Airlines don’t play very fair. When you buy a ticket, it’s usually non-refundable unless you pay double or triple the price for a refundable ticket. Except with Southwest, if you want to make a change, they charge you up to $200 plus any fare difference every time.
They themselves can still make changes however often they want. They can change your scheduled departure time, your routing, or your reserved seat. They sure don’t pay you $200 every time they make a change.
However, there may be an unadvertised rule that makes your non-refundable ticket refundable if the change made by the airline is substantial. You just have to know the rule and request the refund if it’s advantageous for you to do so.
Exact rules vary by airline. You have to ask. If the airline changes your non-stop flight to a connecting flight, you can request a refund. If the departure time is changed by more than two hours, you can request a refund. If the schedule change results in a long layover, you can request a refund. As long as the airline made the substantial change on you, you can request a refund even if the airline can put you on a different flight.
You request a refund when you can rebook a more convenient flight for less. If the alternative flights are more expensive, you can ask the airline to put you on a more convenient flight without paying extra. It’s called requesting a “reaccommodation.”
This happened to me recently. The airline changed the flight I booked on from departing at noon to departing at 6:00 pm even though they added another flight departing at noon with a different flight number. When I received the notice of the schedule change, I saw the fare for the new flight departing at noon was lower than I paid originally. I requested refund based on the involuntary schedule change. To the airline’s credit, they approved the refund request in 24 hours. I then bought a new ticket for less.
Taking Southwest is still much easier. They usually don’t change the schedule after you book. If you need to make a change, there is no change fee. If you see a lower fare, you can rebook and keep the difference for future travel in 12 months. That’s why I take Southwest for my personal travel as much as I can.
[Photo credit: Flickr user Cristeen Quezon]
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Thanks, Harry. That’s good to know.
Do you happen to know the typical time limit to request the refund after the airline changes the schedule?
Harry Sit says
I don’t know. I made my request on the next day after I received the notification of the schedule change.
Khad Young says
Dealt with this once when I booked a flight to see my parents for Christmas but ended up moving across the country. I was nowhere near the departing airport I originally booked when the flight was coming up. They changed the flight time, and I was able to cancel without penalty. Crisis averted.
Of course, that was on United. Since I got the Companion Pass on Southwest, I only fly domestically on Southwest. I love their no-change-fees policy.
GMA Suggs says
Great info. I just wanted to chime in to add that there are government regulations for ‘involuntary bumping’ (different scenario from the one you discuss here) that many do not know about.
DOT Fly-Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel”
I had to educate myself on this recently when I was involuntarily bumped from a Delta flight out of JFK. Basically, they overbooked and couldn’t get enough people with assigned seats to accept bribes to give up their seats to accommodate those without seats.
I and the other five or so ticket holders left without seats were offered a flight the following day along with a voucher for a few hundred dollars of Delta credit.
This actually falls way short of what is required by law.
I later complained to Delta, linking the above. After initially rejecting my request for additional compensation, they caved and paid me $1400 in cash for bumping me, which was the appropriate compensation.
If you are at the airport you can go to the counter and request to change flights on SWA and they will do it no cost if there is space on the flight.
Focused Husbanded says
Make sure you check in on time or all of your rights are waived.
I’m A List Preferred on Southwest, and even though I live in Dallas and have other airline options, I still fly SWA exclusively, even if it’s more of a hassle. The two best reasons for me: No Change Fee, and flight schedules are more robust.
Sorry to inform you about your lost hopes– You “may have the right for a refund” — but you will NOT get it. How about that. Airline (Iberia, in my case) and Agent (Priceline in my case) will simply throw you away saying “Oh, we are so sorry, but we can’t issue a refund”… Now what you are going to do?? Start a legal issue costing you more? Write a blog (like this) and rant? Or just swallow it?…
Frequent flyer says
File a complaint with the DOT, for starters, @Arlington.
If the airline reject your complaint, you have still one or two more options depending is it american airline company or foreign. You can complaint to Aviation Consumer Protection Division. If you start a legal issue using small claims court, doesn’t cost a lot.
I just had a bunch of schedule changes on United and on the website the only option is to accept – however I called and demanded a refund and told them that I do not accep the schedule change. The agent assured me that I would get a full refund in this case $4700 – I have not seen it yet, but that was 3 days ago – I will give it another couple of days before I call – I was not letting UNited keep ~$5k for a year!! Also last week I filed for a refund on another flight that also had a schedule change. I rejected the change and demanded a refund, but United just sent me an email saying they denied the refund. I am not sure what basis the airline can ask me first – do I accept the change, then deny my refund when I say no!
I am wondering if there is any actual law that gives me rights here. I could not find anything on United website that discussed what it means to reject a schedule change.
Contact Department of Transportation, they have also toll free number, if they refuse to refund you: