Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

On March 26th, I had booked off-peak awards for me and my wife (17,500 miles in each direction for a total of 35,000 miles per passenger) on American Airlines from Houston to Hawaii as follows:

Departure Houston (IAH) to Kauai (LIH)

IAH LIH Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

Return Honolulu (HNL) to Houston (HOU)

HNL HOU Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

I had booked them as separate one way tickets.  I was ecstatic when these tickets were issued since I was getting an amazing deal to Hawaii.  My plan was to buy an inter-island ticket for $60-$70 at some later point in time to go from LIH – HNL. This inter-island award can also be had for 5000 United miles or 5000 American miles.

As we were thinking about booking hotels,  I checked my AAdvantage account for flight times and I noticed that my IAH – LIH flights were completely messed up.  American Airlines had a schedule change and no longer offered the evening flight at 4:40 PM from LAX to LIH.  Without any email or warning, American had automatically changed my flights as follows:

AA change Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

If you look carefully, you can see that they have me arriving LAX at 3PM, but departing LAX at 8:55AM on the same day (August 29th)…. for real?  How does this even happen?  I called American to see what was going on and they confirmed that due to schedule changes, I could not take my original LAX – LIH flight.  The representative was also dumbfounded when she saw the change above.  After doing some research, I was told that there is no longer a 1 stop option from IAH – LIH, but a 2 stop was possible as follows:

2 stops to LIH Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

I was also told that the last leg HNL – LIH is flown by partner Hawaiian Airlines and would now have to be booked as a separate award for an additional 5000 miles since it’s an inter-island flight.  I didn’t feel that I should have to pay extra now for something that’s their fault.  So, just to make sure, I told them I would call them back and then sought advice on Milepoint, and it seems people agreed that I shouldn’t have to pay extra for something that I had already ticketed.

I called again and per the advice on Milepoint, I politely asked that they add the segment on Hawaiian without charging the 5000 miles and they said that there was no award space available.  I verified and sure enough, there was no award space on Hawaiian.

I said that I am willing to pay the difference if they offer me customer service credit and they did not agree. The representative said that she agreed with me that it’s American’s fault, but what I am asking for cannot be done. She gave me the option of overnighting in LAX on the 28th and taking the 8:55AM LAX – LIH on the 29th, or cancel the ticket and redeposit the miles without a fee, or take my original routing the next day which was available, none of which I wanted or agreed to.  I wanted to be in Hawaii on the 29th to maximize our time.

As I was on the phone with the rep, my wife asked me “Is it possible to switch our trip altogether and fly Houston to Honolulu and come back Kauai to Houston?” I had never even thought of that as an option.  So, I gave it a try with the rep to see if this was possible.  After some time, the rep was actually able to make this happen without any additional fees or penalties.  The new awards did not have any inter-island segments served by a partner airline.  Here are what my new itineraries look like:

Departure Houston (HOU) to Honolulu (HNL)

HOU HNL Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

Departure Kauai (LIH) to Houston (HOU)

LIH HOU Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

After the new itinerary was ticketed, I noticed that the Booking code for the new tickets was Y (unrestricted full fare economy) compared to T (Economy Award) for the old bookings.  This would theoretically mean that I would earn miles for flying the new tickets whereas I would not earn any miles for my old itinerary.  I can’t be sure, but one of the commenters (Mike Reed.. thanks) on the Milepoint thread seemed to think so.  If this is indeed the case, this would clearly be an error in my favor which I wouldn’t complain about. icon smile Lessons learned from an unforeseen American Airlines schedule change

There were a few things that I learned in the process of this unforeseen change by American Airlines.

1.  Check your reservation regularly

If you have a reservation far in advance, check on it often to make sure there are no schedule changes.  Although most airlines are good about notifying the passenger of changes via email, American did not notify me of this change and I would have never known unless I happened to check the booking.

2.  Agents may not agree to what you think you are entitled to

I thought it was wrong of American to make me want to pay an extra 5000 miles to change my itinerary after I had already paid for my ticket.  That’s like me asking the airline for a refund if I found  a cheaper itinerary after it’s ticketed.  You can certainly try escalating to a supervisor or hang up and call back in an attempt to get what you want.  In my particular case, I had spent more than an hour each time just holding for an American Airlines representative and they seemed adamant that they couldn’t add me on to their partner flight without charging me extra.  So, I took what I though worked best for me.

3.  Be flexible

It seems that American Airlines agents are competent and friendly and worked with me for a while and offered me some options, just not the initial option that I wanted.  If you are flexible, chances are something will work out for you.  If I was inflexible, I probably would have escalated to a supervisor.

4.  Be nice on the phone

I was certainly getting frustrated when the agent kept telling me that they understand that it’s American’s fault for the schedule change, but they can’t get me to my destination on the date I want without paying extra.  However, I knew that I had to stay calm and be nice on the phone.  Being demanding or arguing certainly would not have led to the result that I got.

5. Don’t make nonrefundable hotel reservations

It’s a good thing that I had not made any nonrefundable hotel reservations.  If I did, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to change flights the way that I did.  If you’re going to make hotel reservations, make sure they are refundable.

6.  Verify what the representative telling you is correct if you are unsure

I wasn’t sure if it is 5000 miles for an inter-island award on Hawaiian and I wasn’t sure if the representative was telling me correctly that the award space wasn’t available, so I quickly put them on hold and checked for myself.   The point is, don’t just take their word for it.

7.  Keep in mind that it is possible to lose the battle

What I mean is you can fight for what you believe is right, but it is certainly possible that you may still lose.   In that event, consider just sucking it up and paying extra.  You don’t want to ruin a great trip.  Your time spent arguing on the phone is probably worth more than the extra money you may be paying to make the change.

8.  You may end up better than you started

I seem to have ended up better in the sense that I ended with a mileage earning fare (Y) after the change than my original ticket fare (T).  I would think this is not a common phenomenon, but maybe I just got lucky.  Have you ever had this happen?

What do you think about this American Airlines change?  How accommodating has American Airlines been in making changes for you?

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • TWA44 June 7, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I have run into the very same thing, with award tickets from US Airways. I learned of a schedule change from an AwardWallet alert, not US Airways, and they also had rebooked me and my husband on a connecting flight that left before my incoming flight actually arrived.

    I also was able to work it out but not without some stress and long phone calls. US told me that when there is a schedule change, they just dump you onto something else, figuring you will call if it is unacceptable. In one of the cases that this happened – it has happened three times so far! – I did get an email from US, but the other times it was thanks to AW. None of the flights are actually on US which may explain some of the lack of notice, but still….

    The bad thing is that changes had to be onto flights with award space. It has been time-consuming and stressful enough that I may re-evaluate my strategy – maybe I will focus future credit card signups on hotel cards and cash back cards, so I can pay for flights. I expect that if you have a schedule change with a flight you paid cash for, it is easier to find alternative arrangements as you are not limited to award seat availability. For those of us not into aspirational, flat bed, first class flights using award tickets, it may be a better and less aggravating way to do it, especially if you do not have lots of flexibility.

    Reply edit
  • lovetofly June 7, 2013 at 11:44 am

    It’s funny that you mention AwardWallet. I use it, and I still did not get an email for the change. I completely agree with you that it’s so time consuming and stressful to try to rebook an award (when its not even your fault) that may have taken you so much time to find in the first place. I am not elite on American, but my guess is that I may have gotten better service if I was.

    Reply edit

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