The one constant in airline scheduling is change. And as with most things in life, the people who can use change to their advantage will always come out ahead. But why do airlines change their schedules so often, and how can award travelers adapt and thrive in this environment?
How airlines change their schedules
Most airlines roll out new schedules approximately 330 days in advance. Each night, at midnight at the carrier’s headquarters, the computers release a new day on the schedule. But really, that schedule is just an educated guess. For the next 11 months the people and computers behind these schedules will continue to adjust times, add and remove flights, and change the type of aircraft servicing the flight.
The exception is Southwest airlines which releases their schedules about 6-9 months out in blocks. After that, their schedules remain constant.
How airline changes affect travelers
Ideally, the airline would notify travelers whenever a schedule change affects one of their upcoming reservations. But unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen. Therefore, travelers should always check their bookings online every month or so to find schedule changes.
And when a change comes up, travelers should use that to their full advantage. First, airlines will ask passengers to accept a new itinerary. Do not do that. Contact the airline and see if a better itinerary is available. Perhaps there are flight times that are more convenient to you, or a routing that is more direct or has fewer stops.
Even if the preferred itinerary was not or is not available for award redemptions, airlines can release award seats to re-accommodate passengers that have been affected by schedule changes. And if the schedule change is significant, and you don’t like any of the alternatives, you can always ask to cancel your flights have your miles and money refunded to you, free of charge.
But even if you already have the flights you want, do not confirm the schedule change. Leave the issue unsettled for as long as possible. In this way, you will still get your free schedule change at a later date, should anything come up that requires it. Perhaps your plans will change, perhaps you will get sick, or maybe, the airlines will change their schedules once again and an even better flight will appear.
Knowing that these changes can and will happen with great regularity, sophisticated travelers will book whatever award flights they can find, with the maximum number of short connections, knowing that at the first sign of a schedule change, they will have the chance to get the best itinerary available.