While I technically provide a *research and consultation service* to help people effectively use their miles and points, I do offer to book tickets as an incidental complimentary service in correlation with the research and most take me up on the offer. Consequently, my team and I spend a lot of time on the phone with various airlines, though none so much as Delta Air Lines.
I always get a laugh poking fun at the lack of geographical knowledge of US Airways call center agents, but there is no laughing—only needles poking in me—when I must make a complex award booking with Delta.
Star Alliance has synced award booking codes, such that across the 27-member alliance, X always means economy, I always means business, and O always means first class. That makes booking relatively easier for me and certainly easier for agents.
On Skyteam, though, there is no standardization of booking codes…yet (there are reports that it is coming) so you must know the correct booking class to look for on each carrier. Throw in a few carriers to the reservation and factor in the poor amount of training Delta agents receive and you’ll be in for a long and often highly aggravating phone call in order to get your ticket booked. If you are the impatient type, don’t even waste your time–you’ll soon be pulling your hair out.
Then there are the agents who just have no clue. They have no idea how to search for space on airlines other than Delta, no idea about Skymiles program rules, and are just utterly incompetent. The best solution is always just to politely hang up and call again, but I often try to educate agents when I feel they are receptive to training. Sometimes, though, I misjudge the situation. Like this morning.
This morning, I had to call Delta to book a ticket to Southeast Asia that included China Southern, Vietnam Airlines, and Kenya Airways award space. Here’s my conversation below. It was so outlandish I started transcribing the agent’s statements midway through the call…
Julie: Delta Airlines, this is Julie. How my help you Mr. Klint?
Me: Hi Julie, I wish to book an award trip from LAX, into Cambodia, out of Thailand. I’ve done some preliminary research and wonder if I can give you some specific flights to check award space on?
Julie: Why sure I can. Now where you are going again?
Me: Siem Reap, Cambodia is the destination.
Julie: Can you spell that for me?
Me: S – I – E – M space R – E – A – P.
Julie: Hmm. Do you happen to know the code?
Me: Sure, it is Romeo Echo Papa.
Julie: That’s Barcelona.
Me: No, Barcelona is BCN.
Julie: It must be a different airport in Barcelona. Can you spell the name for me again?
Me: S – I – E – M space R – E – A – P
Julie: Hmm, you’re right. It is REP. What date do you want to travel?
Me: December 21st, four passengers, business class. Are you ready for the routing?
Julie: Hold on. <typing> I’m sorry sir, there is no availability on that date. Are you flexible?
Me: No, my travel dates are firm and I’ve found the routing for you, let’s just go flight by flight.
Julie: Unfortunately, I can’t do that. it’s an illegal ticketing practice.
Me: Pardon me?
Julie: We just have to put in the starting point and ending point.
Me: But the space won’t come up that way. We need to search city by city.
Julie: We can’t do it that way. It’s what’s called a married segment. If you’re not stopping in a city, you can’t connect through there. Connections aren’t allowed on an award flight unless they are stopover connections.
Me (incredulously): What?
Julie: I understand what you’re trying to do, I’m so sorry. Again, it’s an illegal ticketing practice so they block it for us.
Me: Julie, you seem like a nice person, but you are completely wrong here. I need to go on China Southern from LAX to SGN via CAN, then Vietnam Airways from SGN to REP.
Julie: We just can’t do that.
Me: Julie, I do this all the time. Trust me, it works. Let’s just put in the flights and see if the computer prices it. You’ll see.
Julie: Sir, I really want to help you and I am not trying to be difficult, but I have done this for 15 years and I know what you are doing is impossible.
Me: Even if you think it is a waste of time, would you just humor me?
Julie: I’m sorry sir, we just can’t put in flights like this—we have to search from starting point to ending point.
Me: Do you see space on my first flight, a China Southern flight leaving LAX at 10pm?
Julie: Let me see. Yes, I do. Now I can book you a r/t to CAN and you buy the rest separately.
Me: Just put in that flight. Now, let’s search for the CAN-SGN two days later on December 21st.
Julie: Oh see, you’ve got a stopover in this CAN for two days so we can add this flight no problem.
Me: There is no stopover here.
Julie: A stopover is a stop for more than 12 hours between flights.
Me: A stopover is a stop for more than 24 hours on international itineraries and there is only a five-hour connection, because the date line is crossed flying east over the Pacific.
Julie: Hmm, you’re right. In that case, I won’t be able to add in this flight to SGN.
Me: Let’s get what you have on hold first, before we going any further.
[I provided the passenger info and a record locator was generated]
Me: Okay, now I am going to ask you to check with a supervisor on adding in connecting flights, because I can guarantee you that you are mistaken.
Julie: Sir, trust me. If I could help you, I would, but it is an illegal ticketing practice. When you search for award travel, the segments must be married in order for you to have connecting flights. When you search for them separately, the segments are unmarried so you can’t have them.
Me: Julie, that is just wrong. Married segments have nothing to do with this. Let’s bring in international manual reissue. Those are the experts here and they’ll back me up.
Julie: Oh shoot. You know my computer just froze. Honest. I won’t be able to transfer your call.
Me: Then why don’t you just get up and check with a supervisor down the hall?
Julie: I can’t put you on hold, my whole system is locked up.
Me: That’s okay. Just set your headset down and check. I’ll wait here.
Julie: That’s not allowed.
Me: Are you sure your name isn’t Sherri?
(okay I didn’t say that)
Me: Okay, okay. Let’s just add in the return flight, Bangkok to Los Angeles via Guangzhou.
Julie: I can do that, but only from Guangzhou since you cannot have any stops without a stopover.
Me: I thought your computer was locked.
Me: How about you put me on hold and check with the supervisor. Look, even if you are right, the computer will just price it as a separate award.
Julie: No, I still can’t transfer you. The system is locked.
Me: But you’ve added in the CAN-LAX flight?
Me: Okay Julie. Can you do one thing for me?
Me: Please, please, please—when you have some time today, please check with a colleague, supervisor, or your manual about booking award flights, because you are gravely mistaken. I appreciate that you’ve been very courteous this whole time, but I am not happy about your refusal to add in the flights I want.
Julie: Thank you sir. I really wish I could add in these flights, but I can’t. It’s illegal. Delta would get in trouble.
Me: Promise me that you will double-check the rules with a supervisor.
Julie: I promise.
Me: Thanks Julie. I appreciate it.
Julie: Goodbye sir. Thanks for calling Delta.
* * *
I called right back, reached a great agent named Monique, and booked the flights I wanted. The computer properly priced the award at 120K and I was able to issue the tickets.
I suppose it is futile to try to teach bad agents how to do their job, but it just sickens me to think about the lack of training most Delta agents have in booking Skyteam partner awards. Booking an award should not be this difficult, even if I am thankful for the business it brings…