Nobody wants their carefully-planned holiday or business trip to face flight disruptions. But when an airline makes schedule changes to your booking, or you’re ready to depart but find yourself delayed, there can be a silver lining.

When the airline interrupts your travel plans, the rules around flight changes become much more generous than if you’d initiated a switch yourself. This can unlock completely free flight changes even on the lowest-cost Economy fares. You could also find yourself travelling with points on a flight that doesn’t have any reward seat availability.

As a regular traveller, I’ve encountered my fair share of disruptions this year – as have many others taking to the skies. But here’s how I’ve made those schedule changes work for me: and how you can too.

Qantas domestic schedule changes and delays

One route I fly regularly is between Brisbane and Sydney. It’s a city pair that has plenty of flights in between. If one flight is delayed or cancelled, jumping on another is usually quite easy.

I’ve found checking the Qantas mobile app on departure day the best way to change flights. If there’s a disruption, it can sometimes offer an alternative at no extra cost. In fact, sometimes you can even do this when flights are showing as ‘on time’, if there might be delays later in the day.

So why is this handy?

I’ll sometimes book flights for meetings a month in advance, where the standard Red eDeal fares provide the best value. But closer to travel day, my plans on the ground may have changed – and swapping flights the ‘normal’ way can become super pricey based on last-minute fares. (Not to mention the separate change fee).

Instead, if the flight I’ve originally booked is delayed or disrupted, the app lets me choose a flight I’d prefer to take instead. When a late evening flight has been cancelled, I’ve even had the option of flying at any time the same day. If I’d wanted to depart many hours earlier, it’d be easily done.

These screenshots, taken from separate trips, show some of Qantas’ flight disruption functionality in action.

It goes without saying, but you should never expect a free flight change. Unless of course it’s a benefit of your fare type or status and there’s a seat available. But when disruptions do occur, those inflexible fares suddenly become quite malleable.

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Virgin Australia domestic schedule changes and delays

Virgin Australia has a history of generosity with domestic flight changes. At the airport, Velocity Gold and Platinum members can request a ‘Fly Ahead’ on eligible fares. This allows switching to an earlier same-day flight without paying any fee or fare difference.

But what if there’s a tweak to your journey before departure day? This is where schedule changes can be your friend once again.

Here’s an example that worked out well for me – also on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane. I’d originally booked my ticket for a 4 pm departure, allowing for a day of meetings.

A few weeks before the trip, Virgin Australia cancelled that flight and automatically moved me to an earlier service at 3 pm. But that clashed with the plans I’d already made on the ground.

The best solution for me would be to fly later, not earlier. And, to squeeze in one final meeting, I wanted to jump on an even later flight at 6 pm, even though there were still seats available at 5 pm – the closest to my original booking.

If I were to ‘change’ my flight in the normal way, there’d have been a hefty fare difference. That 6 pm flight was now selling for double what I’d originally paid. But remember, cancellations can be your friend.

A simple call to Virgin Australia to request a swap to the flight I wanted got things sorted quick smart. As soon as I said the three magic words, ‘involuntary schedule change’, the agent knew exactly what to do and was able to swap me over with nothing to pay.

The same seat, but on a better-timed flight – and at no fee. Sometimes cancellations can be your friend! [Image courtesy of Virgin Australia]

This is when flight disruptions can be a real win-win. The airline still gets you away on a same-day flight. As to the timing of that flight, that’s really up to you, within reason – so make the most of it.

Making Qantas international schedule changes more rewarding

Last but not least, I’d used Qantas Points to secure a seat from Melbourne to Dallas Fort Worth (DFW). It was great to have found a Classic Reward seat in Business, as my timing was tight.

But the flight I’d originally booked was cancelled months before departure. The computer had re-accommodated me onto the same flight the next day, and still in Business. But I’d already made plans in the US on my original arrival day, so the change didn’t suit.

To make matters worse, I’d searched online for alternative reward flights around my date of travel. Yet there was nothing available – not even in Economy.

Rather than simply accept the later flight, I gave Qantas a call.

Explaining my desire to fly on the date I’d originally booked, and that I was willing to take a connecting flight, the agent got searching. She put me on hold for around 15 minutes and came back with a perfect solution.

She’d rerouted me to fly from Melbourne to Sydney and then Sydney to DFW on the same day instead. Sure, it wasn’t as convenient. But both flights would at least be in Business. In fact, Melbourne-Sydney would even be on an Airbus A330 with flatbed seats for that 90-minute connection.

I still had a flatbed from Melbourne all the way to Texas. I just had to change planes before crossing the Pacific. [Image courtesy of Qantas]

Because my journey had been disrupted, it didn’t matter that Classic Reward seats weren’t available on the flights I now wanted. It was the airline that was inconveniencing me after all, so the normal rules didn’t apply.

Even better, as a Points Club member, I’d earn even more Status Credits than I’d expected. That’s because Sydney-DFW gives the same reward as Melbourne-DFW. But I now had a Melbourne-Sydney flight as part of the Business Classic Reward, too. That’s more Status Credits without spending an extra dollar in fees, or redeeming an extra point. All in all, it’s hard to complain.

Summing up

There’s a lot going on in the world of aviation these days, and quite often, plans can be disrupted. But rather than getting frustrated by involuntary changes, you can use them to your advantage.

That’s not to say I enjoy it when my own flights are impacted. But knowing what the airlines can do for you goes a long way to making those changes more bearable – and sometimes, advantageous.

You may also find the greatest success when travelling with only cabin baggage if disruptions strike at the last minute. That’s because it’s easier to switch flights if there’s a delay right up until boarding. If you must travel with checked baggage, check on the status of your flight before the bag is tagged and dropped.

However ironic it may be, a flight delay could just be your ticket to getting home earlier. You just need to ask!

Feature image courtesy of Gustavo Fring/Pexels.

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Why schedule changes can (sometimes) be a good thing was last modified: September 23rd, 2022 by Chris Chamberlin