Same day changes are offered by many airlines to allow you to move from one flight to another, usually but not always an earlier flight. Today I’ll discuss why these changes can be helpful for your travel schedule as well as how to find and request such a change.
Each carrier has its own rules, which I summarize at the end of this post. In the meantime, I’ll use United Airlines as an example just to explain the process.
This is my third year as a Premier 1K with United Airlines. I am embarrassed to admit I have not successfully used a same day change or same day standby very often. A major reason was that I don’t usually have that option. I pick good flights that I don’t want to change, or I go to places that don’t have frequent schedules. But sometimes I did want to change my flights, and because I didn’t understand the process very well, I was never successful until recently.
United distinguishes between a same day change, which is confirmed, and a same day standby, which only means you’re on the list and will clear if seats are available. In both cases, you can only make your request within the 24-hour period before your originally scheduled departure (i.e., after online check-in opens), and the new flight you want must also be within 24 hours.
Cost of a Same-Day Change
United charges $75 for non-elite and Premier Silver members to change their flights. They call this a “same-day flight change” but the fee applies whether you do a confirmed change or a standby (the fee is only imposed if the standby is successful). Premier Gold, Platinum, 1K and Global Services members can change or standby for free.
Requesting a Same-Day Change
Changes can be made over the phone or online (use the “Change Flights” option on your reservation) and require that the same fare class be available. This means if you are on a cheap G or N fare, there needs to be space in G or N. You can find this information easily using ExpertFlyer, KVS Tool, or United.com’s expert mode. This is great when you want or need to know your plans before heading to the airport.
Sometimes United will open up lots of availability in the last 24 hours before departure, making it easier to accommodate a confirmed change. For example, if there are two seats left in economy class you might see two seats in every fare bucket (Y2 B2 … G2 N2). However, be careful when you search for available space. If there is availability in the G bucket on the first segment and not the second, your results will say G0 for both. If you are willing to confirm a change just on one or two legs and keep the same connecting airport, then you should search one leg at a time.
Finally, United allows you to change your connecting airport (if you have one) as long as your origin and destination remain the same and the entire itinerary can be confirmed on new flights (or if you’re only changing one segment). You are not allowed to move to a new airport in the same region, so you can’t switch from SFO-EWR to SFO-JFK. But the ability to change or even remove connections is very convenient. When a change is made, you should also be moved onto the upgrade standby list for the new flight.
Requesting a Same-Day Standby
If a change cannot be confirmed due to lack of availability in the necessary fare bucket, then you have two options. First, you can pay the difference in fare and get a confirmed change. I’ve never done this. Second, you can request a standby. This requires you to be at the airport and obviously it only works for moving to earlier flights. In my experience it often won’t clear until shortly before departure.
But here’s a helpful tip for those with elite status: Standbys are processed first by elite status and then by the time you were added to the list. In theory, I could walk up to a nearly full flight as a Premier 1K and jump to the front of the line even if there are a dozen people with lower or no status already on the list.
Not that I’ve ever done that.
Because a standby is not confirmed, you can only request a new flight to your connecting airport or to your final destination. Why? If you were originally flying EWR-ORD-SEA and wanted to change to EWR-DEN-SEA, United doesn’t want you to standby on the first flight, show up in Denver, and find out that there is no available space to get you home to Seattle. They want to know you have a confirmed flight waiting for you.
But you could keep the same routing and standby on an earlier flight, hitting all the same connecting airports and using standby one leg at a time.
Complications With United Express
My biggest problem with requesting confirmed changes has been United Express. I mentioned that United often opens up availability in every fare bucket to facilitate confirmed changes. United Express does not (in my limited experience). This makes it very difficult to request a same day change on any itinerary that includes a United Express segment because you can only alter the mainline segment.
I had an experience last year trying to fly home from Springfield, MO, that demonstrates how frustrating this can be. In retrospect I should have gone to the airport, requested a standby to the earlier flight (by six hours) and then requested another standby or change in Denver. But I didn’t want to return our rental car, find out our standby didn’t clear, and be stuck at the small airport for six hours.
We stayed in town instead, and our original flight was delayed by four hours. I don’t really know how the backend systems work, but if United Express had opened up space like United did, then maybe I could have confirmed our change the night before and gotten home 10 hours earlier.
Strategies for Mileage Runs
Assuming a confirmed change can be made, it works out very well for maximizing a mileage run. These are becoming increasingly difficult as airlines limit the number and location of connections in an domestic itinerary. But just as a same day change can be used to remove or change a connection, it can also be used to add one.
Recently I flew SEA-IAD-IND-EWR-SEA. It was a good mileage run already since IND required a lot of backtracking, but more connections would have been nice. United generally won’t allow you to book those connections to begin with, yet it was very easy on the return. I ran into Carl at the United Club in Newark, and he pointed out that EWR-IAH-SEA was available later that evening with space still available in first class.
Had I requested a same day change I could have added an extra 872 miles to my itinerary and stood a good chance of getting a complimentary upgrade, too! Unfortunately, the tight connections in most mileage runs I book don’t allow me to make these kinds of changes on the outbound journey.
Policies on Other Carriers
Some of these fees may be waived depending on your elite status. See my elite status comparison tables for more information on which programs waive fees for which members.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have rules very similar to United Airlines. American charges $75 while Delta charges $50. You can move to a new flight with the same origin and departure airports, the same day of departure, and a new routing (as long as you can confirm the change on all segments). If you fly standby, you must keep the same routing. Confirmed changes are limited by fare availability and standby (for the same fee) is an option if the change cannot be confirmed.
The real catch is that American allows you to make a requests within 24 hours of the originally scheduled departure for a new flight before or after the original departure time. Delta only allows you to make your request on the same date, but you can make your request as early as 12 AM the previous day if you have a redeye flight that departs before 2 AM.
Alaska Airlines has a good policy, charging $25 for a same day flight change. The request must be made within six hours before the new departure time and it must be on the same date as the original departure time (with some wiggle room to allow for those late-night departures between midnight and 4 AM). I view this as customer-friendly, but it is probably hard to move to an early morning departure if you want to go to bed early the night before.
US Airways has the worst policy in my opinion, charging $75 to “MoveUp” a domestic flight or $150 for an international flight. The new flight must be within six hours of the originally scheduled departure, be on the same day, have the same number of stops, and have availability on all connecting flights. Standby is free, but only if there is no availability. If a seat is available, they’ll make you pay to confirm it rather than let you wait around hoping no one shoes up. You also cannot standby if you have connecting flights. Maybe things work differently in practice, but the way the rules are written makes me wonder how often people actually succeed.