher. If you want your cash back, you’ll have to request it yourself, and it may take time to receive.

I also asked John Rose, chief risk and security officer of the travel agency Altour, about your case. “Is a week excessive? Yes,” he said. “Have I seen it over my career? Yes.”

Don’t take it personally. If there’s a major schedule problem that day — such as a giant storm or the Southwest Airlines meltdown — and tons of passengers are left stranded, Rose said an airline really may not have any availability to get you home any sooner. Keep checking to see whether another option becomes available (a seat could free up), and if it does, call customer service and request it specifically.

This kind of issue is why Keyes avoids budget airlines when possible.

“It’s not cramped seats, or that they’re nickel-and-diming you on everything. It’s the fact that when things go really bad, … it can oftentimes be days until the next available flight to that destination,” he said.

Budget airlines have fewer flights than the big guys and might not have the capacity to clean up a scheduling mess as quickly.

How do the three new U.S. budget airlines compare?

“But what’s also true is that budget airlines don’t have inter-airline agreements,” Keyes continued. “When I’m on an American Airlines flight that gets canceled, … sometimes they might actually put me on a United flight to get me to my final destination.”

Both Snyder and Rose say it’s not uncommon for an airline to put you on another carrier’s flight if it doesn’t have one after it canceled on you. But it’s a courtesy, not a requirement. According to the Transportation Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard, Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United will do this in the event of a “controllable” cancellation, one the airline could have prevented; Allegiant, Frontier, Southwest and Spirit will not.

Spirit, a budget airline without those inter-airline agreements, does not have a reputation for going above and beyond in the name of customer service.

“The thing with Spirit is they don’t really cooperate with anybody,” Les said. They’re not going to put you on a United or Delta flight.

There’s no harm in asking Spirit for a flight with another carrier, but “good luck,” Rose said.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Send it to us here.

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