How To Handle US Airways Award Ticket Schedule Change?

A few months ago I shared some tips for maximizing airline schedule changes, in particular as they pertain to award tickets.

It goes without saying that in just about every industry, your experience will vary depending on the representative you speak with, though there are definitely some general rules to understand so that you don’t waste time.

I get emails all the time asking about how to deal with schedule changes, so I figured I’d write a post explaining how I’d deal with one in practice. I think ultimately it’s easier to learn with a concrete example, as opposed to just explaining the “theory” behind it.

In my previous post about airline schedule changes, the general tips I had were as follows:

  • In the case of major schedule changes, airlines can open up award space on their own flights
  • Airlines typically can’t open up award space on partner airlines
  • With a schedule change you should be able to cancel your award for free
  • Typically itinerary changes as a result of a schedule change will be an “even exchange”
  • Hang up and call again

Let’s look at a specific example which reader Garrett sent me. The premise of his situation is as follows:

A few months ago, I booked a round-the-world F award using Dividend Miles. The outbound itinerary is as follows:

SFO-LHR (BA F)
LHR-FRA (BA J)
FRA-NRT (JL F)

I had a fairly tight connection in FRA that was about 1.5 hours, but I thought it should be fine. Today, I noticed that they had moved up the Japan Airlines flight and now it departs just 15 minutes after I arrive in Frankfurt. Obviously this won’t work.

Basically he had continuous travel booked from San Francisco to London to Frankfurt to Tokyo Narita. The Frankfurt to Tokyo schedule changed, meaning he’d misconnect in Frankfurt. Let me start off by saying that in general whenever possible I try to leave longer connections or even overnights on partner award tickets that involve multiple airlines to prevent things like this from happening. Admittedly not everyone has that flexibility, but if you do, I’d highly recommend adding some buffer.

Based on the situation, what can Garrett do?

Redeposit the award ticket for free

This isn’t the ideal solution, but the option is always on the table. When there’s a schedule change like this you can redeposit the award for free and get all your miles and taxes refunded.

Ask US Airways to open space on their own flights to Frankfurt

While US Airways isn’t at fault for the schedule change, as a courtesy they’ll usually open up award space on their own flights, assuming they operate the route. So they’d probably be willing to open up business class award space to Frankfurt via Philadelphia or Charlotte.

That’s not an ideal solution since you were previously booked in first class, but as a last resort it’s worth keeping in mind.

I should mention that they’ll only consistently open space if there’s no other option for getting you to your destination. Otherwise it really depends on the circumstances. For example, if a partner airline changes their schedule by a few hours and it doesn’t work quite as well for you, they might not be willing to open space on their own flights. In general they’re going to be more willing to open space as the departure date approaches, given that the chances of those seats otherwise being sold goes down by the day.

Find a new routing altogether

If there’s just no other way to make it work, you can try to find a new routing altogether. If something isn’t available now, just hold off and don’t accept the schedule change yet.

I’ve written in the past about how Cathay Pacific has a tendency to open up lots of last minute first class award space, so you could always hold off and just keep monitoring for space. When something does open up, you’ll be able to make the change without a fee.

What about the taxes and fuel surcharges?

Something that makes Garrett’s situation unique is that he ticketed the award back when US Airways wasn’t imposing fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways.

British-Airways-747

But as I mentioned in the previous post on the topic, when there’s a schedule change you get an “even exchange,” meaning the taxes and fees shouldn’t be recalculated. So even if he found a different routing that involved more travel on British Airways, there still shouldn’t be a change in taxes and fees.

So Japan Airlines won’t open up award space?

Japan Airlines changed the schedule, but will they really not open up award space on another flight, like a nonstop from London to Tokyo Narita, for example?

The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. Airline alliances do have liaisons, though they typically only help in extreme circumstances when there are no other options. For that matter, I find the liaison setup at Star Alliance to be better than at oneworld, so I’d expect that to be even less useful now that US Airways is in oneworld.

Generally, though, a partner airline will only open up award space if they changed their schedule by a lot. For example, if a frequency is canceled altogether it’s much more likely that they’ll open up space than if the schedule is just changed by an hour or two.

But generally it just isn’t worth the time it takes to pursue this. It can take hours on the phone, and that’s just to initiate the process. If you go through a liaison, typically the airline agent has to put in the request with their supervisor, the supervisor puts in the request with the liaison, the liaison puts in a request with the airline, inventory management reviews it, then it goes back to the liaison, and then it goes back to the airline with which you booked. It can take days, and most of the time isn’t even successful.

Bottom line

I realize this probably isn’t as positive of an outcome as most would hope for, but realistically speaking I think those are the options.

I totally get the concept of building a “masterpiece” awards and having it ruined by an airline schedule change, though at the same time the airlines don’t really view aspects of the trip the same way we do. In other words, the extent to which they’ll make exceptions is in trying to get you from your origin to destination as directly as possible, without considering product quality, connections, etc.

In the above situation I’d probably just hold off a bit and hope for something else to open up, like:

  • A routing to Frankfurt on British Airways that would get you to Frankfurt in time for your connection, even if you have to leave the previous day
  • A direct flight to Asia in Cathay Pacific first class
  • A direct flight to Tokyo in Japan Airlines first class, or hope that they open space out of London in first class as the departure date approaches

And to circle back with how I started this post, this is an industry that’s very dependent on the agent you get. There’s a chance you may luck out and find an agent willing to put in a request with the liaison, and the person in Japan Airlines inventory management happens to be in a really good mood that day and confirms it… but it’s very unlikely.

Just my two cents on the situation…

What has been your experience dealing with airline award ticket schedule changes?

Comments

  1. Lucky,

    I currently have a RTW award booking pre US Airways joining OneWorld. I am basically flying on Star Alliance metal only (the itinerary consists of Asiana, Thai, Singapore, ANA, Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines flights). If one of those flights changes or gets cancelled, would US Airways be able to help me re-book? or am I screwed? Thanks for your help.

  2. nice write-up Ben. what a difficult situation because this whole trip was such a detour to begin with…

  3. Hey lucky I have a question. Do you know if US can hold a change for 72 hours also like when making the reservation? For example if you want to change your Monday Cathay to Thursday, according to the pattern Thursday availability only opens up on Tuesday. So can you call on Sunday to change Monday it to Wednesday first and then hold for one day and call to ticket the Thursday flight on Tuesday?

  4. Would like to share my recent schedule change experience, also using Dividend Miles to redeem.

    Original Routing
    CDG-FRA on LH C (stopover)
    FRA-BKK on TG F (1 hr transit)
    BKK-HKG on TG F

    FRA-BKK flight got a schedule change in Feb 14. Same departure time, but 45 minutes later arrival, probably because the majority of the A346 FRA-BKK flight have been delayed arrival for 30-40 minutes. So this causes misconnect from BKK-HKG, and since there are no available flights that day or the next day on TG that’s within 24 hours,

    US Airways rebooked me on
    CDG-ZRH-HKG on LX C, all without any notification

    Completely deleted my Frankfurt stopover.

    Called them, gave them a few options like waive the change fee for FRA-PEK-HKG on CA, but they wouldn’t waive any change fee, despite escalating this to a supervisor. So had to cancel the award ticket and they would waive the cancellation fee. I was just upset they didn’t call me or email me before they made this drastic change.

  5. “While US Airways isn’t at fault for the schedule change, as a courtesy they’ll usually open up award space on their own flights, assuming they operate the route.”

    I have to say this has not been my experience at all. I’m currently stuck with an award that had drastic schedule changes/cancellations, but US Airways has refused to work with me to put me on their flights, despite there being available seats for purchase. They’ve repeatedly said my only choice is to redeposit the award.

  6. @ Orly — If there’s a schedule change and there’s no other option, they should be able to rebook you partly on oneworld.

  7. @ TG_Pang — Only if you create a new record or start from scratch. If there are any other segments in there, you can only hold it for 72 hours from the original time it’s held.

  8. @ Andrew — Sounds like you got a really bad agent. That’s a case where I would have hung up and called again.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts on this Lucky. For now, I’m holding off on trying to make any changes. After hours on the phone over the weekend and no luck on JL’s side, I think I’m gonna wait and see if any award seats open up closer to departure.

    A bit nervous about Andrew’s comment though… I *really* hope they don’t alter my itinerary without any notification.

  10. @ Jon K — Seems legitimate enough to me, though there’s always some amount of agent roulette with US Airways.

  11. @Garrett, anything can happen but I hope everything will turn out ok. Remember back in late 2012 Lucky’s award flight on BA was delayed SEA-LHR and due to that (I think it was due to the delay) BA rerouted Lucky’s party to EK F LHR-DXB instead of the original LHR-DXB flight on BA metal. Not a bad flight change without notification methinks! 😉

  12. @Joey, I remember that trip report! Wouldn’t it be nice for something like that to happen? Haha. Unfortunately, with zero status on any airline… I doubt I’ll have that kind of luck 😛

  13. My travel is for December/January. The route is SAT-VIE//PRG-SAT. My transatlantic segment was cancelled and my positioning segment on the return had a schedule change that caused a misconnect. Complicating it is the fact that I booked it as a *A award so now have to go back to the drawing board with oneworld carriers.

  14. I had a similar experience on an EWR-AMM-BOM business class award flight. Partner airline Royal Jordanian cancelled flights on both ends (2 weeks notice). I was given 2 options: cancel the award or take an extra 2 day halt in Amman and also return one day late. No compensation was given for hotel/food etc. despite escalating to multiple supervisors, e-mailing Executive suite and Elliot. RJ is still investigating.

  15. I would also like to add that if your problem occurs on a return leg (i.e. if you already traveled to your destination) you shouldn’t believe US Airways agents that say you will get half of the miles back if you cancel/redeposit an award. They still have a ridiculous rule of one-way price = roundtrip price and even if it’s something that has to do with a schedule change, you will NOT get miles back. This happened to me — was misled by two agents but – lo and behold – no miles back; had to escalate my complaint and eventually did get the miles back but as a “one-time exception”.

  16. Dear Lucky,
    I had a RTW award booking pre US Airways joining OneWorld, I had a downgrade due to equip change and I was then offered to cancel the award since they were unable to accommodate me on other routing in same class.
    I now received an e-mail with the taxes being paid back to my account, but am I not to get the ticketing fee 50USD since this was not my fault?
    Thanks for a great blog!
    Keep it up!

  17. @ Eric — Generally speaking they don’t refund the processing fee, but if you call them and push it they should be willing to refund it if you’re canceling due to a schedule change.

  18. Hi Lucky,

    You mentioned JAL doesn’t like to open up space for schedule changes. The original flight I had was on JAL with a 1130am departure, but now it is rescheduled to 620pm so almost 7 hour difference. It looks like they did away with the 1130am flight completely and there is only one flight – the 620pm. It is NRT to BOS, BOS to LGA. I will miss my connecting flight for sure since it leaves before I land. Do you think AA/JAL will accommodate and rebook me if I try to ask for NRT to JFK directly? There were no business award seats from NRT to NYC on JAL so I had to book NRT to BOS, BOS to LGA. I didn’t get an email from AA so I hope I am not passed the deadline (if there is any?). I accidentally found it when I logged on to check today since my flight is for Dec. Thanks Lucky!

  19. @ Ang — Chances are they’d just open up space on another Boston to New York flight for you, so you make your connection. I’d say it’s unlikely they’ll open space on Japan Airlines, unfortunately. With a lot of persistence they might, but I wouldn’t count on it.

  20. Hi Lucky,

    I have a question about a trip I booked back when they are not collecting fuel surcharges for BA. It was booked in combination of first and biz class. I have been watching to see if CX opens up their first class space the last minute. According to what you said, I could be charged with all the fuel surcharge if I just want to change a segment of my trip from biz to first on the same flight?

    Thanks a lot!

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