It's no secret that the core of my travel hacking practice is manufactured spend. I focus on low-risk, high-reward opportunities to earn points and cash with credit card purchases and liquidate those purchases back to cash as quickly as possible. But while different travel hackers focus on different areas, I don't intentionally ignore the other elements of the game, and I don't think anyone else should either:
- keeping an eye out for mistake fares may let you save money on trips you're already planning to take, or go on short-notice jaunts in premium cabins if your schedule is flexible enough.
- taking advantage of status matches between loyalty programs, especially before trips where status might be particularly valuable.
- using shopping portals strategically to earn seasonal shopping bonuses or secure outsized rewards like the Southwest Companion Pass.
One of the oldest travel hacking tricks I know about is using schedule changes to rebook from less convenient to more convenient flights while avoiding change fees and fare differences.
How a 10-minute schedule change saved me $2,000
One of the beauties of living in a city with a perimeter-limited airport is that we have non-stop flights virtually everywhere within the perimeter. That means I can fly from my most convenient airport basically anywhere within the Midwest, Northeast, or Southeast without a connection. To some destinations, however, those flights are just once a day, which can create schedule conflicts with people whose schedules have less flexibility than mine.
My trip this weekend back to the Midwest proved to be just such an occasion. Back in November, I'd booked our flights on the early-afternoon nonstop to and from the Midwest in each direction.
But it wasn't to be; my partner had an urgent work meeting that afternoon that couldn't be changed. I quickly calculated that I had three options:
- a same-day confirmed change;
- a same-day standby change;
I understand that there are people who treat same-day confirmed and same-day standby as core elements of the travel hacker's inventory — and good for them! As a Gold Medallion, in principle I should have waived same-day confirmed and same-day standby fees, which would have made either option, in principle, possible.
But — and this is just between us — I have no idea how that works and I wasn't about to experiment on a trip that I actually wanted to go on.
That left bullshitting as my first line of offense.
My front-line customer service representative had some well-justified skepticism
Once I learned about the problem, I checked my reservation details and immediately noticed that our original outbound flight was scheduled for 3:10 pm, while a few weeks later it had been rescheduled for 3:00 pm. So I picked up the phone and called Delta, asking them to reaccommodate us on a connecting flight later in the day.
I explained that the earlier flight didn't work with our schedule. After all, if we wanted a 3 pm flight, we would have booked one, right? My adorable representative repeatedly asked me, "you can't make it to the airport 10 minutes earlier?"
After I repeatedly explained that no, I could not make it to the airport 10 minutes earlier, she told me that there would be a $250 change fee per ticket, plus any fare difference (these were very cheap tickets, so the amounts involved would be a few thousand dollars more than I actually paid).
I calmly told her that the new departure time didn't work for us and that we needed to be rebooked on a later flight, and she said what was perhaps the funniest thing in our entire conversation: "we have a 90-minute change policy." I can only assume she meant that Delta was free to move the departure time of a flight 90 minutes in either direction without reaccommodating customers, which is untrue, but in a way so absurd it's hard to believe even she believed what she was saying.
So I asked for her supervisor.
My customer service supervisor had rebooked me before she even picked up the phone
After about a minute on hold, a Delta supervisor picked up the phone, told me that she understood I wanted to be rebooked on the later connecting flight, and asked me to hold while she took care of it for me.
It was absurdly painless.
There are no heroes in this story.
- Why do passengers book flights they're ultimately unable to catch?
- Why do airlines change their schedules so often?
- Why do airlines charge change fees for passengers whose schedules change?
- Why must everything be a battle?
- Why must we treat merely not being fleeced as a triumph in its own right?
I don't have answers to those questions. But I do have an answer to one question: what should you do if a front-line representative refuses to rebook you after a minor schedule change? Ask to speak to their supervisor, and demand to be rebooked.
If your new flight leaves earlier, explain that you can't make the earlier departure time. If your flight arrives later, explain that you'll miss your meeting, wedding, or tryst. No airline has ever been forced to come up with an explanation for why their schedule suddenly changed, so feel free to apply some imagination and explain why you can't possibly accommodate their change in schedule.