When a Schedule Change Happens to Your Award Flights

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Even though my own travel is winding down for a bit, many of my family members are just starting some pretty big summer trips that are funded largely by miles and points.  I try to help them to maximize their trips for savings and comfort as much as possible, so when my mom told me the other day that she had received an email that their flights to Alaska has been changed a week before departure I was happy to try and help.

IMG_9278.JPGThey had used American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book themselves from Austin to Anchorage for just 25,000 miles round trip – which is great, especially given high summer travel pricing.  My best guess is that the flight changes that occurred didn’t actually happen a week before departure, but rather this is just when they got the email from American notifying them of the changes. Many recommend keeping an eye on your flight reservations at least once a month to be on the lookout for these sort of things, but when you are a relatively infrequent traveler it’s not necessarily 100% realistic to expect that sort of thing to pop up on your radar.

When Award Flights Suffer Major Schedule Changes

Essentially what had happened is that a flight departure time change on one of their segments occurred that would have caused them to mis-connect the subsequent segments.  This resulted in them being totally re-booked on two of their three segments to get to Anchorage.  Unfortunately the new routing that American gave them resulted in an almost 9 hour layover during the day in Seattle, which isn’t exactly what they wanted during an already long travel day from Texas to Alaska.  Not to mention their seats together were now totally gone…

Before I go further I want to add some context to this situation.  This was not just some routine one or two hour domestic flight where it didn’t really matter how they got from A to B as long as they got there.  This is a very big trip for them, and the furthest from home my dad will have ever been.  They booked it many months ago and carefully plotted out both the route and the seats.  My dad’s previously furthest from home was probably Boston, so this is well extending his comfort limit, not to mention that traveling over 3,200 miles for anyone on any day isn’t a short hop.

Alaskan Adventure Awaits

Alaskan Adventure Awaits

Fast forward to adding an 8-9 hour connection to that big travel day and losing all of your assigned seats and you have a mess.  I helped them check for other available award seats that day, of which there weren’t any.  I then prepped them for the call to American Airlines to try and get their help in booking alternate flights.  A key when asking for help with new flights after a major schedule change is to know what you want to ask for.  In this case the two best choices were entirely new flights on US Airways that went through Phoenix, or simply getting later departures from Austin to cut down on the amount of time sitting in Seattle waiting for the evening flight to Anchorage.

Being Told Your Award Flights Can’t Be Fixed

After roughly 30 minutes on the phone with American Airlines my parents were told there was nothing that could be done since there wasn’t saver award space available on any alternative flights.  This is where many, many people would have stopped the fight and begrudgingly accepted their new crummy flight schedule all while cursing the airline (and airline miles) under their breath.

However, I took to Twitter since I’ve seen the American Airlines Twitter be very helpful to other passengers.  I’ve never personally really benefited from their services, but they are known to be one of the better airline social media teams.  However, I hit brick walls going that route first because they didn’t want to work on my parents’ reservation via me for “privacy reasons” even though I had the reservation codes and every other piece of info they could possibly want, but eventually I did get to the point where they told me they couldn’t do anything anyway since there were no options with saver space available.

Again, more sane people would probably stop the fight here.  Instead, I took a step back and consulted my buddy Gary Leff to make sure I wasn’t being unreasonable in thinking that in the case of a schedule change as major and undesirable as this one that the airline could indeed open space on another flight even if there wasn’t technically saver space available.  I’ve certainly had that happen on United, but my own experience with American is more limited.  I also have elite status with United which makes some requests easier than when dealing with airlines that I have no more status or clout than an average potato.  Ultimately he agreed that it was worth pushing, so I decided to try again.  I didn’t want to ask for the moon, I just wanted a fair resolution for my parents.

How to Resolve Schedule Changes When the Airline is Reluctant to Help

I may or may not have called into American as my mom, but here is how it went.  After I explained the situation the agent put me on hold for a good 15 minutes or so before coming back and giving me the same talk about how there was nothing they could do since no flights had saver award space.  This time I wasn’t going to accept that answer as readily, so I took a deep breath and politely, but firmly, explained that was not an acceptable outcome.

The flights had been booked months in advance, this was a very big trip, and since the schedule change notification just came a week or so before departure it really wasn’t our (my parents’) fault that there wasn’t saver space available on a more optimized route.  I explained that this change was totally on the airline, and so we were relying on the airline to help make it right.  We didn’t want a better flight just for the heck of it, we wanted something reasonably similar to what we booked in the first place.  American operated many flights that day that would be better, and we needed to be on one of them.  I said I was more than happy to speak to a supervisor about the issue if it was something that needed to be resolved on that level.

Those seem to have been the magic words.

At this point I was put on hold again, and while I thought I was getting transferred to a supervisor, about 10 minutes later the original agent came back and said he had received supervisor approval to make the necessary changes to depart later in the day to avoid sitting around in an airport for 8-9 hours.  He still couldn’t do anything about the fact that they no longer had seat assignments (this is exactly how many families end up split for reasons beyond their control), but at least they were back to a schedule that was closer to what they had in the first place.

This should not have been this hard.  This issue should have been resolved on the first call, and without someone having to be firm and insistent on supervisor intervention.  We weren’t talking about a 15 or 20 minute change, we were talking about an obviously major change.  However, that’s not how it went, so you need to be ready to push if and when a schedule change of this magnitude happens to you.  Just because you are flying on miles doesn’t mean the airline has the right to totally wreck your carefully selected flight schedule without helping make it right.  Your miles have value, and sometimes it is just up to you to stand up for yourself and push harder than you might want to in the event of major schedule changes on your award flights.

I’m so reluctant to pull the “I need to speak to a supervisor card” since I was taught to be polite and respectful, but sometimes you just have to in order to be the squeaky wheel that gets help.  To be 100% clear, this assistance from the airline in no way came because I have a blog or anything like that.  They couldn’t have known that over the phone or cared less even if they did.  This came about in the same way it could have for any other traveler – by being persistent and a tiny bit pushy.

Now my folks are back on track for Alaska and will arrive hopefully a little bit better rested to start their big adventure in one of the prettiest parts of the world I have ever experienced!

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If you have any airline schedule change stories I’d love to hear them!

 

Comments

  1. This has happened to me a couple times and it blows my mind how they can try to stand by the argument that because there are no other sAAver flights available at this time, they can’t rebook you to a reasonably similar alternative. Particularly true when you book award flights 6-9 months in advance as I typically do.

    To extend this logic, if I was on a paid flight booked 9 months in advance and they schedule changed me 2 weeks before departure, would they require that the flights be no more expensive than they were 9 months earlier to rebook me? They are typically more forgiving in the case of paid flights and are normally flexible if you have a legitimate reason for needing to be rebooked on one flight vs another. I don’t understand why the form of compensation (miles vs cash) should make a bit of difference.

  2. Yes, it does suck when that happens, especially if you are flying on real money rather than miles and have already paid extra for seats together. For some of us, getting the seats together would be more important than the change of flights because we would be thankful for the chance to break up a long flight with a quick trip into downtown Seattle for a few hours to see the sights.

    A cab ride to Pike’s Marketplace for a nice meal then back to the airport for the rest of the trip. It could turn out to be a “free” trip to Seattle. Might even induce one to return to Seattle on purpose to see more of that beautiful city.

    • Jack, yeah I talked to them about that possibility, but it just made for way too long a day given their plans once in Alaska.

    • Light rail would be the way to do this. Cheap, quick and you end up in the heart of downtown. No traffic jams on Interstate 5 as well.

      I can understand Mommy Points parents not wanting such a long travel day.

      • Yeah light rail is what I recommended to them if they ended up with that much time in Seattle. Seattle actually is an ideal city for 8-9 hours, but still, that is asking too much for folks in their mid-60’s. Starting the travel day heading to the airport by 5:30AM. Fly to Dallas. Fly to Seattle. Spend 8-9 hours in Seattle. Fly to Anchorage. Go to bed at like 3 or 4AM your body’s time and then start the next morning with a big day in Alaska.

        They could do that day, but it would absolutely have an impact on the day or two following in Alaska, which is where they really wanted to spend their energy on this trip.

    • We actually did just that – we planned a 9 hour layover from IAD in Seattle on our way to Anchorage so we could visit Seattle. They had a great bus from the airport down to Pike’s Market. We walked around, picked up a few things we had forgotten at home, had a great meal, felt the fresh air and eventually made it back to the airport in plenty of time for our 9 PM flight.

      • No doubt it would make for a good day trip. However, that’s not the point. Having your schedule changed and being forced to therefore take a 9 hour layover someone is not right. In these circumstances, they should for sure be given the option to switch flights. There are many destinations that I want to visit, but that doesn’t mean I want to cram them all into one trip. Glad you got it sorted out!

  3. I am in a similar situation. My family flight is booked on AA with Avios, DFW-LIR. The schedule changed by three hours but it is still the same nonstop flight. However, this bumps into a scheduled work meeting that I have every week at the same time. I booked the original time because the meeting did not conflict, but now it does. There is no other saver award availability for 3 seats on this day since it is operated only once daily. I would change to another day if possible, but again, no saver award. Is there a chance that might happen? Does BA even have any authority on something like this?

  4. Maybe I am wrong here but I thought that once the airline makes a schedule change that affects your original flight in more than 1 hour you are eligible to change your flights at “no additional cost”. Here is what Delta says in their website: If a Delta schedule or routing change has delayed your departure or arrival by more than one hour, you may be eligible to select an alternate flight at no additional charge. Note that the below conditions may apply: Your origin, destination and travel date must remain the same; Alternate flights must be available, and you can only modify once as subsequent changes may result in additional fees.
    Thus, not sure how that plays regarding award tickets on AA but on Delta I had no issues in making changes once they changed my original schedule.

    As a great example, I booked 3 award tickets for my wife and kids and 1 paid ticket for me with Delta for our summer vacation. I then received an email that they had changed my departure to an earlier flight. I noticed they hadn’t changed my family on their award tickets so were were now in different flights. I called Delta and they moved them to the same flight I was moved and never mentioned more miles were needed, etc…

  5. I have limited experience with AA and UA, but I can vouch for the previous poster that this is one area where Delta shines. As the guy at the Delta Points blog likes to say, there is magic in the schedule change and I have had this happen to me several times on award tickets over the years. Typically when I book something several months out there will be at least 1 or 2 schedule changes. Mostly it is minor like 10-15 minutes, but occasionally it can be major, particularly on the flights to the west coast in my experience (i.e. your late morning departure from LAX becomes a red-eye). Delta has always made it right and, in some cases, made our trip even better with a non-stop or shorter routing. I’m sure that having Diamond or Platinum elite status did not hurt, but I have heard good experiences from non-elites who had this problem.

  6. Thank You! Your extended call saved us (the family team) from arriving in Alaska more exhausted than necessary. Seeing Seattle was an excellent suggestion. If I was twenty years younger I would have voted for seafood at Pike Place. Love you.

  7. A similar thing happened to my family last December, about 3 months before our big trip to Hawaii. We had booked award tickets on American, two segments that connected in California. Right before Christmas I logged in and saw that the time of our first flight moved out so much that we wouldn’t make our second flight. I called and spoke to an agent to tried to put us on new connecting flights that would have us arrive in LA at 11 p.m. and depart for Hawaii at 5:00 a.m. Since I have 3 kids who need their sleep, I knew that would be a disaster! I asked to speak to a supervisor, who immediately put us on a direct flight from Dallas to Honolulu. We even got seats together!

  8. Never be shy about escalating to the appropriate authority level. On occasion, my first words to the call center agent are “Supervisor, please.”

    • Ha ha. You’re right. Helping parents fix their flights with their permission would be super questionable ethics. I think we may have to agree to disagree there.

      • Glad you responded. Good for you owning up to the faux pas, I like your blog, just wanted to push you on this.

        Glad it worked out well in the end.

        • Colin, I truly appreciate you reading and saying you like the blog, but to be clear I don’t at all think it is questionable in this case for someone to call in as/for someone else in this sort of situation. I’d do it the same way a million times more if I had to in order to get the problem solved for my family.

    • What an absurd thing to say. It’s no different than a travel agent or secretary making someone’s plans. If the agent refuses to help because I’m not that person, even though I have that person’s permission, they are the ones with ethical problems, not me. I would not hesitate to call back and pretend to be my mom in a situation like that. Nobody is scamming anybody by doing so, so how is this an ethical blunder? It makes me think you don’t actually understand what “ethics” is.

  9. We just went through this a couple of months ago on an award flight through UA but booked on Brussels. We were flying from Linate to Brussels and then on to IAD. They moved our transatlantic flight to the day before we were to leave Milan to board our transatlantic flight. We called them up and they could obviously see that there was a problem however no saver awards were available on any flights from Brussels after our arrival. They had to force open two seats for us. We luckily did not need to ask for a supervisor and the problem was resolved fairly quickly (about 30 minutes).

  10. Screw the ethics comment that wasn’t necessary! Haters are gonna hate! So what if this happens when flying in AA with BA Avios? Could BA have the power to help or do you call AA to fix this? I had a similar incident but had to bite the bullet since I didn’t know any better.

    • Ivan, anytime you are dealing with a partner this stuff typically gets harder to fix and your options are much more limited in some cases. You can try working with AA, but when you booked via a partner it absolutely gets harder. You could also try working with your booking airline, but I sort of doubt in this case it would do a whole ton of good.

  11. We had a similar thing happen on our planned return from Europe. Booked with AA miles but flying BA metal CPH – LHR – SEA and then Alaska from SEA to SNA. All segments were in F (except naturally the CPH – LHR leg was in C) The LHR – SEA leg was changed such that we had a mis-connect in SEA. There was no later SEA – LAX area flights so they booked us in F from LHR to JFK and then a downgrade to C from JFK to LAX – getting in about 3.5 hours later than the original schedule. Talking to reservation agents did nothing. Talking to supervisors did nothing. All they would say is that it was a BA issue and BA had to fix it – which BA was not willing to do. I finally sent an email to Doug Parker and the AA Executive team outlining what had happened. Received a call from Mr. Parker’s office the next day and I was immediately rebooked on the AA non-stop LHR to LAX in F. The person I talked to in the exec office could not believe the flights we were given and said that the agents and supervisor should have taken care of the issue immediately.

    Goes to show that at times you do need to keep elevating the situation until you get a reasonable response.

  12. In my reply above, I made a mistake. It was the CPH – LHR segment that was changed and that change is what caused a mis-connect in LHR. The bad part about it was that I was never notified by AA of the change. I just happened to notice it when I was checking my reservations.

  13. I had a IAH-DFW-AUH reservation for 3 on AA/Etihad using AA miles. But Etihad cancelled DFW-AUH later and they scheduled us for the next day. I called and explained to AA that its not acceptable and agent immediately booked us on BA without having to pay the Huuuuuge fuel charges. (IAH-LHR-AUH). That about $1200 waived there !

  14. We had a schedule change on a mixed AA/Alaska itinerary booked with AA miles that would have forced us into a misconnect at DFW. We weren’t informed, I only found out because I was looking at our reservation and noticed the problem. The phone agent I talked to said that the lack of notice may have been because of the Alaska segments on our trip. She noted that there wasn’t any saver inventory, but she was OK with that, perhaps since our itinerary wasn’t just inconvenient, but impossible. I gave some suggested itineraries that were a few hours different (but more convenient) for us, but she put us on flights that were closer to what we had booked (now all on AA metal), which was fine. I did a bit of research on Flyertalk before I called, and I think that their only obligation would have been to refund the miles. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.

  15. last year UA didn’t notify, other than highlighting in red on our reservation that an SAA schedule change was going to cause us to misconnect with i flight onward to catch our ethiopian flight to sez. Given the limited award flights, multiple airlines involved and J awards, it was clear it would be difficult to work out. In the end, united allowed us an open jaw but refused to allow an additional segment on our award trip to save our flights. We had to pay additional miles to add another segment to our trip–but the alternatives of buying the segment at a late date for cash or losing our week of hotels already paid in seychelles. I called a couple of times-sometimes it just is what it is

    • Elizabeth, yeah partners make things much more complicated. I’ve found that an airline is typically much more willing and able to open space on their own operated flights than on anything to do with a partner. Bummer they couldn’t add something additional on to your trip to make it work without additional miles.

      • With partners sometimes you need to do a multi-step process. I had a bad schedule change on Alaska using AA miles. It was a circus, but what I learned is that the airlines have liasons that communicate on these issues. After multiple calls, I got AS to open a different flight and to communicate back to AA so AA could reticket. It took a long time and was complicated by the fact that even though AS seemed willing to help, they would not respond other than to a request initiated from the AA side. Getting a front line agent at AA even to understand there was a process for this was a challenge.

        I also have a schedule change on a United flight booked with SQ miles. The quality of UA agents is so poor (denying that SQ is even a partner and saying from their end it looks like a travel agent purchased ticket) and the difficulty communicating with SQ about what I want was simply too difficult so I will just have to grin and bear it.

  16. My wife and daughter went to Mardi Gras on Southwest, and because of bad weather on Monday, Southwest ended up having their planes out of position on Tuesday and canceling their entire slate of flights out of New Orleans. They told me the disruption would last until Thursday, which would be the first opportunity to get my family home from New Orleans. I pushed them on something for Wednesday, but ultimately gave up on them and booked an entirely new one way home on United. Good job sticking to it and getting a better deal for your parents!

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