Oops! What To Do When You Book Flights To The Wrong Airport

by joeheg

You ever spend hours looking for flights to a location, finally decide on which flight you’re going to take and how to pay for it (cash or points) and then head off to bed, happy that you’ve finally finished booking a complicated itinerary? You wake up the next morning to book the corresponding hotel and realize that you booked flights to and from the wrong airport. Really? Really?? Ugh.

Triple Facepalm

Here’s what to do when you’re finished beating yourself up about how stupid you were not to check this before spending hours on finding flights to somewhere that’s nowhere near where you need to be (Note from Sharon: And when your wife is done teasing you. Because oh yes I did!).

I only have my own experience to write about so let me set the scene. I noticed the error the morning after I booked the tickets. I need to be in Washington DC and while I knew that I needed to be near Reagan International Airport (DCA), my brain went ahead to search and book flights to and from Dulles Airport (IAD). The two airports are not near each another and while I could have rented a car for the trip, it would be better if I could just rebook my flights.

I booked flights on two different airlines, so I’ll explain the differences for fixing my error for each airline. Since my flights were several months away, I didn’t have any restrictions on cancelling the tickets like if these were flights within the next several days. Most (if not all) airlines allow you to cancel a ticket with no cancellation fee if it was booked within the last 24 hours.

Flight #1 – Southwest Airlines


I find that Southwest is one of the easiest airlines to deal with and this experience confirmed that my opinion was correct. I’ve cancelled flights with Southwest before so when I realized that I made a huge mistake, I was glad that one of my flights was on Southwest.

I logged into Southwest’s website and found my reservation that I booked the night before.

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I had used Southwest miles to book the flight, so the only out of pocket charge was $5.60 in taxes and the $15 for EarlyBird Check-in. I could have just cancelled the ticket and my miles and taxes would have been redeposited into my account. But if I did that, I’d lose the $15 I paid for EarlyBird, so I looked to see if I could change the flight to the correct airport. Luckily, Southwest flies from Orlando to all three of the Washington DC airports. After saying that I wanted to change flights, I went through the steps and looked for flights to DCA.

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Flights on the day I needed were the same price for either airport and I was able to find a new flight at times that worked for me. When changing flights on Southwest, if you paid $15 for EarlyBird Check-in on the original reservation, it will remain on the reservation for the new flight. If I cancelled the reservation and rebooked a new flight, that money would have been lost (note that EarlyBird is still listed on this changed reservation).

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That was pretty much it. I found a new flight that was the same price as the one I booked so I was able to change flights without having to pay anything extra. If the flight was more expensive, I would have needed to pay the extra points. If I found a cheaper flight, the points would have been deposited into my Rapid Rewards account. I can’t think of a airline that has a better policy than Southwest for changing flights.

One flight down, one to go. Now on to the airline I felt would be more difficult to deal with.

Flight #2 – American Airlines


American Airlines’ cancellation policies are more strict than Southwest’s. I booked this flight with American AAdvantage miles but as long as it’s within 24 hours, the cancellation policies for points or cash reservations are the same; I would be able to cancel the ticket and receive a refund of all the miles and taxes paid (or a full refund of the ticket price if I paid cash).  Unlike Southwest, if it was past 24 hours I would have to pay a $150 fee to redeposit my miles. However if you just need to change your travel dates, American will let you change the days of travel of an award ticket as long as the origin and destination are still the same without having to pay a change fee as long as award space is available on the new flights (which is a generous policy). The same is not true if you paid for a ticket with cash.

Since I needed to change the airports and I could find a cheaper, non-stop flight from the correct airport with Southwest, I decided to just cancel this ticket and redeposit my miles into my account. The process was straightforward as I logged into my account on American’s website and found my reservation.

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It just took one click on the top left tab “Cancel Trip” and the flights were cancelled.

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Here’s the interesting part. They cancelled my flight but it was up to me to make sure my miles were reinstated. After cancelling the flight online, I needed to call the AAdvantage help desk at 800-882-8880 and after a short hold I was able to speak to a representative. She took my record locator number (that six character number you use to check in) and found my cancelled flight. She said she would enter my flight for a refund (which would take 1-2 days) and to refund the $5.60 taxes I paid (which may take 4-7 days to post to my credit card). I checked today and the miles have already been redeposited into my account.

Final Thoughts

I was extremely lucky that I caught my mistake right away. Had it been more than 24 hours, I might have been stuck taking an American flight from Dulles when I was staying at a hotel near Washington National airport. I was totally convinced I was booking the right flights when I made the reservations and I didn’t catch my error until I went to book a hotel room the next day and the warning light in my head went off. It goes to show that double checking yourself when you make reservations can save you a bunch of headaches later on.

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