If you book airline flights at least three months ahead, you may have experienced the “quarterly schedule change”. This post will discuss what this is and why you need to be proactive in the event that your flight has changed.
Quarterly Schedule Changes
Airlines schedule flights up to a year in advance of departures. This allows the airlines to have a booking window of eleven months. These schedules are subject to change as routes and conditions change over the year. Every three months, most airlines roll out a quarterly schedule change. I have flights booked with Alaska, British and Emirates all the way through the end of June, 2022. I check my flight schedule every day on the Alaska Airlines app, looking for potential issues. When a quarterly schedule change affects you, the airline will rebook you how they think it should be done. Do you have any options? The answer to that question is yes and no.
When The Airline Is In The Driver’s Seat
Generally speaking, if your schedule change is minor, the airline is in control. What this means is that if your departure time or arrival time is changed by less than 60 minutes, it is a minor change. If you don’t like your rebooked flight that is a result of a minor change, you may have to pay the difference in airfare for a more desirable flight. Does this mean that if you have a minor schedule change and you prefer a different flight should you accept their change? If you have “elite status” or you reach a sympathetic ticket agent on the phone, they may honor your request without charging you the difference in airfare. You may have heard that during Covid, airlines are not charging a “change fee”. This may be true but you still may be subject to paying the increase in airfare rebooking the flight of your choice resulting from a minor change.
When You Are In The Driver’s Seat
If an airline schedule change results in a departure or arrival time greater than 60 minutes, you may be in the driver’s seat. When this happens, you have more power to rebook a flight of your choice without paying an increase in airfare. In the example below, I went from a two-leg, overnight connection to a same-day nonstop flight as a result of a flight change exceeding 60 minutes. I had booked the two-leg flight with an overnight stay in San Francisco. Even with paying for a hotel at SFO, the original flight schedule was substantially less expensive. I was able to change to the substantially more expensive nonstop HNL to PDX flight at no extra cost to me.
If the airline changes your flight schedule and you can no longer make a connecting flight, you may be in a forced layover position. In this situation, you will:
- Most likely be in a schedule change that exceeds 60 minutes and you are free to choose the flight schedule of your choice without a fare increase and
- The airline will most likely pick up the cost of your hotel stay and breakfast.
I have a return flight from Charleston, SC that consists of two legs: CHS to SEA and SEA to PDX. The new schedule no longer allows me to arrive home on the same day. When I was talking with Sara at Alaska Airlines reservations, I chose my return flight schedule. Since I am now in a forced layover position she offered me the following:
- Complimentary hotel and breakfast vouchers are available at the customer service desk at Seattle Tacoma International Airport or
- $150.00 flight credit vouchers per person or
- 10,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles per person.
I am a Hilton Honors Diamond member so I chose to reserve my own room. I can either reserve a room at the Hilton Honors rate or use a Hilton honors points redemption. I chose to take the cash and reserve my own room. I did this for two reasons:
- In my case, the credit vouchers were going to be worth more to me than either the hotel and meal vouchers or the miles and
- I won’t have to wait in the customer service line in Seattle to get my hotel and meal vouchers. I can go straight to the hotel from the plane.
Flying With A Companion On A Separate Reservation
Are you flying with a companion on a separate reservation? It is important that you link your reservations together. If you don’t link your reservations and you incur flight changes, you and your companion could end up on different flights as the result of a schedule change. Linking your reservation with another is easy to do:
- Open your reservation,
- Click on the LINK RESERVATION button,
- Add the last name and record locater into your reservation and save it.
I can’t stress this enough, that you need to be proactive. I check my flights every day on my Alaska Airlines app. It only takes seconds to check for schedule changes. When you encounter schedule changes, you should check your options as soon as possible. You need to remember that if there is a large change, up to and including a cancellation, you will be competing with many other people for the same changes. This is especially true if you are flying in a premium cabin where seats are limited. I woke up to three significant flight changes today and I took care of all three changes today and with the best possible results for me.
When you encounter any airline schedule change, you need to check out the details of the change. If your change puts you in the driver’s seat, don’t be afraid to let the airline reservation agent know how you want to be rebooked. If you find yourself in a forced layover position, make sure that you request hotel and meal compensation. Remember that you may be competing with other passengers for limited resources. Act quickly and get your reservation changed to your liking before your fellow passengers take those resources.