Taking advantage of a schedule change — reader success story

Jan 8, 2020

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Shannon, who scored a much more convenient itinerary after being rerouted:

I live about 10 minutes from the Pittsburgh airport, but I often find myself flying out of other airports due to high prices out of PIT. A friend and I looking to attend Carnival in Brazil booked American Airlines flights from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro with a layover in JFK for $600 round-trip (compared to nearly $1,200 out of Pittsburgh). The commute to YYZ was outweighed by the $600 savings per person, and the added allure of a stop at Niagara Falls.

Early in December, I received an e-mail from American Airlines that my flight had been changed. I pulled up the itinerary and made note of the new flight times, which extended our layovers by about an hour in each direction. I was about to close the e-mail when the airport code caught my attention. Instead of a short layover in JFK, our flights had been altered to fly into LGA and out of JFK. That would entail flying into New York, going through customs, retrieving our luggage, paying out-of-pocket for a cab or shuttle to another airport, rechecking bags and going back through security on both ends of our trip.

Upon calling American the first time, I was informed the only option they could provide was to fly from Toronto to Rio with a full-day layover in Miami both ways. While Pittsburgh is within 300 miles of Toronto (the airport radius American allows for rebooking in the event of a change on their end), the fact that it was in another country ruled out the change … or so we thought!

A second customer service rep was able to find a rule that superseded this policy. Since American had suspended YYZ–JFK service altogether, she was able to rebook us from Pittsburgh to Rio with a short connection in Miami. The first rep was either unaware of this option or unwilling to provide it, so never be afraid to call back and try again. Thanks to American’s schedule change, we ended up on our ideal flight for half the price!

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Schedule changes are a nuisance when you’re happy with your flights, but they also create opportunities to evade less desirable itineraries. Changes don”t need to be as dramatic as service being eliminated entirely; you may also be eligible to switch flights (or get a refund) if your departure or arrival times change or if your aircraft is swapped out for another, especially if it means you get downgraded to a lower class of service. Each airline handles these situations differently, so check your carrier’s policies before addressing changes to your itinerary, and research other flight options before calling so you can suggest alternatives that work for you.

If you’re having trouble finding affordable airfare from the nearest airport, consider using miles to position yourself for cheaper flights elsewhere. Many airlines offer inexpensive awards on shorter flights, so you don’t have to burn a ton of miles to tack on a connection. For example, Shannon could have booked Economy Web Special AAdvantage awards for 12,000 miles round-trip from Pittsburgh to Miami, where flights to Rio are significantly cheaper. Weigh the value of your miles against the amount you stand to save to see if this approach is worthwhile, and remember to factor in the added risk of booking your trip on separate tickets.

Shannon’s story is a reminder that airline (and other) representatives don’t always know the rules. When I have a strong case but reach an agent who is uninformed and/or unhelpful, I don’t waste time trying to draw blood from a stone. I either ask to speak with a supervisor, or I simply thank them for their time, hang up and call again until I reach someone more pliable. However, I don’t advise calling repeatedly when the rules are clearly not in your favor in hopes of finding an agent who doesn’t know better. That’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Related: These are the cheapest (and most expensive) airports in the U.S.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Shannon a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. 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. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

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

Featured photo by Yadid Levy/robertharding/Getty Images.

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