What Happens When There’s an Impossible Schedule Change on an Award Ticket?

Ronald A. asks,

I’ve got an Aeroplan award ticket for two booked for next Spring on Turkish Airlines and Brussels Airlines (Istanbul-Brussels-Washnigton Dulles). The Brussels Airlines flight has had a huge schedule change which causes a misconnect in Brussels, so I’ll need to rebook.

It looks like there is nothing with saver availability in business class for my dates on Brussels Airlines for the transatlantic segment, so I’d imagine they’ll want to flip me over to Austrian, which has availability, but that has fuel surcharges on a normal booking.

Will I be charged the fuel charges for an involuntary rebooking like this due to a schedule change?

Also, given that it’s a huge schedule change, is there any chance they can contact revenue management at Star Alliance (or something to that effect) and request that Turkish open up two business seats on the nonstop Istanbul-Washington Dulles flight? What happens if I wait and call Aeroplan on a day where there is no saver award availability at all, meaning they have to open something up in order to accommodate me? Will that increase the likelihood of getting the nonstop on Turkish? (Or will Air Canada just open something up on their own metal?)

In general it’s really tough to get partner airlines to open up seats.

If you book an award through one program, they have access to the saver awards offered by their partners. But they don’t have the ability to open up space on other airlines.

There are generally ‘alliance liaisons’ and there are times when they can get their partners to act. It’s been done, it isn’t impossible, but it’s rare. Usually this only works where there’s been a mistake on the part of the partner.

When there’s no saver award inventory, the airline presumes they’ll sell their seats or at least don’t want to open up awards. Opening up the space is a costly thing for the partner airline to do. They won’t do it as a favor, only when they really have to make good.

If you were on a partner flight that had a change, the connection became illegal, but being re-accommodated on a different flight from the same partner would fix things that can often be done.

Switching partner routing, as in this question? Far less likely. Turkish isn’t going to open up space on their non-stop flight because of another partner airline’s schedule change.

I told Ronald A. that he’s much more likely to get a change done without additional fees — Aeroplan accommodating him by changing his flights but not adding fuel surcharges for the airline he changes onto — since it’s effectively an involuntary re-route. That could take supervisor involvement, sometimes you have to hang up, call back even.

Aeroplan doesn’t add fuel surcharges onto Turkish awards. They do add fuel surcharges to awards for flying Austrian. In this case, they should move the passenger onto Austrian and re-issue the tickets without adding on those junk fees.

Interestingly, if you fly an outbound with Aeroplan, then make changes to the ticket after departure, no fuel surcharges are collected for the change even when moving to a carrier where Aeroplan normally bills you those.

Here’s what happened when Ronald A. spoke to Aeroplan. Unsurprisingly,

They put me on Austrian with no fuel surcharge and obviously no change penalty.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve had it happen to me more than once, but fortunately each time I’ve found an acceptable alternative on that airline or a partner with award space available. However I remember times that they did not contact me to inform me the schedule had changed. I had to notice it myself (or Award Wallet noticed it for me), then be proactive. It is good to check future award bookings periodically to make sure things have “held still”.

  2. When United did this to me, they would not even open up seats on their own flights even though they made the eight hour schedule change (eight hours earlier). We were not even talking about partner stuff. United not only would not help, but was absolutely awful in their responses. When this same thing has happened to me on American and Delta, they simply asked me what flights I wanted and handled it without any fees. They let me pick any flight whether it had saver inventory or not since they made the schedule change (and not that big a change either). Night and day between United’s Hell and American and Delta.

  3. @DaveS
    Just in general it is a good idea to check bookings (award and revenue) every week or two to make sure there haven’t been any big changes. I had a spat of mileage runs on UA, all of them had schedule changes that caused one or more misconnects, but I never got a single email or call informing me of them. The changes worked very much in my favor, but not everyone checks their reservations a few times a week like I did.

  4. FYI, your new site has this incredibly annoying feature of having a pop listing things “you may also like-” on the right side of the page when I near the end of reading your posts that obscures comments, etc.

    Very annoying.

  5. The pop that AG is referring to only shows up when you come down to the comments section, but it spans to about half the width of the comments section. I would agree with AG that it is annoying.

    In case it still does not show up for you, try incognito in chrome.

  6. We had an FC award flight scheduled on AA, MIA to LAX. We purposely chose the only flight of the day that was on a 777 rather than a narrow body. Some time later I noticed that they had changed the 777 to a flight 2 hours later, and we were now scheduled on the narrow body. Needles to say, there was no FC Saver space available on the later fight.

    I don’t know if being Lifetime Gold made a difference, but the AAdvantage CSR immediately changed our FC Saver reservation to the later flight simply on request, without needing to check with a supervisor.

  7. I will second the unhelpfulness that @CarlH had dealing with United over a sub-optimal schedule change on an award ticket.

    Earlier this year I was taking my wife and her parents to Europe (booked a month pre-devaluation, patting myself on the back). They canceled our connecting flight to Chicago that gave us a comfortable 2.5 hour layover and re-booked us on one that gave us 35 minutes (on a flight that was more than 15 minutes late 40%…). I asked agents repeatedly to put us all on the dreadful 6am flight, giving us an equally dreadful six hour layover), but they refused since there wasn’t 4 saver seats in economy or business (booked in business, I was Gold in MP at the time).

    I ended up gritting my teeth the day of the flights, but our connection into O’Hare was 40 minutes early and we had plenty of time. While everything worked out – how often can United say that this year – I would have been much happier without the stress of thinking about the cascading problems that would have happened if we’d been too late for our flight to Brussels.

  8. I said this before but I’ll say it again. If there is a schedule change you have a right to be rebooked to your final destination with regard to whether there is award space or not. Repeat, the airline is wrong if they tell you they won’t rebook you onto a flight with space in the class of service for which you are holding a ticket.

    For some reason the airlines have managed to convince both the general public and many bloggers, including Gary, that there has to be space in the award bucket but if you read the Conditions of Carriage you will see that they say nothing of the sort.

    If the airline refuses to get you to your destination in the class of service for which you are holding a reservation and ticket read the CoCs. I believe you will find what you need to insist that they do in the contract the airline has with you.

  9. I’m also finding the “popovers” very annoying.
    (The post itself was very interesting!)

  10. Wow deliberately suppressing the correct information that a passengers has the right to be transported to his final destination if he is when holding a reservation and ticket issued against miles. I’m impressed.

  11. Seems to be Aeroplan policy. I was able to change SCL-PTY-YYZ on Copa to the next-day Air Canada SCL-YYZ flight for no extra $$, after connection in PTY had shortened to (a still legal) 30 mins. Agent wouldn’t open any AC seats but did allow the date change to the flight that did have space.

  12. @Steven they will generally open up space on their own airline not give you any flight you want, and that’s only if they cannot get you alternate award space on a partner. They do not have to offer you any flight at all.

  13. Regarding United, more often than not I’ve found them – and Delta – to be the best about getting space opened up. If you aren’t getting anywhere hang up call back..

  14. Last year AA had a schedule change to Kauai which caused a missed connection in our schedule. In order to reroute us, it involved a Hawaiian Air hop, which AA would not book. We were forced to select new flights for a week later with terrible connections as this was the only available option flying AA metal.

  15. I’ve also had good luck with flexibility from United on schedule changes. Rule of thumb here is probably Hang Up, Call Again.

  16. Gary, in the example you mention would aeroplan have been able to contact Brussels Airlines and ask them to open award space on a different flight (for example same or next day)? Would that be likely?

    Regarding United and changes due to schedule changes, I booked an award for two in December for a flight in July. The routing was IAD-YVR on UA and YVR-NRT on AC. About one month later I saw AC changed their flight causing a connection time of 40 minutes from 2.5 hours. I called right away. There was little award space available though I believe a connection in ORD on UA was available. I was immediately told they could open up two seats on the direct UA flight from IAD-NRT. Having preferred a partner I asked if they could open award space on a flight from DC to YYZ so I can get on an AC 787 flight which had two J seats available and the agent said they could do that too. After consulting with my fiancé we went with the nonstop UA option and I was pleasantly surprised with the experience. Anyway in that case could I have waited for several more months before calling in order to monitor ANA space and if that didn’t open still get them to offer what they did? Barring a sold out flight I’d think the answer is yes but I just didn’t want to risk losing sighting so handled it right away.

  17. I checked my US airways itin last night to Australia/Japan over NYE and noticed my one flight was moved to the next day, causing a huge misconnect. When I called in, we got everything sorted out in 30 minutes, the lady was going to move my other flight up to coincide with the flight that was changed, but we got disconnected. So I called back in and talked to a new lady, at first she said we were good. But then because my one flight was on ANA and they are no longer on *A, they were having issues. Halfway through the phone call(which took 90 minutes) she said I had to rebook everything on Oneworld instead of keeping the flights on *A partners. I told them thats not going to work cause I knew they were never going to be able to match the same itinerary in biz. A couple more times with the supervisor, they finally were able to book me on Air China from HND-PEK to coincide with my changed flight. She was more excited to get this done then I was and yelled out a big Yippee!

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