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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

You found flights that worked for your schedule and a price you liked, so you booked your ticket. Then the airline changed it. That’s the scenario facing TPG reader Jason, who emailed us to ask…

American Airlines changed my flight quite drastically after I booked it — my return trip from Paris (CDG) to Portland (PDX) now gets home 2 1/2 hours later than I had originally booked. Do I have any recourse?

TPG Reader Jason

Airlines constantly toy with their flight schedules, and the further ahead you book a ticket, the more likely it is you might find yourself facing a schedule change. If that change is just a few minutes here or there, then it might not matter. But a multi-hour delay can make a real difference, especially if you’re trying to make it in time for an obligation at your arrival city.

The first thing to remember is if you’re presented an alternative itinerary online or by phone that you don’t want, do not accept it. Obviously you aren’t going to be able to force an airline to reverse a schedule change, but you do have some options, at least when it comes to a significant change in your itinerary. Which brings up the first question — what constitutes a “significant” change?

Well, because this is the airline industry and the rules have to be as complex and non-intuitive as possible, I’m sure you’ll be stunned to learn that each airline has a different definition of “significant.” Let’s take a look at the rules of all three legacy carriers…

American’s rules on schedule changes are complicated, but AA agents are pretty good about handling changes.

American Airlines

American’s rules on schedule changes are exceptionally complicated and many AA agents will consider rebooking your ticket when even minor itinerary changes happen. But the official rules are mostly spelled out in its Booking and Ticketing Procedures and its International General Rules. They say if your departure time changes by 60 minutes or more, or if your itinerary changes from a direct flight to a connecting flight, or if there’s an equipment change, you can change your ticket for no charge.

If the change is 90 minutes or less, you can only switch to a flight in the same fare bucket as your original ticket on the same day, but you can change your connection if you want. For changes that are more than 90 minutes — or if you had a nonstop and American added a stop — you can change to any flight regardless of whether there’s space in the original fare bucket. You can even switch to a partner flight.

When it comes to refunds, if you are moved from a direct to a connecting flight or if the schedule change is more than 60 minutes, you are eligible for a refund (though in some cases that “refund” may come in the form of a voucher). But if the schedule change is 60 minutes or less, you can only change your ticket — no refunds are allowed.

Delta

Delta’s website states that if a Delta schedule or routing change delays your departure or arrival by more than one hour, you may be eligible to select an alternate flight at no additional charge. Your origin, destination and travel date must remain the same; alternate flights must be available; and you can only modify the itinerary once.

You can request a refund if the schedule change results in no comparable flights being available within 90 minutes of the originally scheduled departure or arrival, if the change added one or more stops to the original itinerary or if there’s a change in equipment from Delta mainline to a Delta Connections regional carrier.

United

United’s website informs customers that if your scheduled departure or arrival time changes by 30 minutes or more, the airline will try to find other available flight options that meet your needs. However, your origin and destination have to be the same as on your original itinerary, and alternative flights must be operated by United or United Express. If you have a connection, you may be able to choose a different connecting city or airport.

If United can’t find any other flights that meet your needs, you can request a refund, but only if the scheduled departure or arrival time changed by two hours or more or the change “causes issues with the overall length of the trip, such as making the connection time too short or significantly longer than it originally was.”

Bottom Line

Remember that it always helps to do your own research ahead of time so you can tell the agent exactly what new flights you prefer. I hope this info is useful, and thanks for the question, Jason. If you’re a TPG reader with a question you’d like answered, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or send an email to info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image courtesy of Miami Herald via Getty Images.

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