Is The Flight You Want Unavailable With Miles? Try This!

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A Neat Little Trick

One of my favorite uses of miles is to book last minute trips.  While award availability is generally good at the last minute, there is often a better flight that is not available with miles.


Today is a good example of that. I am traveling last minute to Dallas so I can ride some roller coasters! Since my wife was my only ride to the airport, I had to get here at 8:45am. Unfortunately the earliest flight that I could book with miles departs at 1:40pm.

While the American Express Centurion Lounge here in McCarran is really really nice, I wouldn’t mind getting to Dallas a little earlier then scheduled.

I am using British Airways miles to travel on American Airlines. Dallas is an American Airlines hub and they have several flights a day to/from Las Vegas. When I arrived at the airport, I noticed a flight departing at 12:05pm. That flight has space but is not available with miles.

The Trick

This whole situation reminded me of a trick I have used several times on American, United & US Airways. If you go to the gate agent or the agent at a lounge, often times they will simply switch you to the earlier flight.

Last year when flying back from Tokyo on United, I had a six hour layover in Los Angeles since only one LAX-LAS flight was available with miles. When I landed, I went right to the agent and was immediately switched to a flight that was already boarding. I did a similar thing in Philadelphia when flying US Airways earlier this year.

In today’s situation, it is unclear whether or not I will get the earlier flight since there isn’t an Admirals Club here. To make the change I have to wait until they open the gate for the flight. American can’t switch my reservation over the phone since I was booked with British Airways, so it will require a last minute change.

Have You Done It

Have you ever used a trick like this to get the better flight? Of course you have to be willing to fly on the later flight, but at least by knowing this information, you may have a shot of getting the flight that you want. Happy flying!




Shawn Coomer
Since 2007 Shawn Coomer has been circling the globe with his family for pennies on the dollar. He uses that first-hand knowledge and experience to teach others how to achieve their travel dreams for the least amount of money possible.

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  1. Thanks for the tip!
    Do the free changes only apply to AA? Whenever I asked to change, they would try to charge me the price difference and a modification fee.
    Also, do you know if this can work reversely for getting a later flight, rather than an earlier one?

    • Every airline is different. Sometimes they will want to charge a fee, but often if the later flight is busy, they may want to move you to free up space. This works best the closer to departure you get.

  2. I tried to do this at the check in counter with my husband. We were flying to santiago together, but could only get the long haul flight together and were on two different initial short flights from chicago. At check in they said he could switch to my earlier flight, but it would be $75. We said no thank you, and my flight turned out to be 1/3 or more empty, and his was packed. I wonder if we had asked a gate agent or a lounge agent if we would’ve gotten a different answer closer to the flight. It didn’t occur to me to try, but now that I think about it you probably can get different answers depending upon where in the airport you are.

  3. But what if you’ve checked bags? Will your bags get on your new flight? This especially concerns me if you got the A-OK while they were boarding. Thanks

    • I probably wouldn’t recommend doing this if you checked bags unless it is well before departure. Generally I am carry on only, so it works best in that way. Sometimes you can get switched with plenty of time and in that case your checked luggage shouldn’t be a problem.

  4. This works equally well with Southwest Airlines. If you buy a cheap ticket(or use SWA RR Points) to get a late flight, just show up early and standby for a flight. Make sure they don’t charge you to standby. Works 80%+ of the time 🙂

    • Wow. I have status with them now, but have done it in the past without it. Usually finding an agent in the lounge is the best way, but it definitely isn’t their official policy to let you change.

    • You may not be able to standby officially, but if you walk up and the flight isn’t full, they can switch you if they want to. I find dealing with American’s employees can definitely be hit or miss. Many of them seem very unhappy.

  5. i used to do this when I was a United 1K (same day flight changes are free). a few months ago i tried to do it for a United flight (as a passenger with no status) the UA agent tried to charge me $150 and isaid no thank you.

  6. Basically you’re trying to fly stand-by, just with a reward ticket – as opposed to a paid ticket. Correct? Not sure if I’ve ever done it with an award ticket, but do it all the time on paid tickets when traveling on business. Book the last flight out of a city (often the most full flight) and then try to stand-by to get on an earlier flight if my business in the city gets done early (often the earlier flights are not as full). Of course, the downside is that you often lose a good seat assignment and get stuck with a bad one.

    On another note, my wife and I were just in Vegas (sorry I didn’t reach out – got busy having fun!) and went to a Centurion Lounge for the first time. Very nice! Am I correct that all of the lounges in LAS are either in the D or E gates (Centurion and the ones accessible with a PriorityPass)? Kind of a bummer, given that I usually fly Southwest to/from Vegas (C gates). But at least the just opened up an inside-of-security pass-through gate between the C & D trams (apparently it was just opened a few days ago).

    • A lot of people don’t know that you can do this with an award ticket, so I thought I would just sort of point out the possibility. All of the airlines have set standby rules, but switching to another flight is something that most agents can do without a fee from my experience. Of course it differs by airline and is YMMV.

      As for the Vegas lounges, you are right. There are four lounges that I know of at LAS. There are two Priority Pass lounges called The Club. One is in the D gates and the other is in the E gates. (The E gates version is larger and has showers.) McCarran also has a United Club and Centurion Lounge both located in the D gates. There are two USO facilities as well, however those obviously aren’t open to the public.


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