Travelers check American Airlines flight information screens for their flight...

Travelers check American Airlines flight information screens for their flight status. Credit: AP/Nam Y. Huh

I paid extra for the earliest departure flight to Hawaii on American Airlines in May. Since purchasing, the departure has changed several times and went from 5:15 a.m. to 7:03 a.m. Is this common? Can I be refunded the difference since I'm not getting the earlier purchased flight time? — Felicia, Madison, Mississippi

It can be a painstaking process to find the best airfare, striking a balance among airline preferences, departure times, layover options and price — only for an airline to change your schedule after you finally booked. It's annoying, but schedule changes are a regular occurrence, in fact, "flight schedules change all the time," John Rose, chief risk and security officer of the travel agency Altour, told me.

But airlines have the right to make changes and only owe you a refund in certain cases.

Transportation Department regulations say airlines must give customers a full refund if they significantly change or delay their flight, and customers no longer want to take it. The problem is that airlines get to define what significantly means to them.

Unfortunately in your case, "of all the U.S. airlines, American Airlines has the most egregious requirement of what they consider to be a significant schedule change," said Scott Keyes, founder of Going, formerly Scott's Cheap Flights.

According to American's policy, you're only owed a full cash refund if you want to cancel your booking after your flight is moved more than four hours, or if your flight is within 72 hours and gets moved 90 minutes or more. "Most other airlines have set it at two hours, some at 90 minutes — much more reasonable than [American's] four hour requirement," Keyes said.

So because your flight was shifted a couple of hours, you're not eligible for a refund under American's rules. Keyes recommends continuing to check if new flights become available. There might not be a better one for your schedule now, but they may add more flights down the road.

You can also make a case for some compensation for the inconvenient change.

"It never hurts to try to explain why this new flight doesn't work nearly as well, or why you wanted to get there early," Keyes said.

Rose thinks your odds for getting a credit or voucher — perhaps for the fare difference or a different amount — are good.

I asked American whether they'd entertain such a request.

"Our customers are welcome to reach out to our Customer Relations team with any concerns they may have with their travel on American Airlines," the spokesperson told me in an email.

A vague answer, but not a "no" either. Your best bet is to get in touch with American's customer service and shoot your shot.

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