If you are like most people, you probably book your flights 3+ months out for any type of big trip or vacation. If you are using miles, you might even book earlier, as in my experience the more time I give myself to find a flight using miles, the more likely I’m able to get the flights I want for free. However, the downside (or upside to some) of booking early is there is a greater chance of a schedule change for your flight.
In some cases, the schedule change might actually benefit you. If you’re in no rush to get to your destination, an extra hour to sleep in and avoid that 6am flight sounds lovely. Unfortunately, I’ve had more bad schedules changes than good ones but here are two key takeaways to remember when dealing with a schedule change, especially ones not in your favor.
1) The Ability to Switch to a Better Flight
When you purchase a flight, your overall objective might be to secure the cheapest flight so you agree to take a flight that maybe gets in later in the day after dinnertime even though you’d really prefer to get there mid-afternoon so you can enjoy a little time on the beach. Sp you booked the cheaper flight that gets in later about 5 months ago but guess what – you just got an email from the airline that now you will arrive about an hour later. It’s time to make this schedule change go from a negative to a positive by asking the airline to schedule you on the best flight for you to your destination.
I actually had this exact issue happen to me for our flight to Alaska last month. We were initially booked on a 12pm flight (using miles) on United leaving JFK that connected in San Francisco to a flight to Anchorage that would get us in around 7pm. I got a notification that the San Francisco to Anchorage leg changed to two hours later, now causing a 3.5 hour layover and an arrival in Anchorage after 9pm. We were meeting friends for dinner so this was not going to work.
I wanted to get to Anchorage even earlier and I saw a flight from LGA that connected in Chicago that would get us in to Anchorage at 1:22pm but there was no award availability. Some people would stop here and not bother calling but I’m here to tell you it didn’t matter there was no award availability. I simply called United and explained the new flight times from San Francisco to Anchorage didn’t work for us as I had a meeting “I needed to be at” by 8pm so I needed to get to Anchorage by 7pm to make this “meeting”.
Instead of letting the representative suggest a replacement flight for me, I told him I researched other flights and I would like the LGA-ORD-ANC flight and he had no issues putting us on it as he was manually able to open award availability for it. When we first booked our flights, that specific flight was not available on miles but the San Francisco option was so we chose that even though our goal was to get to Anchorage as early as possible. The schedule change by United actually allowed us to switch to a better flight for us (though due to a bunch of other issues we actually didn’t fly this route…that’s the next blog post).
2) The Ability to Cancel Your Flight for Free
Sometimes the schedule change is so great it doesn’t make sense to take the trip anymore, especially if its a short trip. Since the airline didn’t hold up its end of the bargain with the scheduled flight times you booked, you can request a free refund for your flight, even if its on a non-refundable ticket. For example, your return flight was moved up two hours but now you can’t make a “scheduled lunch with a client” so you can explain that to the agent and tell them you need to cancel the flight as a result. They should waive the $150 or $200 cancellation fee and put the money right back on your credit card.
You can also take this approach to cancel a flight that you booked that you don’t want to take anymore. This actually happened to me as I booked Andrea and myself a weekend getaway last December to Miami when I saw a cheap fare under $200 but as the trip was drawing closer, we both didn’t want to go anymore. She was working a lot and we wanted to enjoy the Christmas season at home together. Looking for a way out of this flight, I looked at the reservation and noticed the return flight changed to arrive 25 minutes later than scheduled.
I had my ticket (no pun intended) to cancel this flight for free. I simply called up Delta and explained arriving any later than initially scheduled would jeopardize an onward connection I had on another separate ticket so I needed to cancel this flight. They offered to put me on an earlier flight but I told them I had changed to an earlier flight myself separately, so they proceeded to cancel our flights for free! I might have stretched the truth about an onward connection that I would miss but it allowed me to get out of a non-refundable ticket for free.
One BIG PIECE of Advice – H.U.C.A
For a small time change in the flight of say under 20 minutes, it might be tough to convince an agent that you need to be switched to the earlier/later flight. Even if its a legitimate change of several hours some agents might refuse to change it still. Don’t let that discourage you. Follow the mantra of H.U.C.A. (hang up, call again) and you might get an agent who is more sympathetic about you being late to that all important “business meeting”. I’ve found saying you will miss something business related, family related or missing another flight that you booked on a separate ticket are the easiest ways to convince an agent why the schedule change doesn’t work for you and you need to cancel/change flights.
Leave me any questions in the comments!