UPDATE: Delta Air Lines did reach out after I published the story below about the senior citizens trapped in Bahrain due to a schedule change with a SkyMiles reservation on SkyTeam partner Saudia. A member of the “Delta Executive Customer Relations Team” both called me and sent me an email, asking to help.
I put her in touch with the couple and she was able to confirm them on KLM flights from Bahrain to Amsterdam then Delta flights from Amsterdam home. I appreciated this resolution and my friends were very appreciative. With their tickets reissued, I was able to cancel and refund their “walk-up” Egypt Air tickets to Washington Dulles, less a modest cancellation fee.
All’s well that ends well?
Not quite. I appreciate that Live and Let’s Fly can catch the attention of Delta. Furthermore, I greatly appreciate that Delta did the right thing (since Delta issued the award ticket and Saudia claimed it did not initiate the schedule change).
But can you expect the same treatment if this happens to you? I pushed Delta on what its policy is when an unacceptable schedule change occurs on a partner award and there is no alternative award space. Was an “exception” granted because of me or can all SkyMiles member reasonably expect that they will not be stranded in case of a radical last-minute schedule change?
Here’s what I was told:
Delta agents are empowered with the situational flexibility to support our customer’s travel. That said SkyMiles Award Tickets are fully refundable prior to departure, so at any time they can cancel and redeposit their miles. If they receive a schedule change, they can do one of the following:
- Keep the new flights and continue to travel
- Search for alternate flight options via dot com, the app, or connect with Reservations
- If no flight options are preferred, they have the option to cancel and redeposit the miles
If travel has already commenced and the return flight changes, passengers can choose from the above options as well. Should they choose to speak with Reservations, a Specialist will search for all available flights, but ultimately, partner rules apply to partner-operated flights.
I asked what “partner rules apply” means and did not receive an answer.
I’m sorry to say that if this happens to you, you are likely on your own…but if this does happen to you, please do reach out to me and I will do my best to help. Delta does many things right, but we must collectively hold Delta accountable here for reasonably dealing with schedule changes on award tickets.
My original story is below.
Dear Delta Air Lines, do the right thing. An unexplained schedule change, even on a SkyMiles ticket, should not be dumped on the customer to sort out, especially when it involves two senior citizens trying to return from the Middle East.
SkyMiles Schedule Change On A Partner Flight? Delta Says You’re Stranded.
I helped book a dear couple that has been so kind to me over the years on a trip to visit their daughter, who is stationed in the Kingdom of Bahrain, a small country in the Persian Gulf. One is a Delta SkyMiles Platinum member and they have faithfully (and foolishly I must add) racked up millions of miles on their Delta co-branded American Express credit card over the years.
When they approached me to help book their trip, there were a number of reasonable options bookable via Aeroplan or Flying Blue (other AMEX partners) but because they were using a Delta AMEX card, all their points were in Delta.
Nevertheless, I found them something. It wasn’t ideal, but they purchased revenue business class tickets to get to Bahrain (BAH) via Amsterdam (AMS) on Delta and KLM. We then used miles for their return from Bahrain to Washington Dulles (IAD) via Jeddah (JED) on Saudia. Delta has eviscerated any cost-advantage to booking on partners and their one-way ticket was nearly 300,000 miles each (less than two years ago, it would have been under 85,000 miles).
The day before their trip, I checked their itineraries, as I always do before departure. Shockingly, I found that their return had been moved from February 17th to February 26th. That’s right, their flights were just unexplainably moved nine days later.
I’ve been to Bahrain and it is not the kind of place you want to stay nine extra days in. Furthermore, they did not even have permission to stay on the Navy base for another week and a half.
I called Delta to sort it out, and thus began a week-long effort in futility, in which I ultimately lost more than 15 hours of my own time. Delta’s position, from the very start and with varying degrees of politeness, has been that it has no responsibility for award tickets it issues on partners if there is a schedule change. If there is no award space, there is no recourse beyond a refund.
I did not record the phone calls, but you should read some of the chat transcripts (I tried both chat and phone). Some agents were downright hostile. Others encouraged me to call Saudia to sort it out (a ridiculous suggestion on a Delta-issued ticket). One told me that it was my own fault for using miles.
Well, she was right about that…but that does not reflect poorly on Delta customers, but on the company she works for.
Delta sells codeshare tickets from Bahrain to Washington on KLM. I proposed Delta simply book those flights for my friends.
“We can’t do that. That costs money. It’s not our problem Saudia changed your flights.”
That, folks, is a direct quote.
See, Delta will sell you a ticket that you can pay for with miles, issue that ticket, charge your credit card for the taxes and surcharges on that ticket, but runs away from supporting you when something goes wrong. Yes, Delta welcomes your decades of credit spending, Platinum status, and MillionMiler status (which these folks have), but it’s not even a game of one hand washing the other…there is no support when you need it. Just derision that you used your miles in the first place.
Of course, my friends could have purchased a round-trip ticket at the very start. At this late hour, trying to purchase a last-minute business class ticket is even more expensive than it was a month ago. Delta gave them the middle finger.
Delta may have fine print that gives it carte blanche to screw its members (in reality, the terms and conditions of the SkyMiles program do not appear to specifically address this scenario), but consumers better know that they will be left to fend for themselves, potentially at great personal expense, if a partner carrier decides to change flights on you at the last minute.
Oddly, it is still not clear why this schedule change occurred in the first place. The originally-booked flights are still operating on February 17th. I did call Saudia and the agents had no idea why the change was made and denied initiating it on their end.
Again, Delta: do the right thing. This couple just bought business class tickets back on another carrier. Thankfully, they could afford it, but what about those who cannot? This should not have been necessary in the first place. A carrier who sells a ticket from A to B should be responsible for getting those passengers from A to B…there is no “but miles” excuse.
I’ve advised these folks to seek redress and also to cut up their Delta credit cards. But you can learn from their mishap. if you book a ticket on Delta using your miles and there is a massive schedule change, Delta is not going to help you if there is not award space. Period.