When Are You Entitled To Meal Vouchers During An American Airlines Flight Delay?

American Airlines will provide meal vouchers when your flight is delayed more than three hours and the delay is their fault. If the cause of the delay is lack of crew, or a mechanical problem, they’ll honor vouchers. If the delay is due to weather or air traffic control staffing they won’t.

There are two elements to this: whether or not the delay is American’s fault (whether it is “controllable”) and the length of the delay (exceeds three hours). Both conditions must be met before meal vouchers are provided.

In my experience they’ll give you a voucher for $12, which is the same amount they were offering before the pandemic and concomitant inflation. You may not be able to buy very much in the airport for your $12. You probably won’t get a chicken sandwich at that price, and it’s certainly not going to cover the tip. It is, however, enough to get a check mark on the Department of Transportation consumer dashboard.

It’s clear when American is obligated to provide this. But how do airport agents know this?

Simple (or not so simple): the computer at the gate now tells them, but they need to know what to look for. They need to check whether the flight is “E”ligible or “I”neligible, and how long the posted delay is for. This should keep gate agents from providing meal vouchers when they aren’t requirement, but also serve as guidance on when to do it because they’ve committed explicitly in their customer service plan submitted to DOT and publicly available that they will.

On your next 3 hour delay due to mechanical, crew, or other availability that’s the airline’s fault make sure to ask for your meal voucher! At a minimum it’s much better than a $1.47 shelf-stable ‘Mix & Munch’ box.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I really don’t care much about a $12 meal voucher but it seems to me for all practical purposes the delay would need to be at least 4 hours.
    Let’s assume the delay turns out to be about 3 hours and 45 minutes. In this case, the GA waits until the 3 hour mark at which time they need to start boarding the flight. No time to distribute vouchers and no time to use said vouchers.

  2. Question: Do rolling delays count if they add up to 3+ hours from the original departure time? Or does the 3 hour clock reset with each new posted departure time? Ie: original flight departure time is 1p. First new time is 1:30p. Then at 1:35p the boards change to 2:10p. At 2:15p it changes to 2:55p. Then at 3:05p it changes to 4:10p. In this example, the flight was supposed depart at 1p, it had rolling delays to 4:10p making it a total 3 hours and 10 minutes late. Would that still require a meal voucher, or would each new departure time reset the 3 hr clock, making voucher eligibility begin at 7:10p if it didn’t roll in shorter increments between 4:10p and 7:10p?

  3. I’d say it depends on what the cause is. For weather delays, no. For mechanical or crew issue’s definitely. Unless the passenger is an unaccompanied minor, what is the problem for an adult to feed her or himself? Also for most business, delays are chargeable to the client for both time and expenses. I never take airlines hotel voucher. They are usually very bad motels. I’d pass. I had to spend Christmas Eve last year during Alaska Airlines meltdown in Seattle. It was Delta Airlines to the rescue that at least got me home on Christmas Day. The company I consulted for told me to stay at a nice hotel and find a nice diner because I couldn’t be home for Christmas Eve for their work.

  4. Is a cheap $12 voucher really that important to people? Really?! I just go to a bar or restaurant and buy what I want. Never asked for a voucher in 40 years of business travel and not starting now.

  5. Over Christmas, our AA DFW flight was repeatedly delayed. First for mechanical, then to get a crew, then mechanical again. At that point it was canceled until the next morning.

    We were provided the meal voucher (barely covered a coffee) then a hotel voucher.

    Since we had transited in from JFK on our was thru DFW to Bhm, we were given 2 hotel and taxi vouchers. Got to first hotel, it was overbooked so we had to walk to 2nd hotel. Got 3 hours sleep before we had to head back to airport.

    Then it was delayed again. We got coffee with the voucher but paid for breakfast ourselves.

    Shockingly we got messages from AA a few days later giving us 15k points for our hassle.

    All in all, it was something.

    The last time Delta delays caused us to miss a flight to Europe, no meal or hotel voucher. No apology and no points.

  6. Am I right this only applies to flight delays, rather than passenger delays? In other words, for example, does a controllable 1 hour mechanical delay that causes a 5 hour misconnect to the next available connection trigger any sort of meal entitlement?

    (There must be some sort of policy with regard to misconnects, since a controllable overnight misconnect presumably still triggers a hotel.)

  7. Learn to fast.
    Eat when you get there.
    Hold your beer in.
    Drink sips of water.
    Show some gratitude, switch off the lights and go to sleep.

    It’s just a few hours or at most a day. You won’t DIE without a meal or two.

    Practice some useful skills like patience.
    Learn to travel like a human being, instead of like an animal.

  8. In many AA flights I have never seen a posted 3 hour delay. I have seen hundreds of 15 minute at a time creeping delays including one that lasted 3 days. So don’t count on your free half of a chicken sandwich.

  9. Stand in line for 30 or 45 mins minimum for $12?
    Nope not going to happen.
    In my 30+ years and millions of miles I’ve never once asked for a voucher. I’ll either visit the club and if no club is available then just go buy something, at my own expense.
    For those asking about rolling delays, if it rolls past 3 hours from your scheduled departure time, then yes you’re entitled a whole $12. So you could have 6 30 minute roll and theoretically get it, but if bad luck is on your side, by the time you get back from using it your flight may be gone

  10. We just had a long delay on our flight from Paris to Denver on Air France. Our 1:10 p.m. departure ended up leaving at about 7:00 p.m. – we were on the first plane for 2 hours as they tried to fix some malfunctioning equipment, then decided they could not fix it, and we ended up switching to another plane etc etc.. As many readers may know, the European Authorities are tough on the airlines for such delays, and once we made it home I educated myself on what the rules were. As it turned out, we were eligible for $660 (600 Euros) each in compensation, plus about $25 for a meal I purchased waiting for the second plane.

    Air France’s web site has a page for filing claims, and we ended up getting paid within 10 days through an EFT to our Chase checking accounts. I was very impressed with the speed of the compensation — I had searched to find out how long it takes Air France to compensate fliers in instances like this, and I was expecting it to take around 2 months. Bottom line, we received about $1330 in US Dollars.

    Now if only the American authorities were as tough on the airlines as the EU is,

  11. Was in Chicago while back. Was to leave at9am .weather made that out to be11am. Then boarded and wow windshield wiper .motor quit.another delay. Then the weather again .now its5pm and was canceled .then told could get on another flight.why? Going to same place same weather as other flight. So I asked why I was transfered to a different flight because as use of weather but could take different flight to were the weather was the same. Just a different carrier. No one replied as busy with airport full of people wanting to get home where ever

  12. @JoeD – if the US had similar compensation rules as the EU tickets would be higher. There is no free lunch. Businesses would model the anticipated payouts for the year and build that into their cost. Personally I prefer lower fares for the 99% of the time something like this doesn’t happen. All about serving the majority of passengers instead of compensating a few for delays.

  13. May 14 flight out of Cabo to DFW overbooked leaving me wheelchair bound with my wife. Got sent to United with printout that our bags (2 each) were free. United didn’t honor and charged us $160. Got two $12 meal chits, a hotel and cab fare and United sent us to JAX, our destination, via Chicago next day. Only middle seats on one leg. Gotta struggle to get our baggage money back from AA. Fat chance I’ll use them again if I can help it. Been an AA member for years.

  14. I arrived in Phoenix from an international flight. After going thru customs my connecting flight was cancelled. I was given a voucher that didn’t even cover a bowl of soup. I was given no idea when I would be able to get on a flight but was told to get back to the airport by 6:00 am to get on standby. They did get me a hotel room that I finally got to before 11:30 pm. The shuttle from that hotel didn’t start until 7:00 am. What I loved about American Airlines was there was no apology and I was charged twice for a checked bag. I still fly American since usually the connections are better than with other carriers.

  15. Three hours of my time is worth orders of magnitude beyond $12.00. Don’t insult me with crumbs. A full refund of the fare should be required.
    Far too often, weather or alleged ATC issues are used to obfuscate the airlines culpability. It’s time we start holding airlines to the same standards they hold their customers.

  16. American Airlines flight from JFK to MIA 23rd June 2023, delayed 6 hours (until now..still waiting at JFK airport). Mechanical problem with a window..
    They said they will offer meal voucher after 4 hours (not 3 as stated in this article).

    They didn’t care much my hotel in Miami closes check-in after midnight (flight lands at 12:37am, so after midnight..). I may end up losing a $170 hotel night.. and wait for check-in in early morning.. thanks AA..

    I guess I won’t fly with AA anymore, I’ll keep using UNITED !

  17. Wow! Some of you are too good for the food vouchers! You must be so rich! Congratulations! We are all very, very proud of you, and I’m sure your mothers are proud, too! Just look at what you’ve made of yourselves!

  18. Really, Sultana? Thanks for the “advice”. Learn to fast! Go to sleep! Eat when you get there! Be grateful you HAVE a job! I mean Flight! Mmmkay. I’m thinking Sultana is possibly a flight attendant 😉

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