What happens to an AAdvantage award ticket affected by a severe weather event?

First of all our thoughts are with our family and friends in Florida as they brace for hurricane Irma.  Both of our parents live in Florida so we are anxious too.  We’re hoping for the best, but the photos coming out from the devastation in some Caribbean islands thus far are heartbreaking.

What can I do if I have an award ticket that is traveling to, from, or through a severe weather area?

We are headed to Italy this weekend. I will be posting lots about this trip including how I booked it once we get back, so stay tuned for that! But before we leave I wanted to discuss how we rebooked our flight that will almost certainly get cancelled. Why am I certain that a flight to Italy will get cancelled when the hurricane is in the Caribbean? Well, we had a connection in Miami.

I wanted to post about this because while there is plenty of information out there about weather related flight change allowances, I could not find any current information about how award tickets are handled during severe weather events.

Hurricanes and inclement weather can affect your travel plans even when your departure and destination city is nowhere near the weather.  For example, if your connection is in a hurricane path as ours was, your flight will need to be changed.  You will probably receive an email that looks something like this.
AAdvantage award ticket inclement weather
Or if you’re like me and proactive about this sort of thing, you know before the email is sent from constantly checking the travel alerts page!

AAdvantage award ticket travel alert

Check your reservation at AA.com to see if you can change it online

On Labor Day, I realized that Irma is headed for Miami when our flight is scheduled this weekend.  I started checking AA’s travel alerts and by Tuesday afternoon, Miami was added to AA’s travel alert list.  I then checked to see if changing our flights online was an option, but there was no “change flight” option.

Check AA.com to see what alternate flights are available

Whether you’re trying to change a paid ticket or an award ticket, check AA.com to see what flights are available before you call (or send a message, see below!).  In most cases, your departure city and arrival city must remain the same.  This means that since we were booked on flights that started in DFW and landed in Venice, we could not choose to fly into another city such as Rome.  In this case, AA is being more generous than usual because they are allowing a change to the origin and destination city within 300 miles.  This gives more options!  Also, there will be a few date ranges to note.  Usually, to change a flight for free you will have to have booked your ticket before the travel alert was issued.  If you cannot find flights with seats on your date, try checking the day before and the day after your original travel date.  Most airlines will give you some date flexibility in these situations.

Do not worry about the cash price when you are searching.  You are just looking for alternate options to give the agent when you call or send a message.

Search AA.com the same way you would for a cash ticket

I searched for tickets from DFW to VCE on AA.com just as I would search for a ticket if I was paying.  There were several options with several seats left but again, since I booked on points I wasn’t sure if I could just choose any flight*.  To be clear, no award flights showed up on AA.com (at least not at the MileSAAver level, which is what we booked).

*A few years ago, AA cancelled  one of my flights due to mechanical issues with a plane.  That flight was booked on miles.  I had to get back to Dallas that day, and AA flights for the rest of the day were full. I was able to get a very helpful AA gate agent to rebook me on a Delta flight.  The nice thing was that they rebooked me on a revenue flight so I was able to earn Delta (or Delta partner) miles on that trip! I was pleasantly surprised though that AA would book me on another airline.  Anyway, from that experience I knew that AA accommodates for mechanical issues even on award tickets.  But to be honest, I was not sure how they would handle an award ticket that needed to be changed due to severe weather.  

Prepare yourself for a very long hold when you call AA

Most people will pick up the phone and call reservations as instructed on the email.  You will likely wait for hours because guess what?  Everyone flying in and out of a listed airport is also going to be calling.

I do not have time to sit on the phone for hours to get a flight changed, and I learned a few years ago that Twitter can be a very helpful tool in these situations.  I almost never use Twitter, but I keep an account so that I can send direct messages to airlines in the event of bad weather/irregular operations.

Consider using Twitter rather than calling to change an American Airlines ticket

I called the reservations number and surprisingly I actually got through to an agent within 5 minutes.  But after giving him my record locator he explained that since this is an international itinerary he would need to transfer me.  After waiting 15 minutes on hold, I decided to send AA a direct message on twitter while staying on hold (just in case twitter wasn’t helpful).

AAdvantage award ticket change on Twitter

Follow @AmericanAir on Twitter and then send them a direct message. Be sure to include your name(s), dates of travel, and record locator(s).

Now, if you search for flights and find a particular flight you want, it would be a good idea to give those flight numbers with the message and ask for those specific flights when you send the message.  We did not care which route they gave us, we just wanted to make sure we get there on our original travel date, so I didn’t specify a flight.

About an hour later an agent responded to my message on Twitter.

AAdvantage award ticket change on Twitter
I then received an email confirming our new flights.


I was still on hold waiting for a phone agent when I received the confirmation email.  It’s safe to say that Twitter is faster than calling during high volume call situations!

Please note that there will likely be a delay when receiving responses on Twitter. It’s still quicker than waiting on hold on the phone, though!  The whole Twitter exchange and email confirmation took place over about an hour and a half.  Yes, I was waiting on hold for that long!

Conclusion

I know I often give American Airlines a hard time, but I am actually impressed with their handling of this weather situation.  They were very proactive in issuing the travel alerts.  Hopefully this will minimize disruptions.  I also heard that they sent extra planes to some Caribbean islands in the path of the hurricane to be sure that people who were scheduled on flights during the probable storm dates were able to evacuate early.

There are 2 things I want to reiterate:

  1. American Airlines will accommodate you on another flight even if your ticket was booked with AAdvantage miles.  In situations like this, it seems that there does not need to be award space available.  Our friends who are traveling with us were also able to change their flights.  They were originally booked on miles as well.
  2. Consider getting a Twitter account if you do not have one.  It can save time and frustration.

Stay safe, everyone.

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