This is a guest post from @RobertDwyer
When shopping for airfares it can be tempting to select a less desirable flight time to save money. Especially when the difference is significant. But the luster of money saved dulls when the day of travel arrives and you’re either leaving way earlier than you wanted to, or in the case of a flight I recently booked way later in the day than ideal.
Same day changes can potentially take the edge off high fares on the flight times you want. Especially if you’ve got some status, and more importantly a little luck.
I was in the market for a quick getaway from Boston to Orlando during the week of President’s Day when Massachusetts schools are out. I didn’t have anything booked far in advance but noticed that fares were reasonable if I was willing to fly out and back around the middle of the week.
A short trip was fine with me, especially if we could stretch 2 nights into 3 days of enjoyment. Maximizing our time in Orlando would require catching good flight times, but the best flight time on the outbound (early in the morning) cost nearly twice as much as an afternoon flight
So I booked the afternoon flight for $251 pp one-way in Economy rather than the morning flight for $447 figuring I’d book the worst time I could tolerate but hope for the best if I could change flight times later.
While booking it occurred to me that perhaps I could book the afternoon flight, then switch to the morning flight. In looking at the seats remaining for each flight there were more seats on the morning flight which was kind of strange since the prices were so much higher. I would have thought Delta would price the flight with fewer remaining seats lower. Supply and demand, right?
Anyway, as I was checking our upgrade chances I noticed the afternoon flight getting fuller and fuller. An upgrade was looking bleak but the morning flight still had seats available in Economy, Comfort+ and even First.
I’ve got Delta Gold Medallion status thanks to spending quite a bit on AmEx Delta Platinum cards so I started poking around at what I might be able to do for a same-day change.
Same-day change rules
The rules vary by airline but same-day changes are for everyone – not just elites. Just be sure to avoid booking a “basic” economy seat and you should be able to try for a same-day change. Elites do save money on change fees and their standby priority is higher. The rules vary by airline (Nick Ewen does a great job summarizing major airline same-day change policies here) but let’s take Delta as an example.
There are 2 types of same-day changes: Confirmed and Standby.
With a confirmed change, 24 hours prior to your originally scheduled flight time you can call Delta and request a change. If there is space available on another flight on the same day in the same fare class you can make the change and snag a confirmed seat on the flight.
The same fare class part is the rub: More expensive flights are often more expensive because discounted fare class seats have sold out.
If there are no seats available in the same fare class you can try your luck with Standby. This is where you arrive early at the airport, go through security as if you’re getting there for your confirmed flight, then wait nervously at the gate for seats while the flight is boarding. If there are seats available and nobody else with higher priority takes them you can get on the flight.
Delta’s same-day change policy is that you pay $50 pp for the change, confirmed or standby.
If you’re Gold or better on Delta same-day change fees are waived – but only for the elite. Companions still need to pay.
24 hours before our original flight time I called Delta to check on a same-day change to the morning flight. The agent said she couldn’t confirm seats on the morning flight since the fare class I booked wasn’t available. She said there were about a dozen seats available and that I was at the top of the priority list.
We checked in at the gate about 40 minutes prior to boarding. The agent said to come back in 5 minutes and she’d have some nice seats for us!
We got Comfort+ seats thanks to my Gold status but I was just happy to catch the [otherwise more expensive] early flight. This way we’d get to enjoy almost a full day more in Orlando than we would have otherwise.
While boarding the flight attendant announced, as is usually the case, that the flight was “extremely” full. In the past I took that as an indication that there’d be no chance I could get on a flight standby but that’s evidently not always the case.
In this instance, paying for the late flight but catching the earlier flight saved us $196 per ticket (43%). It was totally worth the risk of not making the cut on Standby for us, for this trip. For other trips with less time flexibility, larger groups, or less tolerance for fiddling around like this it would be a non-starter.
Obviously it doesn’t always work out well, but for this trip it was a great option.
Making effective use of same-day changes can greatly reduce the cost of flights at desirable times. This is obviously most useful in cases where you have some flexibility, visibility into the number of seats remaining (when booking close-in), elite status, and of course a little luck.
But hopefully this is something to keep in mind for future travels.
What’s been your experience with same-day changes? Any tips to share?
Good reminder and good to know the rules, but that’s a tradeoff I probably wouldn’t make – risk standing around the airport for a good 4 or 5 hours if no seats cleared. Were you able to get a read on how full the earlier flight was before you left for the airport? Are there any good resources for this other than looking at the seating map (which doesn’t always match up with seats sold as many often haven’t yet been assigned)?