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