A Guest Post by John @laptoptravel
Let me preface my article by sharing the fact (though many of you are aware if you read my blog) that my wife is disabled; she suffers from a bone disease which makes most travel uncomfortable; air travel even worse in most situations. Therefore, premium travel arrangements for her are paramount. This is the primary reason why I continue to strive for, attain and keep top elite status in at least one airline program annually. I do some pretty ugly Mileage Runs so she can benefit.
In addition, I have been a loyal Delta flyer for more than fifty-three years; I started flying when I was negative 30 years old, right?
As a Diamond Medallion with Delta Air Lines, members receive the opportunity to choose two items from their “Choice Medallion Benefits” selections annually upon achieving that status. Unfortunately, not every elite of Delta’s (perhaps most) frequent flyer program, SkyMiles, is aware or understands that these benefits are there, how to choose and what to choose. On a recent flight back from Dallas, where I was re-qualifying for my Hyatt Diamond status renewal, I flew alongside a Platinum Medallion who had never heard of choice benefits. As soon as I got Gogo Wi-Fi going up in the air, I shared with my seatmate (Hi kate2424 if you’re reading this) and to her amazement and my shock she stated: “I have never seen this before!”
Help your friends and family out and share with them the secrets that we share on this blog…and if you get the chance visit me on Twitter here.
The next time I fly with a Platinum or Diamond who tells me they have not ever even heard of these benefits, well….I am blaming you! But back to my story about my wife’s very special trip! I got a bit side-tracked, because I am passionate about flying and member benefits.
We constantly monitor the airlines for fare deals and segmented prices in order to share great deals and often Mileage Runs for you. Quite a while back, but still in 2016, we found an amazing fare deal that included a round-trip between Seattle and Hong Kong. Now I have made that flight a few times myself as part of my Mileage Runs for Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM’s) as well as keeping an eye on that one for Mileage Run clients (I do work on the Juicy Miles Mileage Run team.) Knowing that this is the second-longest non-stop flight that Delta offers (Atlanta to Johannesburg being the longest) I thought it would make the most valuable award flight for her birthday to fly to Hong Kong in DeltaONE comfort with beds and three meals! After all, with early boarding you could spend close to sixteen hours in that seat!
I have always wanted to share Asia with my wife but the travel time on the trip seemed too much for her in coach; even Comfort+. Only a DeltaONE flat-bed seat would do the trick. She has a birthday coming up later in the year so I searched for the best travel dates that gave us enough time in Hong Kong to relax, not feel rushed and for her to have time to rest after the long flight. I identified both an outbound and a return flight that had no seats sold anywhere on the plane! (I will admit now that when I am planning a vacation, I book way, way out in advance!)
Fortunately, I also had some unused Ultimate Rewards points so I was able to book one ticket through their travel portal and realize a 25% discount on the cost. Ultimate Rewards points, when used for travel on their website credit you 1.25 cents for every point used. The fare I had already found for the trip was amazing at around $500 round-trip, so this was a no-brainer. My cost basis for the Ultimate Rewards was about 7/10 cents per point, so making the ticket cost ‘out of pocket’ about $280. I bought another ticket on Delta’s website and used some Delta credits I had been holding in “My Wallet.”
So, for about $630 out of pocket, we had two round-trip tickets from the Mainland USA to Hong Kong.
I felt pretty proud of myself for such a great deal and also that soon my wife would have the chance to see Asia; specifically Hong Kong. Last year I took her to Paris, but we missed her actual birthday since the fares didn’t quite fall right. This year she would actually wake up on her birthday in Hong Kong, overlooking Victoria Harbor! Thanks to Hyatt’s Gold Passport with Diamond Suite Upgrades, similar to Delta’s benefits in that respect.
After having secured the tickets, I called the Diamond desk at Delta to secure my/our DeltaONE seats using my four Global Upgrade Certificates for this year’s Diamond Choice Benefit (I still have my Platinum choices, and next year’s still to be chosen.)
Sure enough, the agent on the telephone confirmed that the plane was wide-open and we could use the GUC’s and select our seats, including the re-positioning flights to get us to our original destination airport. Coming back, once again confirmed that the plane was empty but wait, only one upgrade seat was ‘available.’ Ruh Roh! I questioned the agent and said I saw that the seatmap was completely open. She agreed but said only one seat had been made available by the ‘revenue department’ (yeah, those guys) for use with a Global Upgrade Certificate. She said I would get the seat and my wife would have to wait-list. I quickly chose her favorite seat, knowing that I would give it to her and I would fly home in Comfort+ if need be. I then told the agent that I did not want to use the other certificate on the return for any other flights for my wife unless she cleared the Hong Kong to Seattle segment. In that way, I would not be wasting a perfectly good GUC for an eight-hundred (or less) mile flight.
Since we were ‘way out’ on the schedule I was a bit dismayed. I asked when she thought the seat would clear and the reply came back that the revenue department will take a look on a periodic basis and make a determination. Hmmm?
I did call back later that night and tried to ask for a supervisor to get someone with the authority and understanding to realize that this was absurd; two people going are upgraded but only one on the return with ZERO seats sold on the aircraft. No joy. The SkyMiles rep said the system would not allow them to override. I asked if they could ‘oversell’ one seat in GUC for me. Again the reply came back “No. We cannot do that and we are not allowed to do that. No one here can do that for you.”
The next morning around mid-day I called again. The whole thing just sat wrong with me overnight. I called the Diamond desk and once again was told no. I then asked to speak to the SkyMiles supervisor…a pause…then “I don’t think it will do any good.” I persisted and then another pause…then “I have spoken to the supervisor on duty, please wait until they can speak with you regarding your….<click>”
What? They hung up on me? I was thinking to myself “Oh they just don’t want to deal with me and they probably know it’s illogical.” I waited about thirty minutes thinking if they really wanted to do something someone would call me back from Delta, right? No call.
I call again and speak with another agent whom I had not discussed the matter with. I explained my dilemma and gave her my PNR. She replied “Your wife has cleared and we have put her in the seat next to you on all matching flights.” I guess the supervisor relented, found a way or was coming back on the line to tell me that in the earlier call, but somehow the connection was terminated.
Choice Benefits can make an ordinary trip extraordinary; and should never be overlooked. They are the best part of the SkyMiles program, in my opinion.
Anyway, moral of the story is that miracles can happen; even little ones that may not seem to matter too much to a multi-billion dollar airline at the time, however in the painful world that my wife lives in…it can be huge!
It is efforts like this that make me continue to love the airline I was raised on… – John
Thank You Delta Air Lines!