We are now well into Skymiles2015 and feeling it’s full and glorious effects. Some Delta flyers are just giddy due to all the bonus Skymiles they are earning due to full fare tickets, but reeling over all the devaluations coming week after week. Others of us are less than happy seeing their Skymiles balance grow at an anemic rate. Some have taken the step to jump ship as I talked about last month in the rookie post about “should you status match Alaska“. One such reader, Chris, did just that. Do you think you can “play” your Delta elite status and yet credit to Alaska when you fly? If so, you’d better pay close attention to Chris and his story of how our Delta feels about him now!
My partner and I have been loyal Delta flyers since Northwest went away. I started playing the frequent flyer game about five years ago after we moved to Seattle and I started to travel more for conferences and to visit family. Seattle is far enough out there that you can really rack up the miles.
I put up with jabs about routing all things through Atlanta and my partner, E, was a great sport in our mileage acquisition. I climbed the ranks over a period of years, topping out at Platinum for the past two years. E rocketed forward, jumping straight to Gold two years ago and Platinum this year. Finally, I could stop making jokes about how she was holding me back on upgrades!
We stayed loyal to Delta, even when other flights were cheaper and even though most of E’s travel was limited to the west coast and strong Alaska routes. E really likes Alaska’s product, but I fly more internationally and really love flying Delta. Our travel is largely her work (west coast), family (Midwest and Alaska), and my work (all over NA and Europe depending on conference locations).
The big news for us in the past year was that we had a kid. In her first year she flew 29 legs and visited 10 states. She’s flown first more than most adults and takes a mean nap up in the air. It means that we travel heavier luggage-wise (I couldn’t imagine how much crap she’d need before we did it) and we’ve generally been trying to scale back some of our travel.
We stayed Delta in 2014 because of the double mileage match in/out of Seattle and our ability to meet MQDs with our spend. However, to get spend for us both, we knew we were going to use up most of our spend on sub-par cards points-wise. My biggest priority with status is upgrade potential/ease of problem avoidance, so the MQDs were just a hassle. I also like my lounge and the Alaska Board Room rates are way lower than Delta’s. Plus, there are several places where Board Room membership gets you into Skyclubs. E’s priority is mileage redemption, for both our trips and being able to easily bring family out to visit, and the Skymiles earning change was the last straw.
The black Friday Alaska fare sales were when we actually decided to switch. We got a super cheap flight to Fairbanks and applied for a status match with Alaska. Just over 12 hours later we got an e-mail welcoming us to MVP Gold 75k and I felt more valued by an airline than I had in a long time.
The rub (there’s always a rub) was that we’d booked a flight to San Diego on Delta before we decided that we’d switch. So begins our year of trying to leverage our status on both airlines while building our Alaska status for next year. This is the story of that San Diego trip…
In advance of the trip our plan was to wait for our upgrade window to resolve and then switch to our Alaska frequent flier accounts. We thought that would be the best way to leverage access to both numbers. When upgrades cleared on both flights at the window, we were stoked. And…that was the first and last high point of our airline experience…
I called the Platinum line and inquired about switching the night before the outbound flight. The agent left me with the belief that it wouldn’t be much of an issue, but it seemed like it would be easiest to take care of at the airport during check-in rather than on the phone. We headed to SEATAC ready for our first-class seats. We’d even been able to move out of the bulkhead so we could put the diaper bag under the seat in front of us.
Check-in at Sky Priority was going well. We were putting our bags up to get checked and I asked about switching the FF accounts to Alaska. The agent seemed to get a little weird, but said she’d do it. It took a minute and then she told us we were going to lose our upgrade if we changed. I asked for us to have a second to talk about it and she responded that it was already too late to change.
That was disappointing. It was one thing to get bumped back down, but it was much worse that the agent didn’t think to even give us a heads up. It felt like as soon as we mentioned Alaska that she got icy and kinda rude. She put us in the back of the plane and moved to charge us for our bags. We showed our Delta Reserve cards and she didn’t know what they were. Eventually she relented and waived the fees, although we didn’t get the snazzy Sky Priority bag tags.
When that happened I looked at our boarding passes and realized that we’d not just been bumped down, we’d lost any status we had with Delta on the upcoming flight. We were in Zone One, not Sky. We were in the back of the plane. We got little choice in our seats because the back of the plane was largely full. Unhappy.
We proceeded to the Alaska Board Room with some of the free passes we got with our Gold 75K. It was fine, but we were still rattled from our experience at check-in. It was crowded, but it was also Monday morning. The staff was nice and it felt a lot like a SkyClub…but it’s a whole lot cheaper for us to get into. It has an additional benefit at SEATAC, since the Delta lounge is buried at the satellite S gates and more and more Delta flights are going out of A and B, which means that you need to ride the tram to and from the Skyclub if you want to visit.
I called the Platinum line from the Board Room to see if anything could be done. Again, once Alaska came up, it seemed like I was going to get no help and that, for the first time in my experience calling Delta, the agent desperately wanted to get off the phone.
I was able to chat with a gate agent who moved us into EC seats and told me that switching FF accounts would wipe out any benefits of the other account. In seeking to earn miles for Alaska, I wasn’t going to get any Platinum benefits. I was also told that the upgrade list (we were 5 and 6 with 4 seats open) was now based on value of ticket, which was news to me.
We got to San Diego, but on the flight we couldn’t help but glare a bit at the yahoos that had gotten upgraded into what had once been our seats. On the upside, we got e-mails from Alaska that offered us a pair of upgrades, board room passes, or free internet. They send them to a lot of their frequent fliers at the beginning of the year, but it was auspicious timing.
As we were getting ready for our return flight we realized that we didn’t even have a seat assignment, so I called and asked about what would happen if we used our Delta accounts on the way back.
The agent told me that there wasn’t any room to put us in and that we’d need to pay for EC or preferred seats. However, if we switched to our Delta account we could get the seats free and be eligible to change to the earlier outbound flight without a charge. I said thanks and that I needed to talk with E.
We decided the ~1000 miles for the trip likely wouldn’t end up making a difference for us at the end of the year, so we might as well switch back and enjoy the seat assignments, the chance to get home early, and the shot at an upgrade.
The next day I called and got the one awesome person at the call center I talked to during this whole ordeal. She found our accounts and tried to put in the information, only to find that she couldn’t switch the FF information partway through a trip. The news for both of us was that the flights were considered together and that the FF accounts couldn’t be changed She seemed frustrated that she couldn’t do anything for us and she ended up getting us seats in the first row behind EC. Because we were Alaska fliers, we’d be back to paying 50 bucks each for the earlier flight, even though she knew we were Platinum.
I decided to try a little call center roulette and called back later in the day to ask again. I was met with a less helpful person and similar answers. I expressed my disappointment at the lack of flexibility. I shared that I didn’t feel I was told at all about what was going to happen and that this was a chance to enforce a rule or have a happy customer. Delta decided to enforce a rule, which is a thoroughly defensible decision, but it really turned me off.
We took the later flight. The kid slept almost the whole way. We also decided we’re likely done with Delta.
Last year, on our one Alaska flight, we chatted up an employee at check-in who said that Delta was a nasty airline with nasty people. I never found that to be the case, until I crossed them. These flights were where I saw the nasty side of Delta. René has written a lot about how #Skymiles2015 is about Delta privileging money over customers, but this experience sealed it for me. Instead of bending some rules for well established customers in an attempt to win them back, Delta tried to wring another 100 dollars out of us.
We’re looking forward to flying Alaska. I figure we’ll probably end up on Delta metal again; we have a lot of miles to redeem, but I don’t plan on buying more Delta ticket stock. The one big upside of the whole thing is that we could regularly joke about how I was going to have a whole lot to write about!
-Delta really doesn’t like Alaska
-When you change FF accounts you lose all benefits of the other
-You can only get benefits from one FF account at a time
-You can’t switch FF accounts part way through a flight
I hope others have a better experience. The other approach I could see is flying the trip as all Delta and then try to credit it back to Alaska after it was done. Good luck and happy flying! – Chris
Amazing! Chris I cannot thank you enough for your thoughts. I am truly SHOCKED by this and how our mothership has dealt with you. One would think they want to do all they can to retain you, but maybe not. I am starting to think that Delta has adopted the old United feeling that the customers are the main problem (especially the ones who do not over pay for tickets). Gosh, 2015 is going to be an interesting flying year! – René
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