Using a Delay to Change Flights for Free — Reader Success Story

Feb 23, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Recently, I posted a success story from Ben, who used points and credit card benefits to make a trip to Mexico much more affordable. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Ed, who was actually able to save himself a lot of time in transit thanks to a delayed flight. Here’s what he had to say:

Ed used a delay to his advantage to spend an extra day in Shanghai. Image courtesy of dk1234 via Getty Images.

I travel with a pretty flexible schedule, so I often book the cheapest flight depending on how much extra time it takes to reach my destination. This came into play recently when I was flying from San Francisco to Shanghai. United had recently started flying nonstop from San Francisco to Xi’an, and that flight (along with a codeshare connection from Xi’an to Shanghai) was $200 cheaper than United’s nonstop from SFO to Shanghai. It would cost me an extra six hours, but I’d earn more miles toward Premier status, and I’d be on a 787 instead of an old 747, so I decided to give it a try.

As my departure got closer, I changed my mind and decided I wasn’t in the mood to spend the extra time traveling. I noticed on the seat map that my flight to Xi’an was completely full, but the nonstop to Shanghai was only about 75% full, so I decided to call United and offer to help them (and myself) by switching to the nonstop. I had Silver status at the time, and I figured it was worth a shot.

The first rep I spoke with confirmed that the Xi’an flight was oversold, and offered to change me to the Shanghai flight for a $300 change fee. I declined, and decided I would try again later with another agent and/or wait until check-in to see if I could give up my seat for a voucher. I called again the night before the flight, and again the agent told me the system wouldn’t allow her to override the change fee on her side.

Thankfully, I had also signed up for push notifications on the United app and emails about my flight status. Sure enough, when I checked my email before going to bed, I was notified that the Xi’an flight had been delayed by six hours due to a late-arriving aircraft — enough to make me miss my connection. I immediately called United, explained the situation and asked to be rerouted, and they volunteered right away to put me on the nonstop to Shanghai at no extra charge.

That change allowed me to leave two hours earlier and arrive in Shanghai eight hours earlier than my original flight would have (if it had been on time). If you count the delay, the change saved me almost a full waking day. The moral is that once they announce a flight delay, airline agents have more flexibility to get you to your destination, and they can find a way to override the system. Be sure to sign up for flight notifications, and get on the phone as soon as you realize your flight will be delayed!

Flight delays and cancellations are inevitable in the long run, so it pays to know in advance what your options are whenever you fly. I recommend keeping an eye on flight alternatives anytime you anticipate trouble, like if you’re facing bad weather or a short connection. When you have to make quick decisions about changes to your itinerary, it helps to already have a sense of what works and what doesn’t, especially if you’re on a tight schedule.

Ed’s story is a great example of how that information can be handy even when your plans are flexible. By knowing that he could take the nonstop to Shanghai and being aware that his original flight was oversold, he was able to leverage his delay into more time at his destination.

The nonstop to Shanghai gave Ed a chance to try out one of United’s newer 787 aircraft.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Ed for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured image courtesy of Tempura via Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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