Sunday Reader Question: How to Handle Unacceptable Schedule Changes to Flight Reservations

by on January 27, 2013 · 8 comments

in Air Berlin, American, Points Guy Pointers, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Faith has a sticky scheduling situation:

“I booked an award travel on Air Berlin using American Airlines miles and they just changed my flights to new times that are terrible for me. Any suggestions on how to take care of that?”

Schedule changes are common. Airlines constantly update their schedules to adjust to demand, and unfortunately they’re generally pretty bad at letting customers know about the changes. However, these can work to your benefit if you are proactive.

Air Berlin may fly to over 170 destinations - but that doesn't matter if the schedule changes!

Air Berlin may fly to over 170 destinations – but that doesn’t matter if the schedule changes!

In general, if a flight changes significantly (that threshold varies by airline, but generally an hour or so or if you will misconnect), then you should be able either to switch to a flight that works for your needs, even if the flight you are switching to would have required more money to book, or to get a refund for your ticket at no penalty. In the case of using frequent flyer miles, you should be able to get a full redeposit of your miles with no penalty.

Also, your flight may be changed many different times, but if cumulatively the change is about an hour or so different, you should be able to get the free changes or refunds. Always reference the original booking confirmation when calculating the total flight changes.

In your specific situation, you will have to call American. They may be able to route you on British Airways, but just make sure they don’t try to charge you extra fuel surcharges. Remind them that the schedule change was not your fault and you shouldn’t be penalized. On the other hand, if you book a British Airways award, say with $500 in fees, and you end up changing to an American flight, make sure you get a refund of those taxes and fees. I had a friend recently who was rerouted off of British Airways and it took several times of contacting American, but he got his fees back.

General tips when calling to book a better flight due to a schedule change:

1) Search for alternative options yourself. The phone agent will probably try to reroute you on that carrier so they don’t have to pay another carrier, but you shouldn’t accept that if the proposed option is less than ideal.

2) Be reasonable. Don’t expect to be rerouted on a non-alliance partner – work with the agent to find something suitable.

3) Double check your connection time. If the new schedule violates Minimum Connection Time for that airport, you have more leverage to get a better option. Call your airline to see what their Minimum Connection Time is for the airport you are flying through.

4) If your flight is eligible for a refund, check to see if purchasing a new flight would be cheaper. It may make more sense to refund the flight and then rebook at a lower cost, than having the airline rebook you directly.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Brendon

    FYI I flew Air Berlin a few times and always had my flights changed. Seems they like to do that miser than most and frequently. One said flight was moved to the next day even.

  • Steven Maviglio

    I just had United drop an entire segment of my flight, saying that their Star Alliance partner no longer served the city I was going to (Bari, Italy). So I called Lufthansa and they said that wasn’t true. Still, United won’t budget and is sending me to Rome — on the entire other side of the country. Ridiculous.

  • Nat

    Try calling United with the exact Lufthansa itinerary you would like to be booked on. If you have any status at all, call your preferred line. Otherwise, if your phone agent still won’t budge, ask to speak to his/her supervisor.

  • Mberlew

    Hey Brian, unrelated to this post but starting to see quite a few comments on Flyertalk in threads on Citi cards that suggest they are now preventing new applicants from getting two identical products on the same day (i.e. could be the end of the two-browser trick). Particularly in the Citi Hilton thread but also a mention or two in a Citi AA thread. Just a heads up of something that would be blog-worthy if it pans out as being accurate.

  • Mark

    I don’t know about others, but I got two Citi AA Visas when I applied last week using the 2BM method. The weird part was that I applied for a Visa and MC – not two Visas.

  • Raghav

    I have found United pretty good about this – our flight was rescheduled to reach EWR 40 min later – not much, but enough to ensure missing the next train to get to work – a quick call to a helpful CSR, and she put us on a different connection to get us back earlier.
    (It was an economy class reward ticket – and we are not elites)

  • Adam

    i have found that Air Berlin is inconsistent with schedules. We were stranded by them in Italy trying to get to Spain. Flight was supposed to be 45 minutes. Instead the connections they put us on took 5 hours. Not sure if inter-europe is different but they didn’t offer to put us on another carrier.

  • BobChi

    Dropping segments is an annoying trait of United’s. And you’re lucky if you hear about it. Some of us wind up at the airport talking to an agent who mysteriously can’t find a reservation that was confirmed to us and still appears at Get to the airport early when you’re flying United.

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