Tips For Maximizing Airline Schedule Changes

Airline schedule changes can be a blessing and a curse. They can be a curse because you’ve planned that perfect trip a year out, and then schedule changes trickle in that make it less ideal. For example, the minute the airlines opened their schedules I planned an A380 around the world trip for my dad’s “round” birthday this year, only to find that Singapore has downgraded our only segment on them from an A380 to a 777-300ER.

At the same time, schedule changes can also be a blessing because they allow you to make a less-than-ideal itinerary better.

General tips for dealing with airline schedule changes

There are a few general principles to understand when dealing with schedule changes. And as I provide these tips, please note I’m suggesting “reasonable” changes here. There are some people that think if they have a two minute schedule change they should be able to completely reroute, and I don’t think that’s reasonable. But when there’s a major schedule change I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some things from the airlines:

In the case of major schedule changes, airlines can open up award space on their own flights. While not all airlines are equally generous about this, typically when there’s a major schedule change an airline can open up additional award space on their own flights. That means if you were booked on a partner airline and their schedule changed significantly, the airline with which you booked should be willing to accommodate you on their own flights… assuming it’s a route they operate.

I find Delta to be especially generous with this, which is ironic, given how stingy they usually are with releasing award space.

Airlines typically can’t open up award space on partner airlines. Say there’s a big schedule change on a partner airline. The airline with which you booked doesn’t have a way of opening up award space on a partner airline. The only thing they can potentially do is contact the alliance liaison, who can work with both airlines to find an acceptable solution.

Keep in mind this gets really complicated and time consuming. Don’t expect this for a 30 minute schedule change or a swap to a less desirable aircraft (assuming you remain in your originally ticketed class of service). But if there’s truly not another option, this might be the best way to go. If you want something to be escalated to a liaison, I suggest asking for a supervisor, and then they can put in a request with a liaison. Note that it’s not done in real time, but instead they’re going to be sending messages back and forth.

With a schedule change you should be able to cancel your award for free. If nothing else, you should be able to redeposit your miles and get your taxes refunded in the event of a schedule change. This is why many people “hold on” to itineraries they’ve booked that they know they can’t take, since they hope there will be a schedule change and they’ll then be able to redeposit for free.

Typically itinerary changes as a result of a schedule change will be an “even exchange.” I’ll give an example of this below, but typically when you have a schedule change you won’t be charged any difference in taxes, and similarly you won’t be refunded taxes if they go down. In the example below I’ll explain how useful that can be.

Hang up and call again. Just like everything else having to do with airlines, you may have to hang up and call again. When it comes to schedule changes, some agents may not be willing to help much, and blame it on the partner airlines. Yes, it is the partner airline’s fault they had a schedule change, but ultimately the airline you issued your ticket with is responsible for the reservation. So be ready to hang up and call again — there’s not going to be much benefit to arguing, and it may even get you a nasty note in your record, which can never be undone.

My (positive) airline schedule change

Last week I shared the details of the US Airways Dividend Miles award ticket that I recently booked to Australia. While I miss US Airways being in Star Alliance, there are some great redemption opportunities now that they’re in oneworld, which aren’t otherwise bookable using American AAdvantage miles.

For the period in which US Airways wasn’t imposing fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways (which is no longer the case), I figured it was a great time to lock in travel on British Airways, given that there’s otherwise no way to redeem miles for travel on them without fuel surcharges.

So I redeemed 140,000 US Airways miles for travel from New York to Melbourne via London and Dubai.

US-Airways-Award

As part of Qantas’ recent announcement of A380 service to Dallas, they also announced massive schedule changes to their London Heathrow service out of Melbourne in order to reduce the ground time and free up an A380.

The old schedule was as follows:

QF9 Melbourne to London departing 3:15PM arriving 5:40AM (+1 day)
QF10 London to Melbourne departing 10:25PM arriving 5:25AM (+2 days)

While the new schedule, as of July 20, 2014, is as follows:

QF9 Melbourne to London departing 10:55PM arriving 1:40PM (+1 day)
QF10 London to Melbourne 1:30PM arriving 8:55PM (+1 day)

I had booked my trip under the old schedule, with a layover in London of just under 24 hours in one direction, and a layover in London of about 12 hours in the other direction. With the changes I now basically had a six hour layover in one direction, and a two hour layover in the other.

The London to Melbourne flight is about 24 hours, which is already a really long time for me to be disconnected. I really couldn’t justify doing a seven hour flight, two hour connection, and then another 24 hours of flying — that’s way too long to be disconnected from the internet.

As many of you can probably guess, the reason I kept the layover just under 24 hours was because if you connect in the UK for more than 24 hours, you’re charged the Air Passenger Duty (APD). Before a segment to Australia, that alone would be ~$327.

UK-APD

However, in the case of this schedule change, there simply wasn’t any way to preserve some sort of a 12+ hour layover without going over 24 hours, so they gladly gave me a stopover of more than 24 hours in London, since that was the only reasonable alternative without a short connection.

And because it was due to a schedule change, they don’t charge you the difference in taxes, which in this case include the Air Passenger Duty.

So in the end I was hoping for a longer connection anyway, and got it thanks to the schedule change.

Bottom line

With schedule changes you win some and you lose some, but it at least helps to know what you can do when they occur. There are plenty of ways to come out ahead when they happen without being unreasonable.

Comments

  1. Very interesting about the APD. My guess is that they must be eating the APD as I don’t think they have an option as to whether to pay the tax. If they do, Britain’s tax reputation is overstated.

    Another benefit of schedule change – if you want to cancel an award, wait a while to see if there is a change and then you can cancel for free.

  2. I generally love schedule changes on award tickets, because I’ve always been able to improve the itinerary as a result. I agree that this is an area where Delta is generous. I live in a smaller market where getting my connecting flight to ATL is usually the toughest part of the itinerary. So I’m frequently stuck with a 6 am departure with a long layover in ATL. But they change the schedule so often that more often than not I can call back after a schedule change – and get a better time. It almost seems like once you have the award itinerary ticketed, they have the ability to freely switch you to any flight.

  3. I recently had an award saver ticket from Whitehorse (YXY) to Vancouver (YVR) to Newark with a 6 hour layover in Montreal overnight. It was a terrible routing but the only one available. There was a schedule change to make my layover in Vancouver impossible, so United put me on a direct flight YVR to EWR the next day. It took a while on the phone but it was worth it. Now my award ticket has much more value!

  4. You are aware you get about 2 hours on the ground at DXB in each direction to use the lounge, correct?

  5. I got lucky once, I had booked HNL-IAD-EWR with US Air miles on United (because HNL-EWR was not available for an award) and my HNL-IAD flight was canceled. United automatically rebooked me HNL-SFO-IAD-EWR… but after a phone call they swicthed me to HNL-EWR without a problem.

  6. @ beachfan — My understanding of the way the APD is levied against the airlines is a bit different. The APD isn’t directly being passed on to the government, but instead the government charges the airlines based on the average number of people that they expect would pay it. So on a per flight basis they’re charged based on the average number of people they expect it would be levied on, as opposed to the actual number.

    That’s why airlines like Ryanair can actually make money on the APD, since most passengers traveling to/from the UK are actually originating or terminating there, as opposed to connecting.

    I could be wrong, though…

  7. You seem to have an infinite amount of points! At least more than the average person would get via CC sign ups.

    Just curious, do you pay for many of your flights? Or do you manufacture a lot of spend to get these points?

  8. I recently experienced a schedule change for my LGB-SLC-JFK flight. Originally, this route had me at an hour layover in SLC. Then, the schedule changed and the layover became 3.5 hours! I called Delta and they managed to change this itinerary to LAX-JFK for free!

  9. Hi lucky, you say the new QF10 arrival will be 1:40pm UK time, and the departure will be at 1:30pm uk time. How is this possible, unless they have it sitting in ground for a full 24 hours? Unless the a/c swap with the SYD A380?

  10. Hi Ben,

    Here’s a situation that’s more about a plane change than a schedule change.

    About two years ago I booked a first class Cathay Pacific itinerary with BA miles, something like JFK-HKG-TPE-HKG-JFK. A few weeks before departure CX changed the plane on the TPE-HKG leg from one with a first class cabin to one without. So I was downgraded on that leg.

    I looked at a bunch of posts on FlyerTalk and some people in this situation who asked for compensation received it, sometimes in cash at the airport, perhaps $200 or so.

    CX wasn’t willing to do that for me. I filed email complaints with both BA and CX and each blamed the other or refused to accept any responsibility.

    Any suggestions as to what else I should have done? I think I still have time to follow through with something. From a legal perspective they are certainly obligated to make me whole.

    Thanks!

  11. Schedule changes can also be handy on revenue tickets — maybe even more so, since you can often get a nonrefundable revenue ticket refunded based on a modest (3-4 hour) schedule change, which is arguably even more exciting than avoiding a fee to cancel an award ticket.

    Delta in particular has also always been generous to me with changes like, for example, I book a 7am departure when I would really prefer the 10am, but the 7am is cheaper. Then the 7am gets moved to 6am, and I call and say I wanted to go a bit later, and they put me on the 10am for free.

  12. Will this work for avoiding fuel surchages as well as taxes? For example, I have a Star Alliance award I booked with US Airways miles. Due to schedule changes, I now would like to fly on British Airways for the TATL segment. Will they tack on fuel surcharges or is there any way I can talk them out of it?

  13. @ Ben — You can’t be away from the internet for two days? You might want to rethink your priorities a bit. Life is way too short to work all of the time.

  14. Worked in my favor with avoiding Aeroplan YQ, when the booked UA connecting flight had a schedule change, I was able to switch to the nonstop AC flight without paying extra. I wonder if they would be as accommodating if switching to another *A partner like LH?

  15. @ mike – you’re correct. QF 9 from MEL returns to SYD as QF 2. QF 1 from SYD will return as QF 10 to MEL.

  16. Schedule changes have always resulted in good things for me. A recent example, I was booked on Aeroplan award YVR-SFO-PEK-BKK AC J / CA F / TG old F, with a very inconvenient connection in SFO. Then TG downgraded the PEK-BKK aircraft from 3-class to 2-class, and rebooked me from F to J. I called Aeroplan and they switched me to YVR-MUC-BKK LH new F / TG new F, no fees and no additional fuel surcharges. What’s more, the YVR-MUC flight got cancelled two days before departure because of the LH strike, so I called Aeroplan and they rebooked me a day earlier, which created a third stopover in MUC, which was great for me! Again, no additional charges.

  17. @ Craig — Typically the downgrade compensation only applies if you’re downgraded at the airport. If the schedule change happens in advance unfortunately there’s not really anything you can do, other than take a more inconvenient flight that does have a first class cabin.

  18. @ JM — If the only option they can reasonably accommodate you on is British Airways, chances are they would make that exchange without levying the fuel surcharges.

  19. @ Gene — My job is my hobby and my hobby is my job. I’d say that’s called living life, whether it means I can be disconnected from the internet for two days or not.

  20. @ DBest — Yep, they should, though if they argue they could accommodate you on a more direct routing they may claim it’s a “voluntary” change, in which case they may try to impose the fuel surcharges.

  21. How is United with opening up space on their metal if there is a schedule change on a partner airline?

  22. glbetrkkr — LGB on Delta is always the wildcard. I’ve had changes happen from a SLC connection to an LAX nonstop and vice versa, and in all cases I’ve been happy. I guess this is because the convenience of LGB as an airport is roughly equivalent to the convenience of nonstops from LAX, so any opportunity for small schedule improvements ends up in your favor.

  23. I got swapped out of NH 787 2-3-2 down to 3-3-3. I am trying to get them to put me in PY which is 2-3-2. I have written customer service and they confirm they will not do it for me, I can try and beg for an op-up. I will avoid NH in the future. I specifically bought this ticket because it had that config. Now they call it a different class and won’t put me in it. Any recourse?

  24. @ dmodemd — As frustrating as it is, sadly not. Airlines don’t guarantee configuration types, and at the end of the day it’s the same class of service you booked, even if it’s less comfortable. Sorry!

  25. Guess I will keep an eye out on my ZRH-PRG flight and see if I can get refund. Booking PRG-ZRH RT was cheaper than a one-way but not really going to use the return flight.

  26. Singapore Airlines changed our flight, originally arriving Maui at 2pm to arriving at 8pm. When I asked them to put me on a different flight than the one they changed us to (arriving earlier) they said 1. there was no points availability, and 2. if any opened up there would be a $25pp change fee.

  27. @ Shannon — If there was a radical schedule change they should be able to accommodate you on another flight with award space without a fee. That being said, there’s not going to be a way they can open up award space, in practice.

  28. Lucky, I’m in the same boat as you with the QF10 schedule change, except, in my case, it forces an overnight in MEL as I am continuing to SYD. Routing is JFK-LHR-MEL-SYD-LHR-JFK in F. Used USAirways miles. The schedule is such that I can still make my originally scheduled MEL-SYD flight, but I don’t want to pay for a hotel in MEL if I don’t have to and I wanted the full day in London on the outbound to give a talk at my old school. Any recourse? As an FYI, I used your booking service to make the reservation. Thanks!

  29. @ Ryan — In practice I think the best they’ll be able to do is change around your flights to/from LHR on BA, based on availability. I doubt they’d open up space on Qantas, unfortunately. Sorry!

  30. Hi Lucky,

    I have a USDM pre-oneworld reservation where one segment has been downgraded from F to C (Asiana ICN-NRT) I only see that they have changed to “I” no notification at all (changed aircraft).
    Now there are only Korean Air offering F for that route.

    I intentionally took a longer stop in ICN in order to get a F seat.
    Now I’m left with Business, any ideas on how to proceed?
    Could I get USDM to rebook parts of my segments EU-ASIA in order to get me there in F? Could they rebook a segment onto OneWorld on this *A pre-merger booking?
    I appreciate any thoughts and hints

  31. @ Eric — I’m afraid there’s really not much they’ll be able to do there. Short of redepositing the entire award, I’m afraid you may be out of luck. Sorry!

  32. @lucky,
    Thanks for your feedback, after digging at FT, it looks like OZ has discontinued F service for the route ICN-NRT.
    When redepositing the award, I would be entitled all the miles and taxes right? What happens to the booking fee 50USD? This is not my “fault”, would I get that back as well?
    Have a good day and safe travels

  33. @ Eric — You would get all the miles and taxes back. They don’t usually refund the processing fee, but you should be able to ask for it to be refunded, or otherwise dispute the fee with the credit card company.

  34. I just had a +24 hour schedule change on Iberia (business on ORD-MAD). I’m reaching out to a manager I’ve worked with in the past, but do you think they’ll be able to open up British Airways award space and keep the taxes the same?

  35. I had a Qantas schedule change recently that certainly wasn’t able to be maximised, that I thought I’d recount for the readers here.

    Qantas rejigged it’s LAX-JFK flights recently, which caused a terribly vague email to be sent to me recently, telling me I needed to call it’s disruptions call centre.

    The only thing that I can say that the disruptions call centre provides in the way of customer service is that there is no hour long wait before you speak to a human (you can experience terribly long waits to speak to call centre staff generally, even using the Platinum line). You are typically speaking to someone within minutes, although you may well end up regretting that as I did lol.

    Before I called the provided phone number (which does not collect your frequent flyer number before connecting you through, unusually) I checked myself via dummy booking on the Qantas website to see what had changed to the flights on my days of travel. I discovered that Qantas had dropped QF18 (JFK-LAX – my first return leg flight), and slightly shifted other flight timings (which were no cause for concern).

    No problems I thought, I just get them to rebook that leg on AA’s transcon and I can even take an earlier flight to provide a generous transfer time for some more time in the TBIT OneWorld lounge. This would help offset the fact that flying AA was a drop in service and product to me (going from a wide body to a single aisle aircraft).

    So I then rang, surprised (and oddly, pissed off the operator) by being aware of the timing changes and QF18 drop before she got to do an extended and redundant spiel about them, and asked to be put on the AA service in order to get the QF A380 back home from LAX. Spent time on hold as apparently she needed to consult her supervisor (twice!) – clearly low tier call centre operators obviously if something that simple required multiple supervisor checks – only to be finally told yes that can be done, but I would have to accept a downgrade to coach!! I said no way and insisted to be booked in Business. Got put on hold again, and then was straight forward lied to by this clown who said I would have to “call back next week as the flight changes were not confirmed yet, just likely, so my original flights were not yet affected”. I called bullshit, stating that the booking engine was already loaded with this changes and that Qantas doesn’t issue emails to call the disruptions call centre for “prospective changes” (I later found a Qantas press release that announced these changes about two weeks earlier to even being contacted by Qantas!). She just repeated her false claim, so I had little choice but to end the call, to HUCA.

    This time I pretended I knew nothing about the schedule changes, but asked the operator to confirm that changes had taken place and weren’t “prospective”. He did indeed put lie to the first operator’s claim (who clearly was just trying to fob me off because I wouldn’t accept the downgrade). Interestingly, he advised that QF18 had been converted to another flight code (QF12) and only shifted a little in time (which I later confirmed), so I thought great, I can travelled as planned!

    However, again, the abysmal skill level and knowledge of these Qantas call centre operators once again came a’wrecking. “No, you won’t be allowed to take QF12 as it’s under the minimimum connection time for transfer to your A380 flight home, as it’s only 1 hour and 10 minutes between arrival and departure and you must have 1 hour and 45 minutes connection time to be allowed”. I told him I was only travelling with hang luggage, would have no checked bags (which is what MCT is all about), and was arriving and departing out of TBIT. He would not budge, claiming Qantas would be up for hotel costs (?) if he allowed this flight. This was crazy as the two flights in question are designed as connecting services (and indeed you can book them today as such). I then again tried to get the AA transcon (my least preferred option) but again they tried to stiff me with a downgrade to coach(!!).

    Worse of all, he tried to strong-arm me into taking the way inferior direct JFK to SYD service instead (no thanks) and then said “why can’t you just stay another day in the States” at my own expense (gee thanks!) and disrupt my travel plans to make this idiot call centre operator’s life easier (FFS). He was really pressuring me and it was just terrible.

    I then dug my heels in, because I had enough, and his manner was turning rather nasty – I insisted for a full refund if Qantas wasn’t going to honour my flights as booked. He got really shitty then, by that stage I didn’t care. I told him it was put me on QF12 or refund, as the law requires in these circumstances. He finally (in a tizz) said he process refund.

    As it turned out, his “refund” was not a full refund and Qantas retained service charge fees collected at time of booking (which is very unethical, especially since ZERO service was given). Meanwhile I wear the cost of prepaid accommodation that I can’t use due to pigheaded Qantas call centre operators.

    Most annoying of all, I can book those flights in question today (that I supposedly couldn’t have due to MCT) on Qantas’ website, for a greatly increased price. I don’t know what Qantas was playing at, but this is one reason why I only fly the minimum number of flights required on Qantas (and I only do that to keep OneWorld top tier, not because Qantas are an airline I particularly like to fly). When Qantas is good, it’s a decent if not great airline, but the strike rate of good is far and few between these days. I really miss the old days when Qantas used to offer consistently acceptable (and often good) service. These days you are very lucky indeed if you come across good service, and the amount of terrible service is continuing to grow in frequency.

    Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, schedule disruption ends with you getting the shaft.

  36. I was scheduled YYZ-IST-YPE-SGN (one way) and booked through aeroplan and all of a sudden, EVA Air cancelled the IST-TPE segment from my schedule. I know I will have the option to choose a different flight or segment free of charge no matter if the taxes and fees are much higher as long as they are in the same J class.

    What I wanted guidance on is,

    1. Can I wait for as long as possible to see when other airlines open up more spaces, like BR with flight directly to Taipei, then to SGN (which usually open up 2-3 weeks before departure date right?) OR
    2. Do I have to choose my schedule change flight now?

    Also, what are my options in terms of choosing a new flight path with lower taxes and fees? Will I get that refunded?

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