Almost a month ago my wife and I booked a week long trip to Mexico in early November through a travel website. This included air fare and the hotel. We went with the lower priced, non-refundable package. The flights were booked with American Airlines as Basic Economy, and we paid for seat selection on all four legs of the trip. The original itinerary was a roundtrip Green Bay (GRB)—Chicago (ORD)—Cancún (CUN).
Last weekend, I received an email from the travel site informing us that American Airlines has changed our return flights. They're on the same day, but now we are departing Mexico an hour later and going Cancún (CUN)—Dallas (DFW)—Madison (MSN). This puts us 150 miles away from our departure city/home and arriving at 11 PM, which is well beyond the closing time of all but one of the car rental places.
I contacted the travel site and they claimed that the airline would not allow them to make any changes to the flights. I contacted American Airlines and they offered to change our flights to something similar to our original ones, with an overnight layover in Chicago. Knowing that there are at least some protections in the US for airline customers, I asked about whether or not we would be compensated for the added transportation and lodging costs associated with the new route. They said no, because having them change the flights would count as us agreeing to a new itinerary. Basically it would be like us voluntarily changing had there not been a "cancellation".
So then I asked if there was any guarantee we'd get similar compensation for the problems the forced change will cause us. At a minimum we're going to need a one-way rental car, but also likely a hotel for that night. They told me we would have to work that out "at the airport" after we arrive. Well... the ticket counters will be closed at that time. Just who are we supposed to talk to at that time?
So I'm at a loss as to what to do. If we try and book anything ahead of time like a hotel or car for either return route there's nothing to guarantee they won't change our flights again. Nobody seems to be able to offer any assurance that we won't be on the hook for the added costs from this change. And it is unclear to me whether or not this change in flights initiated by the airline counts as a "diversion" or "cancellation" under the US laws governing air travel. It's so far in advance that it's not like we've been given no time to prepare as if we were diverted in the air, but with no guarantees I feel as though I can't lock in additional plans/resources ahead of time.
What are my options here as far as the airline is concerned? I don't want to do anything that's going to result in us waiving our rights. Is there a process to follow, or particular department I can get in touch with at the airline to arrange things ahead of time? Am I worrying over nothing and there's someone at the destination airport that will be able to help us out that late?