The Guide to United Flight Delay Compensation

United isn't required to compensate for delays unless you're flying from or within the European Union.
Carissa Rawson
By Carissa Rawson 

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No one likes it when their flight is delayed. Whether it's been 30 minutes or 3 hours, the inconvenience of wasting your time is never a fun experience. However, in some cases, you may be entitled to compensation if your flight ends up being late.

Let's look at flight delay compensation on United Airlines and six things to know when you end up on the wrong side of the schedule.

6 things to know about United's delayed flight compensation

1. You may not be entitled to anything

As it stands, there is currently no protection for travelers when their flights are delayed. According to the Department of Transportation, you will be entitled to a cash refund if your flight has been canceled or "significantly delayed," — but there is no definition for what entails a significant delay. This leaves interpretation entirely up to the airlines.

However, in early August 2022, the Department of Transportation announced a proposed rule that would define the meaning of a significant delay. If passed, you'll be entitled to a refund if these delays occur:

  • A change in arrival or departure time of three hours for domestic flights.

  • A change in arrival or departure times of six hours for international flights.

Note that these changes still don't include any other types of compensation if your flight is delayed — just a refund.

2. United can offer multiple types of compensation

Although the DOT doesn't require that airlines — including United — provide you with any compensation if your flight is delayed, that doesn't mean you won't receive anything. Many airlines, including United, will provide compensation as a gesture of goodwill.

The types of compensation you can expect will vary based on the delay you're experiencing. If, for example, your delay means you'll be leaving the next day, you may be able to ask for vouchers for a hotel and meals.

Other types of compensation that may be available include vouchers for future flights with United or a lump-sum deposit of bonus miles.

3. Delayed flights to or from the European Union may entitle you to cash

While the U.S. doesn't protect passengers from delayed flights, the EU — in most circumstances — does. Any flight within the European Union is protected by EU261, which guarantees compensation if your flight is delayed (if the delay is for a reason that's within the airline's control — such as mechanical issues). This is true whether you're flying on a European airline or a U.S. carrier, such as United. EU261 also protect passengers on flights departing from the EU, no matter the airline.

Though, for flights headed for the EU but departing from elsewhere, EU261 only protects passengers on EU airlines (in which case you're not entitled to compensation if you flew United, for example).

If your flight is covered, the amount you're entitled to will depend on how much you're delayed and how far your flight travels.

Flight length

Amount of delay


1,500 kilometers or less

Two or more hours.

250 Euros ($252).

Flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers

Three or more hours.

400 Euros ($403).

Flights longer than 3,500 kilometers

Four or more hours.

600 Euros ($605).

4. Be smart about how you ask

We've all seen those nightmarishly long lines at customer service desks in the airport when irregular operations occur. While it may seem like a good idea to get in line, there may not be a need.

Airport customer service desks aren't the only ones that can help you with your flight. You can also opt to call the airline and ask for help. This can be especially helpful if you have elite status with United. Premier 1Ks, for example, have access to a dedicated phone line that can be much faster than standing in a queue at the airport.

5. You may be able to switch airlines

This tip isn't explicitly related to flight delay compensation, but it may help you get to where you're going more quickly. Many airlines have agreements with other flight providers allowing them to book seats on their flights.

Let's say, for example, that you have a United flight booked from San Francisco to San Diego. However, the flight has been delayed several times, and all United's other flights for the day are booked solid.

When checking other flights out of San Francisco, you see an Alaska Airlines flight departing soon — and it still has seats for sale. You can head to United's customer service desk and ask them to put you on the Alaska flight. They can do so without you needing to leave security or pay additional costs, even if the last-minute seat is costly.

While this isn't a form of compensation, it will get you home sooner than flying with United.

🤓Nerdy Tip

You may still be entitled to original routing credit (ORC), allowing you to earn credit (including award miles and elite status credit) for your United flight even if you flew with another airline.

6. Check your credit card for trip delay insurance

While United doesn't have to give you any compensation if its flights are delayed, you may still be entitled to reimburse expenses incurred. Many travel credit cards offer complimentary trip delay insurance. (See credit cards with travel insurance.)

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

The Chase Sapphire Reserve®, for example, will provide you with up to $500 for reasonable expenses incurred by a delay of more than six hours or an overnight stay. You'll need to have paid for some or all of your trip to be eligible for coverage.

Reasonable expenses include:

  • Food.

  • Lodging

  • Medications.

  • Toiletries.

  • Other personal use items you may need.

United Airlines flight delay compensation recapped

Airlines aren't required to compensate you in the event of delays unless it's significant enough to require a refund. That doesn't mean that you're out of luck, however. Many airlines, United included, will provide compensation such as food vouchers and accommodation if your flight is delayed.

You may also be entitled to cash if your flight is leaving from Europe (or is within Europe) and becomes delayed. EU261's passenger protections can grant you up to roughly $600 in cash if your flight is significantly delayed, and its laws also sometimes apply to U.S. carriers.

Finally, your credit card may provide trip delay insurance, allowing you to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses even when United won't.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

United Cards from our Partners
Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

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Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer Business Credit Card

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Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Chase United Quest Credit Card

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Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

See more United cards
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