A comprehensive guide to American Airlines' Same Day Flight Change
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 didn't want to pay the fare difference between an early flight and the midday flight you'd prefer to take, but now you're dreading that early flight.
If you're flying American Airlines, you aren't necessarily stuck on your original flights. You may be able to use AA's "Same Day Flight Change" (SDFC) program to change your flight within 24 hours of departure for a $75 fee. Even better, this fee is waived for some American Airlines elites.
However, even if you don't have elite status on American Airlines, the $75 fee can be a steal compared to AA's standard $200+ flight change fee plus having to pay the fare difference between your original flight and the new flight.
The trouble is, the rules and restrictions for AA's Same Day Flight Change program are complex. This is certainly a program where you're going to need to know the policies and some tricks to get the most out of it. Let's go over these complexities so you know how and when to use this perk or pay for this service.
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AA's Same Day Flight Change rules
Let's start with the basic rules of AA's policy. True to the "same day" part of the name, your new flight(s) must depart the same calendar day as your original flight(s). For example, if you've booked 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 through a same-day flight change.
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 day before or the day of. This can make it tough if you're trying to make plans for your departure or arrival. Also, 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 route as you originally booked. If you're connecting through Chicago-O'Hare (ORD), for example, 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 New York-LaGuardia (LGA) but don't want to deal with the perpetual construction there, you can't SDFC to a flight into the nearby New York-JFK airport.
Fee to Same Day Flight Change
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.
Long-haul international flights are generally not eligible for a same-day flight change, but there's one exception. If you're flying between New York-JFK and London-Heathrow (LHR) — including itineraries with connecting flights inside the U.S. — you can make a SDFC for $150 per direction.
Related: The best credit cards for American Airlines flyers
And yes, the SDFC fee is reimbursed by American Express through the airline fee credit.
Who can SDFC for free?
Confirmed, same-day flight change is free for passengers ticketed in first or business class and those booked in full-fare (Y fare) economy. Also, American Airlines Executive Platinum and 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 for free same-day flight changes.
Historically all award tickets were eligible for same-day flight changes. However, AA's new dynamically-priced "web special" awards have become omnipresent, and these awards aren't eligible to be changed. Instead, these awards have to be canceled and rebooked if you want to switch flights.
If you book a standard MileSAAver or AAnytime award, you will still be able to get complimentary, same-day flight changes. But, award tickets work a bit differently. See below for more on how to SDFC an award ticket.
Searching for availability for 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 publicly. 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, which is owned by TPG's parent company Red Ventures. To search for this, select the Fare Availability search option. Enter 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 employee travel / same day flight change bucket (E). This filter gives a decent snapshot of how many seats are still available on a given flight.
In the example above, you can see that there are (at least) seven business class and economy seats for sale on almost every flight between Charlotte (CLT) and New York's LaGuardia (LGA) for Jan. 8, 2020. Each one of these flights also has availability for (at least) seven same-day flight changes. Just note that this availability is always subject to change as you get closer to departure.
Related: The beginner's guide to ExpertFlyer
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 options you're given for your reservation. 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 this information. If your ticket is eligible for a SDFC, American's website won't tell you if there's a single seat left or a half-dozen seats left. That must come from ExpertFlyer.
How the 24-hour change window works
Thankfully, the "same day" part of the SDFC program doesn't mean that you have to wait until the calendar day of your departure to make changes. For example, when I wanted to SDFC a 6 a.m. flight from Jacksonville (JAX) to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), I didn't have to stay up until midnight to change my flight. Instead, I was able to change it the day before departure.
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 6 a.m. Monday flight to a flight later Monday, there aren't going to be any available flight options if you check at 6 a.m. Sunday. Instead, you're going to have to wait until 24 hours before the new flight to make the change.
In that JAX-DFW example, I saw in ExpertFlyer that there was availability on the 2 p.m. flight. So, I waited until 2 p.m. the day before departure to check the AA app and process the change.
The reverse is true for moving to a flight earlier in the day. If you want to move to the 8 a.m. flight when you're booked on a noon flight, your window opens at 8 a.m. 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.
How to change award tickets
All AAdvantage award tickets are eligible for complimentary, confirmed, same-day flight changes. 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, generally you're going to end up having to call AA to change your flight.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with the American Airlines AAdvantage program
When Same Day Flight Change 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 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 during the day. I would've preferred to land in Atlanta midday, but my schedule was flexible enough that I could book this cheapest option knowing that there's a pretty good chance I can use a same-day flight change to an option 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. Just note that you can't generally can't create a 4+ hour layover through a SDFC.
Related: The best ways to avoid change and cancellation fees on paid flights
Perhaps the most useful use of SDFC for business travelers is the ability to hop on an earlier flight if a meeting or conference ends early -- or switch to a later flight if the meeting runs long.
Finally, you could wind up in the same situation as TPG Editor Nick Ewen a few years back: stuck in a traffic jam en route to the airport. He (thankfully) hadn't booked the last flight of the day, so he was able to call and change to a later flight once it became clear that he was going to miss his original one.
How upgrades work with same-day flight changes
One of the downsides for SDFC is the upgrade situation. Generally, you're going to give up your upgrade -- and chances of getting an upgrade -- by switching flights.
Also, you might have trouble making a SDFC if you've already gotten an upgrade. Even though the option may show online or on the app, you may not be able to confirm the change until you talk to an agent to downgrade you on the original flight so you can SDFC to a new flight.
Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on American Airlines
However, for my last SDFC in early December, I was able to switch flights while maintaining my upgrade. When I went through the process on the app, it wasn't clear that I'd be confirmed into first class or economy. But once the process was complete, I had a first-class seat for both legs from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte and from Charlotte to Austin:
However, don't count on maintaining or getting an upgrade when doing an SDFC. Recently, American Airlines has been clearing upgrade lists through "J1" — leaving just one domestic first-class seat for last-minute purchase — at 24 hours to departure. That's great news for those of us who were sick of having to wait for "battleground upgrades" — particularly for flights with meal service or to avoid sub-par seats. However, that means doing a SDFC usually means you're unlikely to get an upgrade on the new flight unless you're a top-tier elite that can snag that last seat just before the plane's door closes.
The ability to change your flight to an earlier or later one can come in handy, and American allows even non-elites to do this for a relatively small fee of $75 per ticket. However, it isn't as simple as it may sound, so I hope this guide has helped show exactly how to approach it the next time you find yourself in need of a last-minute change on an AA-operated flight.