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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?

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    Personally, I would try harder with the travel website. They promised one itinerary, and possibly you pay an overcharge for their service, so they should provide what you paid. If they do not refund what you paid, you can ask money back to your credit card. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 6:46
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    You may consider the option of getting a refund (which you are entitled to as long as you haven’t accepted the new booking or chosen a new one) and booking a different flight instead. It’s likely to be quite a bit more expensive as you booked early, but you never know…
    – jcaron
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 7:05
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    Do you have any travel insurance? Either explicit (bought for this specific trip), or implicit through your credit card for instance? They may be able to help out, though policies vary a lot and the fine print can be complex.
    – jcaron
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 12:43
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    I have managed, once, to get a major airline (Air Canada) to rebook me on a different unaffiliated major airline (Delta) when they pulled a similar stunt by changing my departure airport to another one that was over 100 miles further away. If you can find a viable itinerary to GRB on another airline (United? Delta? Frontier?), it's worth calling American and asking to be rebooked on it. Have the exact flight numbers available and tell them what you want. The worst they can do is say no. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 15:09
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    On further examination: the problem appears to be that American's two daily flights from Cancún to O'Hare arrive after 5 PM, and most days of the week their last ORD–GRB flight departs before 5 PM; their evening flight only operates a few days a week. Evening flights to GRB are still operated by United and Delta seven days per week, and both seem to have viable itineraries available from CUN. In particular, you might also see if American will rebook you for the ORD-GRB leg only on United, as it will cost them less that way. Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 2:19

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Well, the staff at the destination airport will definitely not help you out with transportation or lodging (but may give you a discount coupon for some hotel they have a marketing arrangement with). You’re being asked to accept a flight to a different airport, nothing else. The “talk to the staff at the destination airport” advice is as empty a suggestion as it sounds.

You are entitled to get the tickets refunded, or to accept their offer of an alternative routing; in either case you are not entitled to further compensation. You may want to do a little research of your own and see if there’s a better itinerary than the one they offered you over the phone; there’s a pretty good chance they’d rebook you on that one. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of what’s still available and what you’re willing to spend.

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    "You are entitled to get the tickets refunded" -> Well, this is good news, because OP seems to have excluded this possibility already ("We went with the [...] non-refundable package"). You may want to expand your answer a little bit and explain why they are entitled to get the tickets refunded, and most importantly how they should go about getting that refund.
    – walen
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 7:53
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through a travel website.

This complicates things greatly. Lesson learned: always book directly with the airline unless there is a really really good reason not to.

Your case illustrates the core problem of an agency booking: the terms and conditions of both the agency and the airline apply and if they say different things, you typically end up with a lot of finger pointing.

From the airlines perspective this is pretty cut and dry: they offered you an alternative itinerary which you can accept, decline or negotiate.

You already tried to negotiate. From what I can tell AA was at least trying and what they offered you is most likely the best they can do. Since is this is a Basic Economy ticket, room for negotiation is fairly constrained

So your remaining choices are to accept or decline. If you decline you should be entitled to a full refund. HOWEVER, that may depend on the terms and conditions of the travel agency. They still may charge a you cancellation or administrative fee and it's also unclear what happens to your hotel reservation and other services that were part of this booking. You will need to read the Terms of the booking, the agency itself, and/or call the travel agency and ask.

What are my options here as far as the airline is concerned?

Not a whole lot. Given the advanced notice you wouldn't even qualify for compensation in Europe (EU 261). The US Department of Transportation is very clear on the topic. See https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights#Schedules-and-Tickets

Am I worrying over nothing and there's someone at the destination airport that will be able to help us out that late?

You have every reason to be worried. The likelihood that anyone will help you out is very low, especially if you have no status with the airline and a Basic Economy ticket.

You have not officially accepted the alternative itinerary yet, but at the moment you check-in for the flight, you do accept it.

I'm afraid your only choices are to accept an alternative, make arrangements for hotel or rental car and pay yourself or try to cancel, get a full refund and book something else.

I know it feels unfair and frustrating: but these are the terms and conditions you accepted when booking. The airline is perfectly within their rights to change flights and schedules as long as they offer a full refund.

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    @Crazymoomin Unfortunately not. The US does not protect passengers as the UK does.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 14:26
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    @Sneftel: Bait-and-switch is illegal even here in the US. Flights which end in different cities from the originally agreed itinerary are materially different from the original terms of sale.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 18:31
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    @Sneftel: "advertising one thing but offering for sale something else" is what happened. What was advertised was "CUN > ORD > GRB" but what was actually offered and sold was "CUN > DFW > MSN". I don't think the fact that the incorrect description continued for some time after the sale makes it somehow not bait-and-switch. And it's the travel agent who sold them that fare, so they're on the hook for delivering as agreed (in particular they have no grounds for charging cancellation penalties when the change was caused by their supplier and not by the consumer).
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 19:16
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    @Hilmar: That gives them an escape from liability, but also will affect the agency's ability to levy cancellation penalties, because now the contract is written by the airline. And then the bait-and-switch argument can be applied to the airline, since they were a party to the advertisement, offer, and sale.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 19:51
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    @Kevin: Yes, that's what allows the airline to book you on another flight to the same destination and pay only for your delay, rather than operating the original flight on the original schedule with the original flight number listed on your ticket. The theory of "efficient breach" doesn't permit the vendor to impose uncompensated losses on their consumer. The contract probably does allow the airline to cancel and give a full refund. But this answer said the consumer can be on the hook for cancellation fees and that generally will not be the case, because the vendor caused the change.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 20:57
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As with everything like this, make more and louder complaints. Ask for the manager, threaten chargebacks, tell them you'll call consumer protection services, etc.

As for actual plans, maybe see if they can send you back a day later. Leave Cancun a day later than originally planned. Or two days. Maybe you'd be willing to leave a day early. If you have to, maybe move the entire trip a few days in either direction. Ask about some or all legs being moved to another airline. American has partnerships with Alaska and Jet Blue, so look there first.

As for what happened GRB must be a small regional airport. This is what caused your issue. They change routes to those all the time, and they are usually explicit in ticket terms that they sometimes might move you to another day, or somewhere else. I avoid regional airports when I can.

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