Airline schedule changes are very common if you booked your flight months in advance – airlines frequently update their schedules which means that either your flight could be moved by a few minutes (or hours), or it could be cancelled completely. Schedule changes don’t just include changes but also cancellations. When an airline changes your flight by more than 2 hours, in most cases you can receive a full refund of your unflown ticket – or you can rebook at no charge on something that works for you. Some airlines are more generous than others and each airline has their own policy in the event of a schedule change.
The most important thing to understand is that you do have options and you are in control if you are affected by a schedule change.
Schedule Changes of <2 Hours
If your flight’s schedule was changed and it resulted in a difference in timing of under 2 hours, most airlines won’t let you do anything about it. Some are more generous and allow free changes/refunds if the change was only 1 hour – be sure to check with your airline what their policy is.
If your airline’s policy is free changes/refunds only if you are affected by more than two hours and your flight was changed by less than that, you still have options – review your itinerary and see if anything else was changed. For example, if you have a connecting flight and if your connection time was decreased as a result of the change and you don’t think you can reasonably make your connection, let the airline know and ask for a different flight. If multiple flights in your booking were changed, that would also be a valid reason to bring up when speaking to the airline if you wish to rebook.
Schedule Changes of 2 Hours or More
Most airlines allow you to fully refund your unused ticket if the timing of your flight was changed by more than two hours – while this is the official policy, airlines love to get away with anything they can, so you may have to speak to a few different agents/supervisors before someone approves your request. Look up the official policy of the airline and screenshot it and send that to them along with your schedule-changed booking.
If you would rather rebook and not cancel, you should also be able to do that for free – now, you probably cannot move your flight by 6 months for no charge, but a change of up to a few weeks should be allowed and reasonable. Some airlines only allow you to change to the day before or after – if this doesn’t work for you, do not give up and speak to someone higher up and ask for the flight you would like.
Hang up and call again – this is the golden rule in the miles/points and travel community – if you do not get the solution you want the first time (and you understand the rules and are within them), call again and keep trying.
No Available Flights?
Airlines have partnerships with other airlines – this is so your airline can fly you and sell you a ticket to somewhere where they don’t fly through the help of their airline partners. If there are no other available flights on the airline you booked, they should be able to rebook you on their partner airlines for no additional cost – assuming there is space available on the flight.
When asking to be rebooked on another airline, some less-experienced agents may be unwilling to rebook you so you many need to speak with someone higher up. The policies at airlines differ so some airlines may actually not have any partners that fly to the destination you’re going to, in which case you will have to simply accept a full refund or wait until the next flight the airline operates.
Schedule Changes on Mileage Tickets
Rebooking a mileage ticket after a schedule change is a little different than a cash/revenue ticket – some airlines treat both ticket types equally, in which case you’re golden. Some airlines have recently made it a habit of leaving passengers stranded if a flight is changed or cancelled, there is no award availability, and you booked using miles – something that they definitely shouldn’t do.
If you booked using miles and your flight was changed or cancelled and the airline operates other flights to where you are going, they can easily open up award space on the other flights and rebook you without a problem. If they do not operate other flights and their partners have no award availability, what they should do is simply book you into a revenue booking class (as if you booked your ticket using cash) – however, recently, more and more airlines have been denying this and refusing – something they should definitely not do if there are literally no other options.
All in All
Schedule changes happen and the further out you book your ticket, the more changes will happen. I tend to book all of my travel a few weeks prior to departure, so I’m not affected by changes as much as others, but they still happen. The main thing to remember is that you can always get a full refund if the schedule on your flight was significantly changed.
Hanging up and calling again and speaking with managers and supervisors will get you further than arguing with one agent who won’t do anything for you. Some airlines have wonderful call center agents who can resolve your issue within minutes and with other airlines, you will have to spend hours on the phone before you accomplish anything. Flight changes are annoying after you’ve planned your trip, but they do happen and by understanding your options, you’re already a step ahead and closer to a solution that works for your trip.