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.
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.
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?