Airline Schedule Change: Refund or Flight Change?

Airline Schedule Change-Refund or Flight Change


Use Airline Schedule Changes to Your Advantage, to Optimize Your Flights or Get a Refund of a non-refundable flight. If you book your flights many months in advance, it's common for there to be a schedule change (or several) before you actually fly. In that intervening time, it's possible you've since found nonstop availability that would eliminate a connection, or you've had a change of plans such that you wish you could get a refund of your non-refundable flights.

An airline-initiated schedule change can help give you the flexibility to make a change you couldn't have otherwise, at least not without a significant change or cancellation fee.

Recently, a client was no longer able to fly a non-refundable international ticket on United Airlines. The flight schedule had changed such that the flight actually arrived at its destination earlier, with a shorter layover in the connection city, and the departure from the connection city was now over 1 hour (but less than 2 hours) earlier.

United's official policy on schedule changes reads, bolding mine:

“If your scheduled departure or arrival time changes by 30 minutes or more, we're happy to try to find other available flight options that meet your needs. Please keep the following in mind when you call:

  • Your origin and destination will have to be the same as on your original itinerary.
  • If you have a connection, you may be able to choose a different connecting city or airport.
  • Alternative flights must be operated by United or our United Express® partners.

If we aren't able to find any other flights that meet your needs, requesting a refund may be an option. See the section below for more information.”

On the other hand, the section on Ticket Refunds reads, bolding mine:

“When a schedule change happens, we try our best to provide you with options that minimize the disruption to your travel plans. In cases where the new flight options don't work for you and one of the following scenarios applies, we may be able to offer you a refund:

  • The scheduled departure or arrival time changes by two hours or more.
  • The change causes issues with the overall length of the trip, such as making the connection time too short or significantly longer than it originally was.”

The problem here was that the arrival time change was less than two hours. Still, it never hurts to ask, so I called United and requested a refund. I explained that the trip no longer worked for my clients, and when the representative started to go over alternative flight options, I again requested a refund, explaining that they'd already bought alternative flights, which was true (they were going to cancel even if we couldn't receive a refund, and already had new flights based on changed travel plans).

The representative did initially aim to offer a travel credit instead, valid for a year from the original ticket date, but that's far more restrictive than getting the money returned back to your credit card, so I demurred. Finally we got the refund.

I can't guarantee other schedule changes of this kind, that are less than 2 hours, will also get a refund, but it's certainly worth asking. And if your goal isn't a refund, but instead a better routing, you should be allowed to optimize this based on available flights, if United has changed your flights schedule by 30 minutes or more.


  • Always be on the lookout for anything with “Schedule Change” in the subject line. Even if you don't need to change or refund your flights, you want to be aware of any and all changes to your itinerary.
  • If the schedule change doesn't work for you, don't click the button to agree to it.
  • Know the rules of the airline you're flying. AA and Delta tend to be stricter than United, requiring at least an hour or more of schedule change to be eligible for a refund, with less representative discretion.
  • Do your research on alternative flights before calling United
  • If you find that the cost of your itinerary has gone down, try to get United to refund your entire flight itinerary, if the schedule change is significant enough. Generally you won't get a refund (but also won't be charged extra) when making flight changes based on a United-initiated schedule change.

Have you used an airline schedule change to optimize your itinerary, or refund non-refundable tickets?

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