Have you ever booked a flight many months in advance only to have your carefully selected flight time change? Flight schedule changes happen all the time. Airlines are always tweaking their schedules for optimum performance.
Often a flight schedule change is simply a matter of minutes that doesn’t really affect much. But sometimes a change can really throw a wrench into your travel plans – meaning less time at your destination or an earlier morning trip to the airport that you didn’t want. Occasionally even minor flight schedule changes can turn a reasonable flight connection time into one that is uncomfortably tight, increasing the chances you will miss a connecting flight if your first flight has a minor delay.
Getting notice of a flight schedule change can be frustrating. But don’t get mad. Get even. Flight schedule changes can present smart travelers with opportunities. Here’s how I just made the most of a fairly small flight schedule change that saved me both money and time in the end. (To be sure, it doesn’t work all the time. But when it does, it’s pretty magic.)
How I Saved Big on a Hawaii Trip with a Flight Schedule Change
Booking an Award Flight: KOA to SFO
Back in early February, my family booked flights from the Bay Area to Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island (KOA) for the wedding of my brother-in-law in October. At the time, most flights to and from the Bay Area airports to KOA were over $400 per person each way.
My two best non-stop options were Alaska Airlines between OAK and KOA or United between SFO and KOA. I spotted a one-way flight on United for our return home leg that was at an optimum time. At just 22,500 miles apiece, it was also a pretty good mileage redemption at nearly 2 cents per point in value. Although I prefer to fly into OAK, the chance to use miles as well as United’s superior flight return time tipped the scales.
I booked all four of us from KOA to SFO while the award availability was there for the entire family. I knew, however, that booking in February for October travels meant that chances were pretty good that a schedule change would happen.
Schedule Changes Galore
At the very end of March, the dreaded email indeed came from United. Our perfect Sunday 2:40pm departure time from Hawaii had been moved earlier to 1:15 pm. That meant an earlier checkout the morning after a big wedding celebration and missing a chance for brunch with out-of-town relatives. First world problems to be sure, but I wasn’t thrilled. A few weeks later, it changed again to a 1:00 pm departure – even earlier.
In the meantime, Alaska’s flight from KOA to OAK (the one we didn’t book) had a schedule change of its own, meaning it departed later than the United flight and at a more convenient time for us. It seemed pretty clear that the best solution would be to dump the United flight and move to Alaska – assuming the price was right.
But how to make that happen? Already locked into a decent United redemption I could live with as a fallback if no other alternatives panned out, I didn’t do anything with United’s schedule change email. Instead, I just instead decided to sit on it for awhile to see how things shook out in next few months.
Hawaii Travel Landscape Changes
Of course, a pretty major event happened on Hawaii’s Big Island just a few weeks later. In early May, the Kilauea volcano began erupting. While the Kona side of the island is barely affected by any of the side effects like “vog” (volcano fog), Hawaii tourism has suffered significantly. Flight prices to all islands of Hawaii – but especially Hilo and Kona airports – have dropped precipitously. Sales have been coming and going ever since.
Regular non-stop flight prices for these Bay Area-KOA routes started settling into the $219-259 range each way. Anticipating that even bigger sales were coming, I began to play a bit of a game of chicken with the airlines to keep a close eye on flight prices.
Making My Move
Finally, yesterday morning, I awoke to do my usual Tuesday check at OAK-KOA flight prices. (Like Southwest, Alaska often releases flight sales on Tuesdays). Low and behold, prices dropped. OAK to KOA non-stop flights were as low as $179, with the exact flight times we needed at $199 each way. That’s an absolute steal for Hawaii. And at those prices, my 22,500 mile award redemption on United was no longer a good value.
So I called United and told them that the schedule change wouldn’t work for us. United’s official policy is that they only refund if the schedule change has been greater than two hours. But if the new time doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. I was polite and the agent didn’t even mention the two hour rule. He also offered up another United redeye flight later that evening as an alternative, but I declined because I had kids who needed to be at school on Monday morning. Instead, I asked for a refund of our miles and taxes/fees to go book on another airline. The call took under 10 minutes and the miles are already back in my account.
And I immediately went and rebooked on Alaska, snagging the $199 fares at the very best times.
Tips for Making the Most of a Flight Schedule Change
The key to this working out in my favor was simply doing nothing when that flight schedule change from United came in. Some airlines will ask you click accept if you log in to view your reservations. Don’t do it! And certainly not right away if you are many months in advance of your trip.
Of course, if your flight is cancelled entirely, you’ll have to call and make other arrangements. But if you have a schedule change that is perhaps just somewhat inconvenient, it may make sense to just watch and wait as I did.
With most airlines charging passengers $200 change fees, keeping the flight schedule change card in your back pocket is a powerful weapon. Flight schedule changes can present opportunities for you to have flexibility you might not otherwise have without paying a fee.
Here are my best tips to make this tool work for you too:
- Don’t agree!: Don’t accept flight schedule changes right away.
- Do your research: Does the airline you are booked with have another itinerary that works better for you? Does another airline have an option, perhaps at an even better price? Knowing all these data points will inform your next move.
- Ask politely for what you do want: If you do need to call and ask for a flight change or a refund, be nice. As a Southerner, I know all too well you usually catch more flies with honey. Explain what you need succinctly and politely.
Have you ever had a flight schedule change that worked out in your favor? Would love to hear your experiences!