When airlines give you schedule changes, give them exactly what you want. After all, you can. Schedule changes happen all the time and they happen without your permission. There's nothing you can do to stop them, but there's a lot you can do with your reservation once they occur. Here's how to make the most out of airlines being a pain in the... you know.
So, What Is A Schedule Change And How Long Does It Need To Be To Get A Free Change?
A schedule change or equipment change is when an airlines makes a change to an already existing booking. If you booked the 7PM flight to New York and they move it to 9:30, or cancel it and a connection that's a schedule change. Similarly, if you're booked on a Boeing 747 and they switch planes to an Airbus A330, that's a schedule change. In most cases, any change over 90 minutes is enough to get everything you want for free, if you're clever, as little as 10 minutes might be enough. Keep in mind, you may never actually get an email from the airline announcing a schedule change, so be sure to check every once in a while...
Find Better Flight Times OR Dates
This is the most basic, and often the most helpful change you can make for free. When an airline's schedule changes, especially those changes over 90 minutes, you are entitled to a full refund or a new acceptable schedule. If you want to move from the night flight to the next morning flight, or an earlier flight, provided there's space, you're welcome to. The trick to getting exactly what you want for free is to be convincing. Your meeting moved, your plans changed, the possibilities are endless. Use them.
Find Better Routings
Sometimes due to price and other factors we're forced to book less than ideal tickets, often with frustrating connections. Again, schedule changes over 90 minutes, and perhaps much less, allow you to move to any direct flight or better routing of your choice without penalty, provided that there is space on the flight.
Find Upgradeable Or Sold Out Flights
On long flights I really am all about the upgrade. I can sit through economy on flights under five hours without complaint, but to cross an ocean, I really want a bed. Before agreeing on a new schedule change, look for flights that you could switch to, which are upgradeable with miles. There may not always be options, but often there will be. In lieu of that, some airlines will give you a complimentary upgrade if there's no space available in economy on your new flight change. Look for a flight that's sold out in economy, but not in business, and ask to change to that one. It works more often than one would think!