Will Your Airline Cancel a $7,000 Flight over a $5 Charge?

Photo (cc) by InSapphoWeTrust

Can an airline’s anti-fraud policy end your international flight before it begins? During a recent trip, I learned it’s possible.

When I went to Africa a few weeks ago, I used frequent flyer miles to book a business class award ticket from Delta. My entire expense for this $7,000 ticket was $200 in taxes, which I charged to a credit card. A few days after purchasing it, I contacted the airline and changed a flight, resulting in another $5 in taxes. This charge went on a different credit card.

While planning my trip, I learned airlines can deny passengers going to certain destinations boarding unless they present the credit card used to charge just the taxes on an award ticket. Concerned, I called Delta to ask which credit card they wanted to see: the first one used for $200 in taxes, or the second one for the additional $5 in fees? The airline representative said they would only accept the second card used to charge the $5.

In other words, on itineraries that include certain destinations in the developing world, Delta and some other airlines will not allow passengers to board any of flight unless they show the credit card used to pay for their airfare, or in the case of award flights, the taxes.

Charging an overseas flight to a credit card? Don’t leave home without it!

But what would the passenger do in the event his card were lost, stolen, expired, canceled or otherwise rendered unusable between making a reservation and traveling? Remember, airlines accept reservations 11 months before departure. According to the Delta representative I spoke to, the passenger would have to present credit card statements from the old card, along with a letter from the passenger’s bank indicating what happened to the card.

What does a passenger do when a credit card issued to one person is used to purchase travel for another? The credit card holder is supposed to present the card, which should remove the hold from the traveler’s account. There is no consideration of the possibility that the credit card holder does not live anywhere near an airport served by the airline.

Putting Delta’s anti-fraud policy to the test

To see how effective Delta’s anti-fraud measures were, I went to the airport a week before my flight and presented the card used for the $5 charge, which was my wife’s card and had been reported lost or stolen when she misplaced it (she had since found it). The Delta representative at the Denver airport didn’t look at the name on the card or even check that it was valid. The representative just verified the last four digits of the card number and assured me that the hold had supposedly been cleared. Nevertheless, I was still asked again on the day of flight to show the card, and again told I would be denied boarding until I did so.

One more time, I presented Delta with an invalid card in another person’s name, which they accepted as an anti-fraud measure.

On another occasion, I witnessed a Delta agent in Atlanta tell my father he would have to purchase a new ticket if he couldn’t produce the credit card used to pay just the taxes on his international award ticket.

How common is this?

After my trip, I reached out to Delta via their passenger complaint form as well as a call to their press relations department, but received no response in either case. Nevertheless, I have read reports online of other airlines with similar requirements, but no other domestic airline was said to enforce this policy as strictly as Delta. With other airlines, passengers worked around these requirements simply by using online check-in. In my case, Delta sent me emails reminding me to check in online, even though their system would not allow me to do so.

Does Delta inform passengers of this critical requirement?

There is one paragraph on their website that mentions credit card presentation, on their About Online Booking page. But my itinerary was booked over the phone, so that clause wouldn’t apply to me (Delta’s website doesn’t allow customers to book international partner awards online). I also searched their entire International Contract of Carriage for any reference to credit card presentation requirements, but there is none.

What you should do

Any time you travel internationally, carry the credit card used to book your flight. If you don’t have that card, or are not sure which card you used, contact your airline well in advance to try to clear the hold before you travel. Be especially cautious when traveling to developing countries. Delta and other airlines impose this policy selectively on travelers to destinations where they think there is a higher likelihood of fraud. My travel was to Kenya and Uganda, but I have read reports of these holds being placed on travel to parts of Asia and Latin America.

By understanding how these credit card fraud holds work, you can take the necessary steps to ensure that your travel plans aren’t grounded.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
This Cellphone Carrier Has the Worst Network Quality, Customers Say
This Cellphone Carrier Has the Worst Network Quality, Customers Say

One major wireless provider stands out for the least reliable call, messaging and data services.

8 Secrets of an Expert Thrift Store Shopper
8 Secrets of an Expert Thrift Store Shopper

Here’s how a veteran thrift shopper scores the best deals — and turns a profit from them.

Small Splurges That Make It Feel Like You’re Living Large
Small Splurges That Make It Feel Like You’re Living Large

Cutting costs is the shortest path to financial freedom. However, there are times when a little spending can produce big returns.

The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them
The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them

Rescuing a retirement from regret starts with these steps well before it’s time to quit working.

This Chase Card Is Great for Groceries and Cash Back on Everything
This Chase Card Is Great for Groceries and Cash Back on Everything

You could earn more than $600 cash back in your first year just from grocery shopping.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It
15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It

Discover some must-have products on Amazon that you didn’t even know you were missing.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach
10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach

Does the pandemic have you reaching for bleach more than ever before? Learn the ins and outs of using this powerful disinfectant.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.