We all know the story. The tickets are booked, the kids have been wrestled into the car and you've made it to the airport. You double-check your departure time, only only to discover that you're suddenly all packed up with nowhere to go. Flight delays are a sad and unavoidable fact of life for air travellers. However, there's there's a silver lining to those clouds you were supposed to be soaring over 3 hours ago. There's a decent chance you're owed some compensation for that late take-off or cancellation.

If your flight's EU-regulated, a delay of over 3 hours could land you with as much as £500 in compensation. If you're delayed by 5 hours or more, you can actually clam a full refund. EU-regulated flights are ones that:

  • Take off from or an EU airport, with any airline.
  • Land at an EU airport, with an EU airline.

What can I claim for?

As always, there are some hoops to jump through and loopholes to watch out for.

To qualify for compensation, the delay has to be the airline's fault in some way. Staff running late and mechanical failures will usually get you something. Bad weather or long queues, for example, generally won't. These situations are called “extraordinary circumstances”.

If you don't agree with what the airline's telling you, keep in mind that it's possible to challenge them. It's not just about the money, either. Depending on your situation, you might qualify for free refreshments at the airport, or complementary hotel stays if you're kept waiting overnight.

If your flight's cancelled altogether, you'll usually find yourself with the choice of a later take-off or a ticket refund. In these cases it doesn't matter much whose fault it was. Even if you volunteer to give up your seat on an overbooked flight, you've still got the same rights. In the case of overbooking, of course, you could be in  line for compensation as well.

How to make your compensation claim

The other key thing to remember is that you've got to be careful how you make your compensation claim.

There are some dodgy firms out there who'll offer to chase it up for you. A few nightmare stories have emerged about these companies recently. Some people are claiming they've been threatened with court action over invoices they've never received for services they never even agreed to.

To make the claim yourself, it's best to go straight to the airline. Make sure you've got all the  details of your delay or cancellation, and make a point of challenging them if you feel you're being fobbed off. In the last resort, if you're getting nowhere you could always hire a specialist solicitor to do the hard work.

Holidays are high on the list of things RIFT customers splurge their HMRC tax refunds on. You've earned that time away, and the compensation rules mean a bad airport experience needn't ruin it for you. Don't forget to pack your toothbrush, bring your wallet and talk to RIFT about claiming next year's HMRC tax refund.

Find out if you're owed cash back by using our tax refund calculator.  It's free and gives you an instant estimate of how much cash you could be owed.  Need to file a tax return? Get a quote for our tax return service.