I'm not the kind of guy who looks a gift horse in the mouth, but I have suspicions about Delta and my attempted use of a $1,000 voucher it issued to me for giving up my seat on a flight home from South Bend, Indiana last September. (Oh, and for the record, if you are going to strand yourself in an airport for eight hours, South Bend shouldn't be your first choice.)
If you tuned in today for the post on my Toyota C-HR trip to Austin a couple of weeks ago that will include the to-be-continued element from last week's post about wanting a bottle of Garrison Brothers Bourbon, you'll need to wait another week. With my back-to-back trips this week, and a couple of commitments battling for my time today (Sunday my Clanging Bell post-writing day), I just don't have the time that the C-HR post requires.
Back to Delta.
One of my fraternity brothers, part of the group I went to the Wyoming guest ranch with for years and Nashville with last summer, moved to Montana last year. He decided to organize a little trip out there in August for our crew of merry fools. He has secured a very nice cabin on a lake near his home for the overflow of guys he can't accommodate at his house. Near Kalispell, it's a gorgeous area. Upon sharing his idea, the majority of us immediately became hand raisers.
Learning that Kalispell has the closest airport (Who even knew Kalispell has an airport?) to the proposed lodging, I jumped on Delta.com to see if Delta services Kalispell. I have been disappointed more than once this past year learning that Delta no longer services a couple of destinations hosting car events. Santa Barbara being the biggest shock. Last month my trip to participate in the GMC Sierra HD event in Telluride entailed flying a different airline for the outbound than the return trip because Delta has all but abandoned Montrose, Colorado as a destination.
Remarkably, Delta services Kalispell. I don't recall exact ticket prices from my initial visit to Delta.com last Thursday or Friday, but a regular round-trip steerage ticket from Atlanta to Kalispell was less than $600. My Knoxville-based fraternity brother reached out to me yesterday regarding flights. He said that if I advised him of the flights I booked, he would book the same flights between Atlanta (ATL) and Kalispell. I responded that I would book the tickets today and let him know.
I logged onto Delta.com this morning fully intending to book the flights. I submitted dates and airports involved, clicked on the “Money” (as opposed to the “Miles” key) and was preparing to hit “Search” when I noticed a line of script at the bottom of the form asking if I would be using a certificate of some sort. Because that was my plan, I clicked on it and was spirited to my “Wallet” page showing my available certificates and vouchers. I checked the box for the $1,000 voucher and was immediately transported back to a blank for page where I had to reenter all the airports-and-dates information. Hmmm...odd, I thought.
When the flights came up, the prices were 25 to 30 percent higher than the prices three days ago. What? Me thinks something smells a bit fishy. I then clicked on “Miles” to see what numbers came up. Delta wanted 65,000 Sky Miles for the flight. That's really, really high. These are flights are six months from now. I've never paid anything close to that for flights booked a month out.(Note: Since posting this, I've gone back and rechecked my numbers. Seems I was too quick on the draw and my tendency to assume the worst regarding airlines got the better of me. I first checked fares for Saturday-Friday. When I went to book, I looked at Saturday-Saturday. The one day's difference accounted for most of the cost difference. Mea culpa.)
As one of its frequent fliers, I have an innate distrust of all things Delta. Depending on your point of view, I had a ridiculous or positive experience with Delta on Friday evening. I have upcoming flights from Greenville (GSP) to Los Angeles (LAX) that span Monday to Wednesday. Well after those tickets were booked for a Honda event, I received an invite to a regional Hyundai event in Raleigh, NC beginning that Wednesday. The only way I can arrive in Raleigh in time is to go from Atlanta to Raleigh, rather than going on to GSP and trying to fly to Raleigh from there.
Over the objections of the Hyundai travel adviser, I booked my Raleigh flights from Atlanta on Wednesday and then back to GSP on Friday. This left the Wednesday segment from ATL to GSP in place, but unusable.
As I was walking around downtown Greenville late afternoon on Friday, I received a text message from the Hyundai travel adviser telling me that Delta was raising a stink over what it considered a double booking. As a longtime Delta frequent flier, I knew I would have better luck dealing with Delta than a travel agent. Airlines absolutely despise travel agents.
Calling Delta, I explained the situation to the agent. I wanted to depart LAX on Wednesday and rather than to continue from ATL to GSP, I would board the booked flight to Raleigh instead. My ATL to GSP ticket would go unused and Delta could resell the seat. Because of all the video gear I now carry, I have to check a bag. I would get the desk agent in LAX to check my bag from LAX to Raleigh. Simple, yes?
To us mere mortals, this sounds perfectly reasonable. At least it does to me. Why should Delta give a damn that I wasn't going to use my ATL to GSP seat? In fact, doesn't it benefit Delta to be able to sell that same seat again? I basically just handed Delta $300. Would it cost Delta any more to check my bag through to Raleigh rather than GSP? I can't imagine it would. But, suddenly we were at an impasse. I was told they would allow the double booking, but the only way to get my bag all the way to Raleigh was to check it to ATL, pick it up there, recheck it to Raleigh and then reenter the terminal through TSA during my 75-minute layover in ATL. The only way I could avoid all of this, the Delta agent advised, is to combine and reissue the ticket. Charging me change fees and penalties to do so. Yep, Delta took what wasn't a complex issue to begin with and turned it into a major (and expensive) ordeal.
I didn't attempt to throw around my Medallion status, nor the fact that I've logged just short of 2 million miles with Delta. I didn't rant about never flying Delta again nor any of the other silly things I was so tempted to do. I played the victim card. I explained to her that the tickets were purchased separately by two different clients, and that neither would be willing to shoulder the change fees and penalties of which she was speaking. Either I would have to personally pay the extra expenses, or the trip to Raleigh would need to be canceled completely. And you know, I added, if my Raleigh client re-books the flights, it will be on whichever airline absorbed US Air and its routes. I'd rather fly Delta, but it would be out of my hands.
After two pow-wows with her supervisor, the inclusion of some other agent in another department and about 25 minutes of my time, Delta had canceled the ATL to GSP leg of my Wednesday trip, opening the way to check my bag from LAX to Raleigh. This was achieved at no cost to me, nor anyone else: a one-time favor, I was told.
There was absolutely no reason for all this drama. It was a simple problem with a simple fix. I can't imagine that similar situations don't play out each and every day. Why wouldn't Delta have a remedy, other than an expensive ticket change, in place? On one hand, the Delta agent at the call center went above and beyond the call of duty to work this out. On the other hand, there shouldn't have been anything to work out. The entire airline industry in general and Delta specifically is organized with no other goal than reaming the customer at every opportunity.
So, when the cost of a flight six months out mysteriously jumps 25 percent over the period of three days and the only variable is the form of payment from cash to a Delta credit voucher, it triggers my Spidey sense.
Perhaps I'm just a cynic. If so, I've earned it.