How often has this happened to you? You finally get around to booking flights for your next trip, but the only flights available (that you can afford) are the the ones that nobody really wants. You know – the crazy red-eyes with the four-hour connections? It’s no secret that the most ideal flights are nearly always the most expensive.
But if you’re a bit of a gambler, there is a backdoor way to get the flights you really want at the price you’re willing to pay. And the airline coughs up the difference. It doesn’t work every time, but it does work more often than you might imagine.
The key is to book early. Travel pros (or their travel managers) are in the habit of what they call “harvesting” their reservations – that is, periodically checking on them for changes. Seasoned travelers know that when they book flights months in advance, the schedule they booked is rarely the schedule they’ll actually fly.
This is because most airlines publish a “best guess” schedule about a year in advance of a given travel date. That schedule is continually tweaked up until just a few weeks prior to your flight. Typically the changes are minor – a few minutes here or there – maybe a flight number change – and usually their computer systems automatically rebook you onto new flights as the schedules are updated.
On occasion, however, something big happens behind the scenes: maybe demand forecast was way off, an aircraft type was retired, or an airport began major construction. These things will result in a major schedule change. (I’ve found that weekends and holidays are particularly vulnerable to schedule changes.)
Rather than get upset, you can use this to your advantage! Because what the airlines don’t tell you is that if ANY of the flights in your itinerary are changed by more than 90 minutes (or 2 hours on some airlines) or a nonstop flight suddenly picks up a connection, you have the right to reject the new itinerary and your ticket becomes fully refundable… or FULLY REBOOKABLE.
That’s right – you get a one-time shot to rebook on whatever flights you want. And the airline eats any price difference.
Some airlines will alert you to schedule changes by email, others will simply throw up a warning message next time you log into your account. An extreme schedule change will often prompt the airline to give you a call.
Web sites can be quirky, so in the event you qualify for a rebooking, I recommend doing it over the phone (telephone reservation fees are also waived). If you call to rebook, there are a few general rules to play by:
– First, be exceedingly polite. This will go father than you imagine!
– Your origin and destination airports must remain the same. Exceptions are made for cities with multiple airports (ie. New York, LA, Dallas) or certain Caribbean islands with multiple airports.
– You can re-route through another hub if you’d like.
– You can’t switch airlines, although in extreme circumstances supervisors and travel agents can override this.
– Within reason (a day or two) you can usually change dates.
– Any flight with enough open seats in the cabin you originally booked are fair game.
So if you’re debating whether to book your flights sooner or later, in my opinion this is a great reason to book sooner. My strategy is to book flights that I can afford with flight times I can live with if I have to keep them and then stay on top of my reservations with an eagle-eye for any changes.
While I have had success with this on American, Delta, and United, no such guarantees are offered on Allegiant or Spirit. How Southwest handles these is a mystery.
Good luck, and happy travels!