Using a Schedule Change to Cancel a Flight for Free

The biggest fear I have with purchasing a non-refundable ticket is the fact that it can’t be canceled or changed without a major penalty (heck, it’s $200 just to make a change…). That said, there’s an easy way to get around this policy and it’s actually something that’s going to be airline prompted – the schedule change.

Schedule changes can be both friend and foe. They can negatively impact your reservation if you’re on a tight schedule, or had set plans for your arrival. They can easily be your friend when you need to cancel or change your flight, but don’t want to pay the penalty.

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Let’s take for example this American Airlines Washington Reagan to Miami flight I had purchased.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 8.48.03 PM

I had purchased this fare for about $100 round-trip, which was an incredible deal, though had bought it about 4 moths ago speculatively. I tend to book a lot of these types of trips like this for weekends since they’re so cheap, but of course there’s the risk that something else could come up and plans could change…and it did. I had something to do that popped up and I needed to flat out cancel these flights.

Fortunately, I looked on, and the Miami to Washington Reagan leg had moved up nearly an hour to depart at around 8:15pm. Whew! I was in luck.

Here’s what I did to cancel my ticket for free:

  • I compared the original itinerary (sent to me by email) for my flights with the itinerary listed on, which would be the most up to date information, including schedule changes.
  • I noted the hour difference of one of my flights and called American Airlines. I told them I had a commitment that would push me into that hour and needed to cancel.
  • Within about 30 seconds, the agent canceled the reservation and issued a complete refund to my credit card.
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There’s some things you need to keep in mind:

  • There’s really no set amount of time that qualifies you for a refund. So, that means if your flight time has changed by 2 or 3 minutes, it’s unlikely you’ll get an agent to budge. That said, I think this is a hang up, call again scenario. I’ve had plenty of luck getting things re-booked or canceled in scenarios like these. Generally, I consider a half hour+ (hour to be safe) enough time to warrant a legitimate cancellation/change, where you shouldn’t receive hassle.
  • You can sometimes change the flights to alternative dates, but generally those need to be within 1 week of the original flights. So, moving something 6 months out won’t work, just to keep a good fare.
  • Stay on top of schedule changes. Often, you won’t receive notice from the airline that it’s been done. Keep an eye on things, especially if you have desire to cancel.
  • The farther out you book a ticket, the more possibility of a schedule change occurring. Buying a ticket within a week of departure isn’t likely to result in an unplanned change, and thus the inability to cancel.

Have you ever used a schedule change to full cancel and refund a ticket?

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  1. Kent C says

    This is a good relevant post that more flight bloggers should talk about. I’m not a frequent flier but have used this method to cancel reservations twice, once with US Air. Phone reps are not going to volunteer fee waivers and full refunds. You have to mention it but you won’t ask for a full refund if you don’t you are entitled to it. Even then you may have to escalate it to a supervisor, but in my experiences they don’t put up much of a fight if at all. Airlines may vary with their policy, but some are just clueless as to their own rules. This is one situation where it’s wise to educate yourself on the airline’s policy prior to calling to maximize your savings or rights.

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