Did Money Talks News Make Delta Do the Right Thing?

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Sometime around March 16, a few Delta customers noticed something odd. The world’s largest airline would no longer let them use their SkyMiles on any business class award seats on any flights with two of their partner airlines, Air France and KLM. Coach award seats were still available, but it would take a week before Delta even acknowledged the problem – although officials never offered a reason or even a timeline for fixing it or explaining it.

Then on March 22, this appeared on Delta’s website under “Flight Status and Updates” – which is the last place anyone would think to look…

“SkyMiles award seat availability in business class on Air France and KLM operated flights is currently unavailable. Delta is working to resolve the situation. In the interim, please book Delta operated flights for business class award travel and upgrades. Last Updated: March 22, 2012, 6pm EDT (-4 GMT)”

I only learned of this problem by coincidence. My aunt and uncle know I write about credit cards for a living, so they recently sought my advice on earning miles. First, they got the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express for the flexible miles. Next, they transferred their miles to Delta, which offered awards through their SkyTeam partnership with Air France and KLM.

But suddenly, they couldn’t redeem their miles for a business class seat on those airlines. I looked like a fool. So I looked into the conundrum.

Glitch or gotcha?

The SkyTeam website claims, “You can earn and redeem miles with all 15 SkyTeam member airlines.” And Delta’s website boasts that its SkyMiles members can:

  • Earn SkyMiles credit and redeem miles for mileage awards on any SkyTeam or SkyTeam Associates airline.
  • Access airport lounges when flying international first or business class.

Yet for two weeks, members were denied business class awards on Air France or KLM, the two largest partner carriers in Europe! Was it a dispute over how much money Delta pays its partners for these award seats? Why else could customers still be able to book economy seats, but not the more valuable business class awards?

On Monday afternoon, I e-mailed Delta Air Lines’ PR department. I asked: Is this a computer glitch or a policy change? Spokesman Paul Skrbec would only refer me to the posted statement above. When I asked some more questions, he replied simply, “Thanks Jason – appreciate the follow-up questions and will refer you to our prior statement.”

Fixed?

I told Paul that I was going to write about this weird little development today, since I hadn’t seen any mainstream media coverage. But yesterday, I heard from some of my sources – including my aunt and uncle – that Delta was once again allowing its customers to book business class awards on Air France and KLM. Although Delta’s notice is still posted on its website as of this writing, my aunt booked her trip.

Bottom line

Did Delta fix the glitch hours after I asked them about it? Or was it mere coincidence? I’ll probably never know for sure. But this episode proves airlines can remove important benefits for weeks, with little or no explanation. Or publicity.

And it proves the solution is often simply to voice your displeasure. If you hear of anything similar happening in your travels, contact us here at Money Talks News. We’re curious people, and we love tracking down interesting problems.

For more on how to get the most from your frequent flier miles, check out…

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