How to change to an earlier American Airlines flight at no cost

By Chris C., May 29 2019
How to change to an earlier American Airlines flight at no cost

This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.

Whether you’re travelling within the United States or even between New York and London, you may be able to change your American Airlines flight at no cost – even if the ticket you originally purchased wasn’t a flexible airfare.

Offered to most business class and first class passengers as well as top-tier AA and Oneworld frequent flyers for free, many other travellers can pay a modest fee for the same privilege of a confirmed flight change, or to fly standby: handy when plans change.

Here’s what you need to know about American Airlines’ same-day flight changes – and same-day standby – ahead of your next US business trip.

Which flights are eligible for American Airlines same-day flight changes?

This policy covers all American Airlines and American Eagle US domestic flights, as well as AA flights to and from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, which all support both same-day confirmed changes, as well as passengers flying standby.

Also covered are AA flights to and from Canada and the Caribbean, and between New York JFK and London Heathrow, where only same-day confirmed changes are offered (no standby requests).

All other AA routes, including from Australia or New Zealand to the United States, are not eligible for same-day flight changes, so if your plans change, you’ll need to amend your booking via the usual channels.

Within the above network of eligible flights, each must be ‘operated’ by American Airlines or American Eagle – that is, an American Airlines or Eagle aircraft, as opposed to a codeshare flight sold by AA but served by a partner airline like British Airways.

Travelling across the pond with American Airlines? Book an AA flight number for same-day flight changes...
Travelling across the pond with American Airlines? Book an AA flight number for same-day flight changes...

The flight must also have been booked under an AA flight number, not as a codeshare, such as an American Airlines flight booked through Qantas with a QF codeshare flight number on the ticket, which would be ineligible.

Even when you’ve booked an AA flight number on an AA aircraft, there are other exceptions to be mindful of too.

Firstly, ‘Basic Economy’ tickets are not eligible for same-day flight changes, period: even for top-tier frequent flyers. These are AA’s lowest-cost economy fares which come with a host of restrictions versus even regular economy, and the lack of same-day flight changes is one of them.

Additionally, economy class flights booked using frequent flyer points – whether using AA’s own AAdvantage miles, Qantas Points, or miles from other partner programs – are also ineligible for same-day changes unless the traveller also holds elite frequent flyer status: but more on that later.

Which flights can you change onto via an AA same-day flight change?

To begin with, your new flight must depart on the same calendar day as the flight you originally booked.

While you may be able to fly earlier or later on the same day, you can’t switch an 11pm flight for one departing two hours later at 1am, for example, or use this option to fly a day earlier or extend your trip by another night.

When it comes to standby travel, all eligible flyers (covered below) can standby for an earlier flight, but only travellers with elite frequent flyer status can standby for a later flight.

You also can’t change between airports, even in the same city, so if you’re flying to New York and booked a flight into LaGuardia, you can’t swap to JFK – or, when flying to or from Washington D.C., you can’t swap between Reagan, Dulles and Baltimore-Washington airports.

Adding to that, you can’t change the routing of your trip either, such as moving from a one-stop journey to a non-stop flight or vice versa, and on those one-stop flights, you can’t move your transit point to a different airport, such as from Dallas/Fort Worth to a stopover in Chicago.

That said, you can amend individual flights as part of a connecting journey.

Let’s say you originally planned to fly from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale via Chicago, and scheduled only a brief transit in Chicago as you weren’t planning to leave the airport – but a last minute opportunity arose to squeeze in a meeting in The Windy City.

Remaining within AA’s long list of rules, you could first amend the Los Angeles-Chicago leg of the trip to depart earlier on the same day, and with elite frequent flyer status, could amend the Chicago-Fort Lauderdale tag to depart later as well, giving you much more time on the ground in between, and voila: meeting made in Chicago.

In any case, the flight (or flights) you’d like to switch to must be departing within the next 24 hours, so while this path is handy when your plans change at the last minute – a meeting ending early or late, for example – flight changes before this time are otherwise only possible via the normal route: where you may need to pay a change fee as well as any fare difference.

What does an American Airlines same-day flight change cost?

Depending on the type of ticket you hold combined with your frequent flyer status, you may be able change flights at no cost – including both confirmed last-minute changes and airport standby requests – although fees apply in some cases.

Flights within the US, and those to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands support both confirmed changes and standby requests, while flights to Canada and the Caribbean only permit same-day confirmed changes (not standby): ditto between London and New York.

Where available, confirmed changes and standby requests are always free for the following passengers, when travelling on eligible flights:

  • American Airlines ConciergeKey, Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro frequent flyers, along with companions booked in the same reservation (except on Basic Economy fares).
  • American Airlines’ first class and business class passengers, including first and business class flights booked using miles as a ‘MileSAAver’ or ‘AAnytime’ reward, or by using frequent flyer points from other partner programs like Qantas Frequent Flyer in first or business class.
  • American Airlines passengers travelling on an ‘unrestricted economy’ Y-class airfare.
  • American Airlines AirPass holders.

The following passengers can standby at no cost on eligible flights – that’s within the US, to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, where standby is available – but a confirmed flight change on these routes or those to Canada and the Caribbean comes with a US$75 price tag, or US$150 between New York and London.

  • American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum and Gold frequent flyers, joined by up to eight companions on the same reservation (excludes Basic Economy bookings).
  • Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers belonging to programs other than AAdvantage, plus up to eight companions on the same booking (again, Basic Economy excluded). For example, this covers Qantas Silver, Gold, Platinum, Platinum One and Chairman’s Lounge members.
  • Active US military personnel (on orders or on personal travel), along with active US military dependents (on orders only).

Beyond these lists, most other passengers have the option of purchasing a same-day confirmed change or flying standby on eligible routes, as follows:

  • US domestic flights, and flights to/from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands: US$75 per person for a same-day confirmed change, or US$75 per person to fly standby if a confirmed change isn’t available.
  • Flights to/from Canada and the Caribbean: US$75 for a same-day confirmed change only, as standby isn’t an option on these routes, including for elite frequent flyers.
  • Flights between New York JFK and London Heathrow: US$150 for a same-day confirmed change only, as again, standby isn’t an option here.

Once again, this isn’t an option for travellers booked on a Basic Economy airfare, but it’s also worth noting that standby isn’t available to passengers flying on an economy MileSAAver award ticket either, unless they also hold elite frequent flyer status, as covered in the earlier points above.

Passengers booked on those MileSAAver award flights retain the option of a paid same-day confirmed change – it’s just that the option to fly standby won’t be provided if the new flight can’t be locked down when the request is made.

Requesting your American Airlines same-day flight change

From 24 hours before departure, requesting a same-day flight change can be done via the American Airlines mobile app for iOS or Android, via the ‘find your trip’ section of the American Airlines website, or by stopping at an airport kiosk, ticket counter or lounge service desk.

If required, you’ll pay any applicable fee when making your request, and depending on your circumstances, you may be presented with the option of flying standby if a confirmed flight change isn’t available.

That’s particularly handy for those elite members who can standby for free but would otherwise have to pay for a confirmed change: especially when travelling in a group, where the typical US$75 per person fee can quickly add up.

If you’re confirmed onto a new flight, you’ll receive a new boarding pass at check-in – or if you’re taking the standby route, will learn of the outcome closer to departure: either at the boarding gate of your desired flight, or by checking at the lounge service desk closer to boarding time.

If you’ve paid a fee to standby but ultimately aren’t able to jump onto an earlier flight – or a later flight, if that’s what you’d aimed for – you can get your money back, but it’s not automatic: you’ll need to manually request a refund.

This can be done via the American Airlines website after your journey is complete, and assuming you paid that fee via credit card, your refund will be processed back onto the same card.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

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