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Ever been frustrated when a business meeting ends early and you’ve got to wait around for hours to catch your flight? Or perhaps you just didn’t want to swallow that $100+ fare difference between an early flight and the midday flight you really want to take.
If you’re flying American Airlines, you aren’t necessarily stuck on your original flights. You can use AA’s “Same Day Flight Change” program to change your flight at the last minute for a $75 fee. Even better, American Airlines Executive Platinum top-tier elites and — effective February 1, 2018 — Platinum Pro elites get this fee waived. But, even if you don’t have elite status on American Airlines, the $75 fee can be a steal when compared to AA’s standard $200+ flight change fees.
The trouble is, the rules and restrictions for the Same Day Flight Change program are complex. This is definitely a program where you’re going to need to know the rules to come out ahead. Let’s go over these complexities so you know how and when to use this perk or pay for this service.
True to the “same day” part of the name, your new flight(s) must depart the same calendar day as your original flight(s). Say you’re booked on the first flight Tuesday morning, you’re only going to be able to change to a later flight on Tuesday. You can’t fly out Monday night instead.
Also, the change must be made within 24 hours of the new flight. That means you won’t be able to change your flight until the last minute. This can make it tough if you’re trying to make plans for your departure or arrival.
Unfortunately, you can’t switch to any flight with an open seat. Instead, there needs to be specific availability on the new flight to make the change. More about how to find that availability below.
But perhaps the most annoying restriction is that you must change to flights on the exact same routing as you originally booked. So, if you’re connecting through Chicago (ORD), you can’t rebook on a nonstop flight or even one connecting through Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) instead. You also can’t change your flight to a nearby airport. If you found a cheap flight into LaGuardia (LGA) but don’t want to deal with that mess, you can’t SDFC to a flight into the nearby New York JFK airport.
The standard cost for a SDFC “on flights between the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Canada, and the Caribbean” is $75 per direction. International flights are generally not eligible, but there’s one exception. If you’re flying between New York’s JFK and London’s Heathrow (LHR) — including itineraries with connecting flights inside the US — you can make a SDFC for $150 per direction.
Who can change for free
Complimentary confirmed same day flight change is available to those booked in first or business class and those booked in full-fare (Y fare) economy. American Airlines Executive Platinum and [effective February 1, 2018] Platinum Pro elites — plus one companion in the same reservation — also get the option to change for free. Also, American Airlines AirPass ticket holders are eligible.
All award tickets (First Class, Business Class, MileSAAver and AAnytime) are eligible for complimentary same day flight changes. However, award tickets work a bit differently. See Award Tickets below for more on how to SDFC an award ticket.
Searching for availability (paid flights)
Most of what’s been covered so far can be found on AA’s website, but now let’s dive deeper into the parts AA doesn’t share. In order to change to a new flight, there must be “E” fare availability on that flight. And unfortunately, the airline’s website doesn’t show when this is the case.
If you’re eyeing a same day flight change while outside of the 24-hour change window, you can check for E fare availability on ExpertFlyer. To search for this, select the Fare Availability search option. Plug in your origin, destination and any connecting airports, the date(s) you’re traveling and choose AA as the carrier.
For simplicity, you can narrow these Fare Availability search results to certain fare codes. When checking ExpertFlyer, I generally limit searches to “FJYE.” This searches the number of tickets available for sale in first class (F) — where available — business class / domestic first class (J), economy (Y) and the same day flight change bucket (E).
Once you’re inside the 24-hour change window, you can check availability without an ExpertFlyer subscription by simply logging into AA.com and clicking the SDFC option to see what’s available. However, if you’re not ready to commit to a change and want to see how many open spots are left, you’ll still need to search ExpertFlyer to find out the number left.
24-hour change window
Thankfully, the “same day” part of the SDFC program doesn’t mean that you have to make changes on the same day of departure. For my recent 6am Jacksonville (JAX) to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) flight, it would’ve been a pain to have to stay up to midnight to see if I could change to a midday flight. But, AA doesn’t want to make the window too broad to allow passengers to book a cheaper flight and immediately change to a different flight. So, AA has settled on a 24-hour window in which you can do a same day flight change.
Here’s where it can be a bit tricky. The time of the original flight doesn’t matter for this window. It’s the time of the new flight that determines if you can make a change or not. If you’re wanting to change a 6am Monday flight to a flight later Monday, there aren’t going to be any available new flight options at 6am Sunday. You’re going to have to wait until 24 hours before the new flight to make the change. The reverse is true for moving a flight up. If you want to move to the 8am flight when you’re booked on a noon flight, you’re window opens at 8am the day before — not at noon.
It’s unclear exactly when the SDFC cutoff is before the new flight, but I found recently that I couldn’t make a change in the app at 40 minutes before the new flight.
All AAdvantage award tickets are eligible for free confirmed same day confirmed flight change. That said, unlike on paid tickets, you aren’t looking for “E” fare availability. Instead, there has to be award availability on the new flight for you to get a confirmed flight change.
While the SDFC option will show up online and in the app, unfortunately this isn’t a process that can be done online. You’re going to have to call AA to change your flight.
When SDFC can be useful
So, why would you want to same day flight change anyway? There are two main reasons I’ve used it: for a cheaper price and a change in plans.
For a recent flight between Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Atlanta (ATL), the late-night flight option was about $100 cheaper one-way than any of the American Airlines flights that day. I would like to fly into ATL midday, but my schedule was flexible enough that I could book this cheapest option knowing that there’s a pretty good chance I can same day flight change to a flight earlier that day.
There have been other times where I’m connecting on the fastest connection through the airport, but something comes up and I want to check out a new Priority Pass lounge or meet with someone during that layover. A same-day change can get me on an earlier first flight or later connecting flight, allowing a longer layover.
Another example could be if you booked a later flight home after a meeting or conference. If the meeting/conference ends early, it’s nice to be able to jump on an earlier flight home.
Unfortunately you can’t SDFC online or through the app if your upgrade already cleared on your original flight — even though this option will show online and in the app. That’s because AA won’t let you carry that upgrade over to the new flight. You’re going to have to work with an American Airlines agent to get downgraded from your original flight so you can SDFC to a new flight.
Speaking of upgrades, recently American Airlines has generally been clearing upgrade lists through “J1” — leaving just one domestic first class seat for last-minute purchase — at 24 hours prior to departure. That’s great news for those of us who were sick of always getting American Airlines’ “battleground upgrades” — particularly for flights with meal service or avoiding sub-par seats. However, that means that doing a SDFC usually means you’re unlikely to get an upgrade on the new flight unless you’re a Concierge Key member.
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