October 22, 2020
Thanks to plague-related flight cancellations earlier this year, I have a stockpile of e-credits with Delta Air Lines. Easy-peasy to use when you want, the Delta reps assured me each time one of my itineraries bit the dust. My experience with them this week? Not so much. While I was struggling with the counter-intuitive e-credit rules, two friends were enjoying the open road on their big BMW motorcycles, leaving me equal parts envious and frustrated.
In fact the displeasure when trying to use some of those airfare credits left me so exasperated that I momentarily considered submitting a blank blog post this week to signify the nothingness that is my travel today.
When the e-credits were deposited into my SkyMiles account, Delta had instructed me to start there when booking to use them. Being a pretty good rule follower when it comes to the Catch-22s of airline bureaucracy, I went into my SkyMiles account, located a couple of the credits, checked the right boxes to use them, and then painstakingly shopped flights by date and price for my wife, daughter and me to travel Raleigh to Minneapolis in mid-December to attend our son’s piano recital at his college. Simple, I thought, as I tried to find flights that worked for us.
Despite the airlines saying planes are empty and bookings scarce, fares were surprisingly high, which I attributed to being close to Christmas. After some time I eventually found what we needed and tediously entered all the name and contact data required to book my wife and daughter. Fares for three would use up all the two e-credit amounts and leave me with a balance to pay, which was what I expected.
But when I then tried to finalize the reservations and pay for the itinerary, the Delta system balked and would not execute. The error message was a generic one without explanation of what might have gone wrong. I therefore attributed the failure to a system hiccup and started over. In so doing, Delta took me all the way back to my e-credits. Once again I checked the boxes of the two credits I wished to use and repeated the entire booking process.
At least this time, I thought, I knew which days and flights to go after. Still, the process took a lot of time and forced me to re-enter the names and contact data for my wife and daughter, including their Known Traveler numbers (we’re all TSA Global Entry members and therefore TSA Pre members). Finally at the end, I hit the book-and-pay button. Once again the system blinked and spit out the same generic error message as before. No explanation; just wouldn’t process the reservations.
I should have given up then, but my native stubbornness and self-reliance kicked in, and I went through everything all over again. I couldn’t see why it wasn’t working. Third time would be the charm, I thought.
WRONG! Same error message, yet onscreen Delta’s system teased with the flights and personal data all there, while executing the booking eluded me.
By now I’d wasted nearly an hour. I called the Delta Elite line, waited for the new-normal callback in 15 minutes, and ultimately explained my dilemma. The rep’s explanation surprised me.
She readily agreed that using the e-credits isn’t easy or intuitive online and explained some of the rabbit holes that folks are prone to fall into. For one, I can’t use but one e-credit at the time even if the ticket price is higher than all e-credits combined. Makes no sense, but that’s the rule.
Another snag is that I cannot book more than two people on an e-credit itinerary. I had therefore violated two hidden rules (not published anywhere I could find) in trying to book three of us on one record and attempting to use two of my e-credits to pay for the tickets.
The Delta rep graciously offered to book the flights I had researched, but she was unable to bend those rules any more than I could. If I couldn’t use more than one of my credits at the time, I asked if we could instead use one of mine to pay for part of my ticket, plus one of my wife’s Delta e-credits to pay for her ticket. The answer was yes, as long as it was done through a Delta rez agent like her. It could not be done online in the same itinerary.
My next request was to use one of my e-credits to offset my fare and use another of my e-credits for my daughter’s ticket. Nope, not allowed, came the answer. Delta e-credits can only be used for the person in whose name they are issued. That rule applies even when two people are on the same itinerary, meaning if the e-credit applied to my fare exceeded the ticket price, then the remainder could not be used to pay for any part of the second person’s fare. Any remaining portion of the e-credit would be redeposited into the owner’s SkyMiles account for future use.
Sheesh! What foolish hurdles Delta has created, I murmured. She laughed and agreed. I posited this learning exercise was a waste of my time and Delta’s, though the convoluted process had the unintentional consequence of assuring job security for reservations agents like her because I couldn’t have reserved what I wanted without a rep’s involvement.
The Delta agent did a fine job of booking all three of us. She put my wife and me on one record, using one of my e-credits (we chose the one that would expire soonest) and one of my wife’s e-credits for her ticket. That reduced the difference I had to pay for her fare and mine. The agent then booked our daughter on a separate but linked record locator, a fare I had to pay in its entirety despite having e-credits lingering in my account.
Over 90 minutes has elapsed from the time I had begun to book the flight and the time I disconnected from the helpful, well-informed Delta agent. While I was being schooled in Delta’s e-credit dysfunction, two friends had coincidentally emailed descriptions of their respective recent bike trips, including enticing pictures of the great American outdoors. Both own big BMW motorcycles and are fearless adventurers. One just returned from a week riding in Arizona where, among things, he slept one night in a modest Navaho “B&B” in Monument Valley. Here below are the gorgeous views he arose to the following morning.
Contrasting the non-value-adding e-credit idiocy of what I’d gone through to book a simple itinerary RDU to MSP, I smiled at the simplicity of just hitting the pavement and going places on rubber tires. Untethered from airline complexity and snafus, the personal freedom of the road suddenly appealed. The 1949 advertising ditty to “See the USA in your Chevrolet” made famous by Dinah Shore came to mind, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Still and all, it displaced the sour e-credit experience.