I had an experience last night dealing with Delta that demonstrates four basic lessons for flyers, that many ignore on a regular basis.
A few weeks ago, I bought a ticket to go to Warsaw and Amsterdam for Martin Luther King Day Weekend in January. Delta was having some crazy cheap flights to Poland, via Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, or Rome, allowing for a 24 hr stopover in one of those cities each way if you wanted. My family actually escaped the Warsaw area just prior to World War II, and I’ve always wanted to go. So for $350, which I had covered via a voucher from a voluntary bump in August, I was in for 2 nights in Warsaw, 1 night in Amsterdam.
The downside to the fare was you had to go via Canada each way.
So my routing was this:
A lot of layovers, and I’d have to take a half day Thursday in addition to Friday off, but for $350, still a deal.
Then last night, I logged into my Delta account to check in on my upcoming trips.
Lesson #1: Check your trips frequently, especially those booked months in advance.
Sure enough, Delta had loaded schedule changes, and eliminated their afternoon JFK-YUL flight. I had automatically been rebooked on the 8:55am JFK-YUL, meaning I would have about 9 hours sitting in Montreal airport between flights. Although Delta surely has my contact information, this change hadn’t been conveyed to me at all. When I logged into “My Trips”, Delta.com asked me to acknowledge the change, and said I “might” have the option to change to another flight for free. Delta.com is a horrendous site, though, and each option I was offered would have cost me $500 or so more. But this brings me to our next lesson.
Lesson #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Call, or to Call Again
So many times I hear people say they see no options given to them on a website, so just give up. That’s just silly. I promptly pulled out my Delta Gold Medallion card, and called the number on the back (mini-lesson, if you’re elite, use the elite number!). I got an overly friendly agent who was asking me about where I was going in Poland, what I was going to see, etc. I was actually in a bit of a rush, so didn’t have time for chit chat. He told me the only option was to go through DC, which seemed silly to me at the time, given the frequent JFK-Amsterdam nonstops on both Delta and KLM. I asked him for the details of the flight and he was very rushed, and just said “Dulles is a great airport to connect in” so I wasn’t going to get anything better, but I could call back closer to see if something better opened up. Since I was trying to get off the phone, I just said fine, as the flight would have me leaving New York at 6pm, still making my connection in Amsterdam, and I wouldn’t have to worry about clearing immigration and customs on my first flight.
Even though I had asked him repeatedly what the schedule was, he had been vague, and then when I got off the phone, I saw a major drawback of this new itinerary: I had only 49 minutes to make my connection in Dulles. Now, 49 minutes is generally a tighter connection than I like- particularly when connecting to an international flight. And contrary to the agent’s statement, Dulles is not such a great place to connect in, since I’d be arriving in Concourse B and departing in Concourse A. Add to it that I’d be flying from one Northeast city to another in January, and the chances of me and my luggage making it on the IAD-AMS flight were fairly skim.
So I called back. Even though the first agent had said that this was my “only” option, I knew it probably wasn’t. I was right.
Lesson # 3: Be Courteous and Flexible
I got back on the Elite line and got another fairly friendly, but not as chatty, agent. I told her the situation, and in a nice way, just asked if there were any other options. She promptly told me “Well, with the fare you paid, that’s going to be tough.” Rather than take an attitude or a sense of entitlement as many people often do, I said “I know. But if it helps, I can fly out of Newark or LaGuardia, and I don’t even have to connect in Amsterdam – I can connect in Paris, Rome, or Prague too.” “Oh, that actually might help. Do you mind waiting on hold for a few minutes while I see what I can arrange?” “Not at all.”
Less than five minutes later, she returned: “I got approval to put you on a nonstop from JFK to Amsterdam. Does that work for you?” Now, a true mile hound might not like this because it is less miles earned, but for most sensible people, a nonstop of course works. She gave me two options- a KLM-operated Delta codeshare leaving at 6pm, or a KLM flight at 10:50pm, which would mean taking a later flight from Amsterdam to Warsaw. From my own playing around online, I knew there was a JFK-CDG-WAW on Air France that I would have slightly preferred, but that brings me to my final lesson.
Lesson #4: Don’t Be Greedy
I am truly fortunate to be able to see the world at little cost. And while Delta certainly has made money off me over the years given my loyalty, particularly in my business travel, when something like this works out, my thought should be “Thank you,” not, “what else can you do for me?” That being said, if someone has tips on how to exactly use my Delta status for discounted Economy Comfort on KLM, I’d love to hear it! And who knows, maybe the schedule will change again and I won’t have to route through Toronto on my way back. But for now, for $350, I’ve scored the following:
Not too shabby!