I was glad we had our trip to Europe booked on an award, but I still wanted to see if we could get onto preferable flights. I was taking advantage of the rule that, if there is SAAver availability, American Airlines allows an award trip between the same two cities to be changed at no charge. For the return trip, we were talking about having an overnight stay at our U.S. gateway airport before completing the trip the next day. For our existing flight to Charlotte, it would be an inconvenience that there's no hotel attached to the terminal. I went for it when a connection through Chicago became available: we can use points at the Hilton attached to the terminal (true, not the international arrivals terminal) and then have a short flight to get home. Quirks of the AA site include that international award bookings cannot be changed online: they need a phone call. Calls to AA have long hold times, but give the option of asking for a call back. I did this, and got the flight change we wanted.
The bigger problem was the outbound: I had chosen the date based on being able to get from Kansas City to Milan with one change. Before I made this change on the return, I'd gotten an email saying that our schedule had been changed: the Kansas City-Miami flight was no longer on the schedule for that date, and we'd been booked to Dallas-Fort Worth the night before, needing to be on our own to spend the night before going to Miami and getting the flight to Milan.
We could get a hotel at DFW on points, but I still didn't like being forced into this change. I had an alternative in mind completing it all in one day, and people on FlyerTalk said that, after a schedule change like this, I should be able to get a change booked regardless of SAAver availability. I was reluctant to do this right away because of the chance that the KC-Miami flight would be reinstated (it's still set to operate on some days of the week at that time), and that there might be a future schedule change that would make trouble. I was hoping to wait until the merger was complete and maybe the schedule was firm around two months before travel to try to change, but some people advised that AA may not be so receptive.
I still chose to sit and wait, checking almost daily to see if there was SAAver availability on alternate flights with good connecting times. About a month and a half after being told of the change, I found availability on the JFK-Milan flight, the transatlantic segment being most important, and KC-Washington, with Washington-NY LaGuardia, requiring being on our own to claim bags and get to JFK, but allowing a long time for that.
I hoped that I could invoke the problem of the schedule change to force availability on a Washington-JFK flight. This agent insisted that I could only change to an itinerary with SAAver availability, so the flight to JFK was no go. I explained the rule as I understood it, regretting that I didn't have a rule number to cite. I thought of the often cited advice to hang up and call again, but it's a pain to need to call and wait for a call back. I also thought that, if SAAver availability is in fact important, I should get this while it's available on the transatlantic segment. I asked for a supervisor, waited on hold for a long time; the supervisor was more difficult to talk to than the first person, and still no budging on the rules. I finally agreed to the connection requiring getting to LGA and allowing five hours to get to JFK; there's also a comfortable connecting time at Washington National. I think these flights are pretty safe from having major schedule changes: the Washington-LGA flight is an hourly shuttle inherited from other airlines.
So, maybe there was a better way of handling it, but we can live with this, and I'll keep checking for availability on the Washington-JFK flight.