What Can I Do When an Airline Changes My Itinerary?

Mar 17, 2017

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

“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.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.