American Airlines’ New (Worse) Schedule Change Policy

Filed Under: American

American Airlines has introduced a worse schedule change policy as of today, April 8, 2020.

American’s new four hour schedule change policy

As of April 8, 2020, American Airlines has updated their conditions of carriage regarding schedule changes. This only applies to new bookings, so doesn’t impact any customers who booked their travel prior to April 8, 2020.

With this new policy, American Airlines will only provide refunds to customers when schedule changes result in an overall delay of more than four hours, or when a customer goes from being booked on a nonstop, to being booked an itinerary with a connection.

In situations where the schedule change is four hours or less, and the customer wishes to rebook, they can do so without incurring any change fees. They can also cancel and rebook at a later date, and retain the full value of their ticket.

For irregular operations within 72 hours of departure, American Airlines will refund non-refundable tickets if a delay of 90 minutes or more occurs.

American’s schedule change policy is less generous than in the past

I actually can’t hold this against American too much

I’m a tough critic of American Airlines, but I actually can’t hold this against them for a few reasons:

  • They’re not applying this retroactively, unlike some other airlines that have had similar policies
  • They’re still offering refunds if you go from a nonstop to a connecting itinerary, even if the delay is less than four hours
  • With American’s current network, the reality is that a vast majority of cancellations will likely result in delays of over four hours, or an additional connection

More importantly, though, American has been among the best US carriers when it comes to refunds throughout all of this. Getting refunds for cancelled flights has been a major point of frustration for passengers, and American has been among the best of any airline out there:

  • Up until now they offered full refunds for schedule changes of two hours or more; they’ve been in a completely different league than United when it comes to taking care of customers
  • For those who have wanted to get a voucher instead of a refund, they’ve anecdotally been offering a 20% bonus for doing so

American has been pretty generous throughout all of this

Bottom line

With American’s new schedule change policy, you can only be refunded for a schedule change if you’re delayed by at least four hours, or if you go from a nonstop to a connecting itinerary.

While this is of course a negative change, big picture I think American deserves credit for how they’ve handled themselves throughout all of this when it comes to refunds, especially compared to airlines like United and JetBlue.

Other airlines have tried to see what they can get away with and have adjusted their policy a handful of times, while this is the first such change we’ve seen from American.

(Tip of the hat to AG)

  1. I have often wondered if many of these policies are as much about managing the return of funds per se as they are a form of behavior policy modification before a person buys a ticket. Ideally airlines would like to set their schedules and have them operate without mechanical, weather, or other delay but also when a passenger buys a ticket they complete their travel as it was originally intended. I know that sounds like 3rd grade logic but it is more nuanced than that. Given the expected continued extreme capacity reductions going forward for the indefinite future, I expect airlines to go to some lengths to control the passenger stream as best they can. I mean the difference to the airline on a flight between 80-85% yield is much much less than once at 20-25% yield.

  2. This is fine. As long as the policy isn’t applied retroactively, then it’s perfectly fair, as prospective customers are free to not book a ticket if they deem the policy unacceptable.

    Applying rules retroactively should not be legal at all. After all, no reasonable person can agree to any contract if the terms can change on a dime and be applied retroactively.

  3. I have a May AA flight booked, which I am hoping they cancel, so I can get a refund. But, if I need to cancel, could you please explain the rules/difficulties in using AA vouchers? Is there a difference between paper and e-vouchers? The original flights were a Mother’s Day getaway for my adult daughter and myself. Do we have to be the ones using the vouchers?

  4. @UA-NYC
    Very fair.
    Because we know you are a fair observer.

    “I’m a tough critic of American Airlines”
    Just because you state that doesn’t mean it’s true, considering the history of your statements about certain other airlines. It just allows you to give AA a free pass.

    At the end of the day AA arrived at 4hrs, two hrs less than United. All airlines are trying to maximize their revenue and have had to adjust based on customer feedback. If you’re willing to trash one versus coddle the other over two hrs, than that’s more about your own biases than the airlines themselves.

  5. @Pete – maybe you’ve missed the endless articles about UA’s borderline criminal actions with respect to refunds. Going to defend that at all?

    I’m no AA defender, yet they are also acknowledged at being much more fair with refunds, and also smartly are offering some incentives to NOT refund.

  6. Do you think this will be a permanent change? Also, do they still have the policy that you can change your flight if your aircraft changes? That, in my opinion, is very generous.

  7. This seems pretty fair. I think the key for me personally is that if the airlines start making changes of their own volition to itineraries and tickets post-purchase, then the customer should also be able to make changes without a penalty, and that is preserved here. Selling a non-stop and then changing to a connection is a materially different product in my view, and so providing a refund here regardless of timing seems appropriate. And most of the time if I am purchasing in advance a two-hour difference in timing is not an insurmountable obstacle to a successful trip; a four-hour one may remove the option for a dinner meeting or might result in missing bedtime at home, so I ought to be able to take my ball and try again elsewhere. And one can do that with this policy. This does feel reasonable.

  8. I agree that AA has been better experience. I had a flight booked with Delta and a flight booked with AA around the same time in late March. When I went to cancel my flight and ask for a refund with Delta, I had to fill out an online form (my flight still appeared even though I requested to cancel it) and then I received an email a week later that I had a flight credit available. With AA, I was able to do everything online as well but through a better interface and received immediate results. Plus, I was given the option for a 20% bonus if I were to choose the voucher option, which I did.

  9. The only thing that these types of new policies does for me is make me less likely to book flights until very close in to the time I want / need to travel. Schedules are so changeable and availability so great that I think it the most prudent practice going forward.

  10. This is a non issue. Perfectly reasonable policy. (AA EXP here).

    Only problem would be if this becomes permanent once – next year? – schedules/operations return to something closer to a pre-COVID level.

  11. This is a horrible, customer unfriendly change.

    (1) To those suggesting this is temporary, when has an anti-customer policy ever been rolled back by AA?

    (2) I disagree that 4 hours delay is no big deal – the majority of my flights are for just a weekend… losing 4 hours either means missing work or missing the whole point of the trip.

    (3) Vouchers are useless to me – all of my travel is discretionary, with limited flexibility, and I have already ticketed all travel to the end of 2020. Since AA is still holding vouchers to 1-year validity, that leaves me with little opportunity to use the vouchers.

    (4) In the past, AA has been inflexible (at least for me) with extending SWU’s applied to bookings when those have needed to be rebooked.

    Yes, I’m free to take my business elsewhere, but that’s not really the point. AA wants my repeat business – and now they also want my tax money for a bailout – so they should at least make policies that consider customer needs as well.

    There is no limit on their ability to change their schedules and customers have no recourse, but if the customer needs to make a change they charge $$$.

  12. I must admit it was a nice surprise to have a very professional person on the phone, no wait on the line, and my refund about 36 hours later posted on my card. I never really rated AA’s customer service, but it’s left me wondering whether I was a bit harsh in the past…

  13. I just tried unsuccessfully to get a web special miles reinstatement fee waived for a DFW-FCO itinerary booked prior to today that was changed from a direct flight to a connection in PHL. Agent brought up the 4 hour rule. Remind me never to book a web special again. I’ll try again as maybe the agent was confused by the new policy — or web specials are really exempt from any cancellation.

  14. What’s AA policy on Award bookings? If the new booking is made by May for travel in December, will AA charge fees to redeposit the miles if I have to cancel my reservation or is it waived under the Covid policy?

  15. @ Ryan — That should be eligible for a refund for sure. This new policy only applies to tickets booked as of today. I think you got a misinformed agent, so I’d hang up and call again.

  16. When did AA change the refund policy for schedule changes from 61 minutes to 2 hours (before this recent 4 hours policy change)? And was the 2 hour policy retroactive?

  17. I don’t find you to be a tough critic of American at all but you don’t pander to them like TPG to Marriott.

  18. What is the policy for Southwest. I have a flight in mid June that was a direct flight (Tampa to Memphis) and now I have been notified both kegs of the trip will have a layover in Atlanta. Can I get a refund from Southwest or is my only option a voucher? Thanks for your help.

  19. We have an AA flight going from Houston to Vancouver scheduled for next week that was planned along with a Canadian Rockies trip. The Rockies trip has been reschedule for May 2021. We have not cancelled our flights yet, as trying to determine if we do so or wait for them to cancel. AA, I don’t believe will have bookings that far out, so will we lose the ability to rebook for this trip due to their time limitations. We usually never fly AA elsewhere, so I dont expect we will need them for anything but our Canadian trip next year. Thoughts?

  20. Any idea what their policy is if they change the flight to make your layover too short? They changed my flight with my elderly mother to only 30 minutes between flight times. No way I would feel comfortable alone, let alone with a 70 year old woman.

  21. Can you tell us the source for the information that the change is not being applied retroactively? I have been unable to confirm this. PS–good article.

  22. I have a round trip ticket from an international nonstop flight between LAX-GRU.
    I just received an email saying that the flights were changed to have stops in Miami and NY. I bought the tickets on Jan-20-2020.
    Considering that the flights were booked as a nonstop flight to an itinerary with a connection, I would like to have a full refund. Is this appliable? What do you think?
    Thank you.

  23. I’m a full-time wheelchair user who requires assistance wheelchair assistance boarding and de-planing. It takes at least 30 minutes for them to get me off a flight and back into my wheelchair between flights. I always book flights with a minimum of 90 minutes layover to ensure time to get off a 1st flight, make it to the gate for connecting flight and use the restroom if needed.
    We were booked to fly to Cancun in May (tix purchased in Feb) and AA changed our flights with only a 40 min layover in CLT making it impossible for me to make the connection resulting in having to cancel our flights and ultimately the entire trip. I requested a refund and received an email saying they issued vouchers and not a refund. Can they do this to someone in a wheelchair (which they are very much aware of).
    Given what’s happening with COVID-19, it is highly unlikely that I will ever fly again because of my compromised immune system.

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