Friday, June 27, 2014

United Same Day Change

Sometimes you book a flight so far out in advance, you didn't know what ideal flight time you should have booked. Othertimes, one flight is so much cheaper than others departing the same day, so you prioritize your wallet over your watch.

The end result is the same. You wish you were on an earlier or later flight than the one you originally booked.

Fortunately, the airlines do offer SOME flexibility.

If your desired flight is earlier than the one you have, then you can always ask to go Standby. Most of the time, you can get this for free. You simply go up to the airport counter or call and request it. Of course, going standby doesn't mean you're owed anything. If there's an opening at the last minute, and your name is next on the list, you get to fly. It's a favor, more than a right.

And because a standby is not confirmed, you can only request a new flight to your original connecting airport or to your final destination. Why? If you were originally flying EWR-ORD-SEA and wanted to change to EWR-DEN-SEA, United doesn’t want you to standby on the first flight, show up in Denver, and find out that there is no available space to get you home to Seattle. They want to know you have a confirmed flight waiting for you.

But lately, I've noticed that most flights are leaving full and are more oversold than anything else. So standby success is hardly guaranteed. Plus, if there are delayed passengers who have missed their original connection or higher tier elite flyers, they will jump ahead of you on the Standby List. In theory, a Premier 1K status holder could walk up to a nearly full flight and jump to the front of the Standby List even if there are a dozen people with lower or no status already on it.

Nevertheless, you can still arrive early to the airport and take your chances with the confidence that you still have your original flight confirmed for later on.

Same Day Change
However, unbeknownst to many leisure travelers is a concept called a Same Day Change (SDC). Unlike going standby, a SDC is a confirmed change. You're issued a new ticket for the desired flight and give up your old ticket.

So what's the difference between a SDC and a regular flight change? Well, for regular changes to your flight (either time or destination), United charges $200 plus any difference in fare. But within 24 hours of your originally scheduled flight time, they will allow you to do a SDC for a reduced $75 fee (and no fee if you have United Gold status or above) and you may not have to pay any difference in fare.

To get the new flight for the reduced SDC fee (without the difference in fare), the desired flight needs to have availability in the same fare class as your original flight. So if you booked a S fare (deep discount economy), then you can only SDC into another S fare to avoid the fare difference.

Each carrier has its own rules, but I know United Airlines the best. Here are the rules:
  • The itinerary must be operated by United or United Express
  • The ticket number must begin with 016
  • The SDC option will be available within 24 hours before your originally scheduled flight. 
  • The requested flight must be departing within 24 hours from the time the SDC request is made and can include any fare class, but:
- When the original ticketed fare class is available, only the SDC fee will apply.
- When the original ticketed fare class is not available, the SDC fee plus any difference in fare.
  • Changes are only available for the same origin and destination airports, however, connections may be added/removed/changed.
  • You may stand by if seats are not available in the purchased fare class. 
- In these cases, the SDC will apply, but will not be charged unless you are assigned a seat on your desired flight.
- Changes in routing are not allowed when standing by. 
So as an example, back in early May, my father booked an 8PM flight to Chicago for later today. It would arrive at 9:30PM Chicago time, not giving him much time to do anything there that night. So early this morning (within the 24 hour window), he called up United to see if he could SDC to an earlier flight. Pulling up the list of LGA-ORD flights today, there were plenty of available options, but not every flight had the S fare class available.

Fortunately, the 4PM flight did, so the phone agent was able to rebook him onto that earlier flight with no fee. Now he will land at 5:30PM and be able to have dinner with our friends, Beth and Paul.

Again, my father could have still gotten a SDC on any flight he wanted with an open seat, but then he would have to pay the fare difference, which isn't something he wanted to do.

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