How we went from low cost to luxury thanks to a schedule change

May 6, 2020

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Woodrow, who was able to leverage a schedule change to upgrade from a low-cost carrier to lie-flat business class:

My girlfriend and I found unbelievably cheap flights on low-cost LEVEL Airlines, round trip from New York-JFK to Barcelona (BCN). I thought it wasn’t so bad for less than $200 each way, but the difference could be seen from a full-service carrier (as bare bones as even they have become). During our extended stay in Europe, I received an email from Level informing us that our departure from Barcelona back to New York had been pushed back more than four hours! This was not a delay, it was a schedule change — this notification was received several weeks in advance of the flight.

I knew that airlines can be somewhat flexible when it comes to major schedule changes. Some have clauses in the terms and conditions about this, while others will be understanding on a case-by-case basis. And LEVEL, while low cost, is staffed by customer service agents from its full-service parent company Iberia. I wondered if there was any way they would rebook us on a flight operated by Iberia instead. The agent was immediately understanding, and with no questions asked, searched my options. While LEVEL did not have any earlier nonstop flights from Barcelona, he could put us on an Iberia flight, but it would require a connection in Madrid. I told him it was no problem and a few minutes later, I had new e-tickets on Iberia-operated flights, for no charge!

I was feeling great enough about having gone from low-cost Level to Iberia for no charge: we would now get free meals, drinks and better service, all for the same sub-$200 fare we paid to fly LEVEL. But it got better. About a week before the flight, I received an upgrade offer from Iberia — for 425 euros ($461) we could go from economy to business class. I went on TPG to read some reviews and Iberia’s business class product looked really nice — direct aisle access for every seat (rare now for business), extra-comfortable accommodations, and seemingly really great offerings. I thought 425 euros was fair, and I took them up on the offer!

So at this point, I had gone from low cost and bare bones to full-service, legacy-carrier economy, to lie-flat seats and lounge access! By the time the flight came around I was feeling extremely proud of myself and accomplished. I thought a sub-$700 fare in business class across the Atlantic, all booked at the last minute, was a great success, and it was! We had fantastic meals, Spanish wines, and refreshing sleep. We watched movies as if laying in a bed. It was amazing!

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Woodrow did a lot of things right here to go from low cost to lie flat, the first of which was understanding his rights as a passenger during a schedule change. While many airlines have altered their policies around this due to the widespread flight cancellations caused by the coronavirus, if your schedule is changed by more than an hour or two you may be able to get an agent to rebook you on a different routing with the same airline, alliance, or in this case, company (International Airlines Group or IAG owns British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, LEVEL and Vueling).

While Woodrow let the Iberia customer service agent find him an alternate routing, I try and do my research before calling in and suggest the flights I would like to be on. I find I have much better results when I tell the agents what I want instead of asking them to see what’s available, and they often appreciate me shouldering some of the workload.

Woodrow’s second win was keeping an eye on his email for an upgrade offer, something we’re seeing more and more of as airlines try and drive incremental revenue from passengers and not send premium seats out empty. Spending an extra 425 euros ($461) might not be a great deal if you paid full price for the economy ticket upfront, but since his original fare was under $200, this seems like a no-brainer to upgrade. And of course, reading TPG flight reviews helped him know he was getting a good deal and even pick a good seating configuration for him and his girlfriend.

Related: Complete guide to airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes; due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy.

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