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How to Use Same Day Flight Changes to Your Advantage

by on January 31, 2011 · 30 comments

in Air Canada, AirTran, Continental, Delta, How To Guides, JetBlue, Points Guy Pointers, United, US Airways, Virgin America

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One of the perks I enjoy most about my Diamond elite status, is the ability to Same Day Confirm for free to other flights when traveling domestically. Knowing how to use Same Day Flight changes with your airline is critical to traveling “smarter,” even if you aren’t a frequent flyer. I have personally used SDC to increase my upgrade percentage, get home earlier when meetings wrap up ahead of schedule, accrue more frequent flyer miles (including elite miles), and save money on fares. The beauty of Delta’s SDC policy is that there only needs to be Y class availability (full fare) in order to confirm the flight. Other airlines, which I list below, also have unique and flexible “same day” change features which can save you time and money when traveling.

I’m actually writing this post from a flight I SDC’d onto, so let me break down exactly how SDC worked for me.

My scenario: Flying LAX to JFK, I purchased the cheapest flight; the 430pm departure, which lands in JFK at almost 1am. I have flown this route plenty of times and I know it’s one of the hardest domestic Delta routes to score an upgrade on – as a Platinum last year, I routinely flew in coach amongst Diamond members. Delta flies mostly 16 seat Business Elite 757s and there is a lot of paid business class traffic on this route. Additionally, Delta doesn’t release any advance upgrades on LAX/SFO-JFK, so its always a “battlefield” upgrade at the mercy of gate agents. Delta also oversells this route so when they take volunteers, they will often rebook them in BusinessElite, thus diminishing the prospects of upgrades for elites (check out my tips on airline bumps here).  Overall, it’s a brutal route for upgrades and I am always prepared to fly in coach. That is, of course, unless  I SDC onto another route. Delta not only allows you to SDC onto other flights on your departure day, but you can also transfer to any valid routing. So for my LAX to JFK ride home, I also had the ability to connect in Salt Lake, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and even Orlando (among others).

 

I woke up in LA on Sunday morning and loaded up expertflyer.com to check how many seats Delta was selling on the LAX-JFK direct flights. Every flight was only showing either J1 or J0/ Y9 (except for the 11pm red-eye which wasn’t an option) seating.  J is the code for business class and the number represents the amount of seats for sale. Y= coach class. This meant there was only 1 business class seat available for sale/upgrade, so the chances of me snagging it were slim, and my as for my Platinum Medallion partner? Almost none.

I then checked alternate routing through SLC/LAS and ATL because initially, I wanted to try flying on the 777L which is used for the Sydney flight and continues to ATL. The 10:30am departure was J0 Y2 – not too promising – though with such a large BusinessElite cabin, I could have waited it out and possibly snatched the upgrade. However, I had 100% comped breakfast plans at the Andaz (RH restaurant) for being a Hyatt Diamond, so I decided the 1pm departure on the A330 aircraft that was showing J5 Y9 and connecting to ATL JFK F3 Y9 was the best bet.

I called exactly at 10am and the friendly Diamond desk agent switched me and my partner within 90 seconds and assigned us the best seats she could secure. She was actually a bit confused for a second and asked me why I was changing to a connecting flight when there was a 1:30pm nonstop flight to JFK. Before I could answer, she said “Ohh, nevermind- I see there are much better chances of an upgrade.” So I guess I’m not the only person who has switched to longer routing in order to avoid coach! I actually had to pay an additional $10 per ticket in extra fees because we were adding a leg to the journey. Alternately, when you SDC onto a nonstop flight from a connecting, you should always make sure you get a voucher for the $10 you save in fees. This usually happens automatically and gets stored in your Delta.com profile under E-Credits and Certificates.

Once confirmed onto the new flight, I checked in online and loaded up the upgrade list- we were number 1 and 2 out of 22 people for 2 seats plus 4 un-claimed (basically people who had reservations, but hadn’t checked in for the flight). Things were looking good and my stress level was at bay. Things were pretty uneventful and the gate agent cleared us right before boarding began, although I was eyeing the gate monitors (GIDS screens) to make sure I wasn’t bumped down on the list by any other Diamond Medallions or business class passengers from other flights who wanted to SDC (when you purchase business class, you can SDC into business class on other flights or even change your ticket depending how flexible the fare is). Luckily my place remained at number 1, which totally validated my year-end mileage run to achieve Diamond status.

The LAX-ATL flight was pretty nice considering I had an angled lie flat international business class seat on the A330 aircraft, though I was seated in 1B, which was right next to the galley and the lights were extremely bright- to the point where I was tempted to put on sunglasses while I was trying to nap (unfortunately I had forgotten to bring a first class amenity kit, which I normally have on me when traveling). Also, since the plane was used for mostly international runs, it was not equipped with WiFi, which is an amenity I’ve become accustomed to when fly Delta, especially on long transcontinental flights.

We had over an hour-long connection in ATL and we were 1 and 2 on that upgrade list with 6 seats availble, so snagging the ATL-JFK upgrade wasn’t even an issue.

In the end, instead of flying in coach and only earning 2,475 Medallion Qualifying Miles and 3,094 SkyMiles and arriving at 1am, I paid $10 to instead fly business/domestic first the whole way home and earn 2,706 Medallion Qualifying Miles and 3,383 SkyMiles- and arriving home an hour earlier.

Same Day Confirming can work wonders when weather/flight cancellations happen. When you know a snowstorm is going to hit, you can change to earlier flights and avoid being stranded for days. You can even SDC to later flights in case you oversleep or hit crazy traffic on your way to the airport. SDCing to later flights can be a risk, however, because if the flight all of the sudden sells out before you can SDC at the 3 hour mark, you may be responsible for buying a brand new ticket the next day (though I’ve had really nice agents rebook me the next day for no fee).

While SDCing has its potential benefits, there are some risks to consider:
1) When you do a last minute change to a flight, most premium (exit row) seats are gone, so you run the risk of getting a crappy middle seat. The way around this is to request a bulkhead or premium seat that’s been held for gate assignment OR ask the gate agent to give you a good seat after the upgrade list is cleared. Gate agents are always busy, so be succinct and extremely nice and you’ll be surprised how often they give you what you want
2) If you’ve already been upgraded and want to SDC to a new flight, you will be confirmed in coach (since thats the fare you purchased) and lose the upgrade.
3) There are lots of loopholes and exceptions. Familiarize yourself with your airline’s policy and then head toFlyertalk to read actual experiences. I know Delta has a couple weird Delta Shuttle exceptions which I didn’t know about and nearly got burned when trying to SDC onto an earlier Shuttle flight at Boston Logan (thankfully a Platinum line agent hooked me up when the airport ticketing agents wouldn’t).
4) It can be stressful- especially with Delta when you can only SDC at the 3 hour mark- there have been plenty of flights with only one seat open where I stay up late or wake up extra early to snatch it right when the window opens.

Here is a quick rundown of the main North American airline Same Day flight change policies. I’m only an expert on Delta’s since I have personally used that one the most, so please don’t take the following as the final say. Visit Flyertalk and search for threads on your airline’s policy to see some real life examples.

Air Canada:  Same-day confirmed change at the airport is permitted to either an earlier or later flight on the same itinerary for a charge of $75 (Cdn) for passengers holding either an Economy or Executive cabin confirmed Aeroplan ClassicFlight or ClassicPlus flight reward on Air Canada and/or Air Canada Jazz. Same-day changes are subject to availability. Same-day standby at the airport is permitted for earlier flights within North America-free of charge-for passengers holding a confirmed Aeroplan seat on Air Canada and/or Air Canada Jazz in the Executive cabin only. Departure and arrival cities must be the same as the confirmed flight. Same-day standby must be requested at the departure city, once the member has checked in for a confirmed flight.
AirTran: $25 per segment. Customers may reserve a confirmed seat on an earlier flight to the same destination. Or, customers have the option to standby for another flight to the same destination at no charge. These options are only available at the airport on the day of travel.
American: $50 for a confirmed change for everyone.  The alternate flights must be for your same itinerary and your flight change can only be confirmed within 12 hours of departure of the desired flight.Standby is free for Elite members (any level), Active U.S. Military personnel traveling on orders or personal travel, oneworld® Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby members, Customers flying on the same reservation as an American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum or AAdvantage Gold member or oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby member regardless of frequent flier status or fare type , AAirpass® members, First and Business Class MileSAAver® or AAnytime® Awards.
Continental: Free for Platinum/ Presidential Platinum, $25 for Gold, $50 for non elite/silver. The same-day flight change option will be available within 24 hours before your original scheduled flight. Requested flight can be in any fare class and be departing within the next 24 hours from when you are making the request. Changes must be made prior to your original scheduled flight.
Delta: Free for Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallions, but not their companions. $50 for everyone else.  You canchange from a connection flight to a nonstop/direct flight within 3 hours of the flight you want to switch to. So if you have an 8am flight and want to take an 8pm flight, that’s okay, but you have to wait until 5pm and hope there is still Y availability at that time. You cannot SDC on domestic legs of an international itinerary and a $150 fee applies to restricted Delta Shuttle fares requiring changes outside of the SDC window. You can SDC on award tickets. Standby is only for Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallions.
JetBlue: $40. You can confirm to a new flight beginning at midnight (in the time zone of the departing flight) of the same calendar day as your original scheduled flight. You must travel on an earlier or later flight the same-day. You must travel between the same city pairs.
Southwest: You pay the difference in fare for the flight you want to switch to. No official same day change program.
United: Free for 1k and Global Services, $75 for everyone else.  On the same day of travel as your scheduled itinerary, you can confirm a seat on an alternate United flight within three hours of the time of your request.  Available only for identical routings (same origin, destination and connection city, if applicable).    You can SDC on award tickets.
US Airways: “Move Up” to any earlier flight on the same day of your originally scheduled departure time at the airport (with the exception of flights to Hawaii and Europe). You can only make day-of-departure changes at the airport (and not by calling Reservations).
If there are open seats, you can automatically confirm your reservation for $50 for flights within the 48 contiguous United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada and Alaska. Standby is free if there are no confirmable seats available.
Virgin America: $25-$50 depending on flight length. On the day of departure, if you are at the airport and there are seats available on your desired flight, you can confirm a change for a fee on an earlier or later flight. Long Haul Flights (such as New York to San Francisco) – $50. Medium Haul Flights (such as Los Angeles to Seattle) – $35. Short Haul Flights (such as San Francisco to Las Vegas) – $25.
If there are seats available on your desired flight you may also standby for no fee, however, this is not a guaranteed seat. In either case, the change must be done at the airport prior to your scheduled flight.

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