a row of seats in an airplane

File this under “best practices”, and “woohoo” – for turning what could be an annoyance into a total win. It’s no secret that airlines run into issues and often wind up tinkering with flight schedules, canceling flights or being virtually useless when significant delays sour your plans. Unbeknownst to many, there’s a pretty neat way to turn one of these travel hiccups into total bliss: it’s called the 500 mile rule.

The 500 Mile Rule Is…

A generally followed airline policy, where certain issues: such as schedule changes, cancelled flights, weather and other considerations mean that a passenger may move their affected arrival or departure city up to 500 miles, to make things mutually agreeable alternate plans work. Don’t worry, we’ll get more into it.

Here’s An Example…

London and Amsterdam are 231 miles apart. We recently (last year) booked an incredible Qatar Airways golden ticket deal, with round trip business class tickets from Amsterdam to Tokyo (via Doha). Only issue: we’d be in London. From the moment of booking we began monitoring for any schedule change. Finally, sure enough- one happened. Quoting the 500 mile rule, and mentioning inconvenience, we were able to change our departure and arrival cities to London, rather than Amsterdam at NO COST. So now, without having to fly over to Amsterdam just to catch a flight, we’ll be able to depart from our (soon to be) home. I’d give you the dates, but the Catch Me If You Can challenge is still running…

This Is A Best Practice, But Some Agents Are Pushy…

It goes without saying that your results may vary when you call an airline. Always be polite and be proactive. When I call an airline in attempt to improve my reservation (or just make it to my destination in time) I already know what cities are within 500 miles, what the flight numbers I’d willingly accept are, and of course I try to at least come up with a plausible reason that things are better in my newly offered arrangements. In my example, I mentioned that the earlier Amsterdam departure and arrival no longer fit my scheduling and business needs, and that I’d love to hop on (insert specific flight number) to London, as my onward travel was taking me there. Done.

And It Does Work Virtually Worldwide…

This exists because it can be endlessly helpful when things change or go wrong. Imagine you’re flying from New York to Los Angeles, the weather is perfect in New York- but extreme thunderstorms in Los Angeles mean all flights are cancelled. By offering the 500 mile alternative, perhaps to San Diego and then renting a car, you’d be able to make it to your destination, with no real money being lost by the airline. Certainly less than a cancelled and refunded ticket, which is within your rights in many cases.

How Far Can You Take It?

You may need to say thanks for all your help, but I’d love to speak to your supervisor, nothing personal… BUT… The possibilities can be pretty incredible. Decide after booking that you wished you had another day or two in place you’re visiting? A schedule change may be all you need to ask for later flights at no charge. Want to change a restricted ticket into a fully flexible or refundable ticket? It can happen when these changes are made. Want to turn a round trip into an open jaw? Easy. Has it ever gotten someone upgraded? Yes, it certainly has. Most importantly, it’s a feather in your pocket to turn bad news into a great trip. Be proactive, be polite and make lemonade.


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Does this still work if the change is minor? I have a lot of flights where the departure time is changed but only by <1hr.

  2. Does this 500 miles rule honor by all the airline? If not, which airline honor the 500 miles rule?

  3. I learned something today, thanks! Came here after hearing your bit on CN Travelogue podcast. I know about the Delta Schedule change rule for award travel, and have used that rule to great success several times.

    1. It absolutely exists. It may just require a supervisor for good ole American. I did it with American as recently as a few weeks ago.

  4. Used this VERY successfully today with Virgin Atlantic when a connecting Delta flight had a schedule change. Very impressed indeed!

  5. Do you have to prove that it has caused you an inconvenience? Or is it just a given, that if the schedule changes you can quote this rule?

    My flight has been moved 20 minutes, is this eligible?

    1. it never hurts to try- because each agent is a game of roulette. I’ve had instances where I’ve had significant changes where I needed to ask for a supervisor to get changed, and others where totally insignificant changes were immediately addressed by first line agents. 20 mins is insignificant so you’ve gotta be able to spin it- but no reason not to try!

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