Whoever dubbed the holidays the most wonderful time of year must not have needed to fly home.
Still, there are things you can do to protect yourself in case of a major travel disruption, whether caused by an overbooked plane or the next Superstorm Sandy. Here's a look at some commonplace travel setbacks, and how to cope with them.
You get bumped: When you're bumped involuntarily, you don't have to take a voucher, says Alexander Anolik, a California lawyer who specializes in travel.
On U.S. routes, the law entitles you to a cash payment of 200% of the one-way fare, up to $650, if your new flight will arrive one to two hours later than the original.
More than two hours and you get 400%, up to $1,300. If the fare isn't on your ticket, the sum is based on the cheapest ticket sold.
Your bags are lost: When an airline loses your bag on a U.S. flight, it must refund bag fees and reimburse you up to $3,300.
You'll need to establish how much your stuff is worth, though, so photograph valuables, hold on to any receipts for new items, and file a loss complaint with the airline, also e-mailing the DOT at email@example.com.
Your flight is delayed: U.S. airlines are not obligated to compensate you when you're delayed -- though if you're stuck on the tarmac for more than two hours, they must provide snacks and water.
Take an international flight, however, and you may be better off.
People flying into the EU on a European carrier (or out of an EU airport on any airline) get meal reimbursements and, for delays of more than five hours, a refund.
Keep the trip on track
Flying isn't the only place you could run into problems. Try these strategies for resolving other common travel tough spots:
A missed cruise: Missed the boat because of an airline delay?
Unless you booked your flight through the cruise line, the line is not required to compensate you. Carolyn Spencer Brown of CruiseCritic.com suggests flying in a day early or getting an insurance policy that covers weather problems (most start at 5% of the trip cost).
An overbooked hotel: When a hotel can't honor your confirmed reservation, it's responsible for rebooking you elsewhere to avoid a contract violation.
Typically, if the new room is more expensive, your original hotel will cover the difference. If no better or equivalent room can be found, try asking for a credit for a future stay or another perk.