How much is a business class award ticket from Boston to Singapore booked with Delta SkyMiles? The carrier no longer publishes award charts for its loyalty program so that question is mighty hard to answer. Still, it is the route I needed to book and Delta’s SkyTeam (and joint venture) partner Korean Air had the best itinerary available – a single 90 minute connection at Incheon – and so I was destined to find out.
Searching on the Delta website for Boston to Singapore brought up some downright frightening prices. The “Best Match” for my request (Best for whom?!?), according to the airline’s systems, was a 400,000 point trip taking more than 29 hours and including an extra stop in Detroit along the way.
The Detroit airport is pretty nice and the flagship Delta One suite on the A350 is a very nice product. But that price point is most definitely not in my budget.
I switched the sort order to “Price” and a few options showed up at the 135,000 point level, though all of them still included the double connection and the absurdly early departure from Boston.
I know the Korean Air nonstop to Seoul is relatively new (it just started last month) but surely Delta’s computers must know about it, right?? I tested that theory by trying to book just the nonstop to Seoul. The flight showed up and the price was very nice, just 85,000 points for the one way trip in business class.
I’d still need to get to Singapore, so I searched for that segment as well. Multiple options available, again at a reasonable price point (though, surprisingly, there were also connecting partner itineraries available for 5,000 fewer points).
With those two flights both showing availability there must be a way to get that trip booked on the Delta website, right?? Wrong.
I tried multi-city. I tried forcing connections. I tried everything I could think of and came up empty. I now had to throw myself at the mercy of the agents at the call center to see what might come of this effort. The first call did not go well.
Making the call
I explained the trip I wanted to the agent. He didn’t like that I was trying to build my own itinerary rather than accept the options the website spit out for me. He went so far as to accuse me of “Frankensteining” the routings to manipulate the system. He was also none too pleased when I countered that the itinerary I’m shopping is the shortest in distance flown and time en route. I’ve made my share of creative bookings over the years. I know that it shouldn’t take four days to get from Stockholm to Istanbul, for example (that was an awesome trip, FWIW). But this trip is decidedly not that. I’m trying to make things as simple as possible and the SkyMiles system didn’t want that.
After much deliberation and fighting with the system he came back with the price of 130k points, essentially creating an end-on-end itinerary for the trip. That didn’t seem right to me for a partner award so I hung up, figuring I should at least check with FlyingBlue before transferring in my AmEx points to cover the trip.
A pair of calls to FlyingBlue resulted in that program insisting that no business class reward seats were available on the flights, despite the Delta site continuing to show them. Realizing that wouldn’t be a viable option I returned to Delta. I wasn’t happy about paying 130k but the dates and flight times were correct and I have the points. May as well use them, right?
Another phone call and another agent perplexed as to why the BOS-SIN search would not show the flights I was quoting to her. But this agent was not angry with me. She was angry at the computer for not pricing the trip properly. She put me on hold for a few minutes to speak with her supervisor. When she returned to the line I was slightly dumbfounded: It seems there was a way to price the whole trip through at 85k points after all. Needless to say, that ticket is now issued and window seats are secured for the start of a great adventure in Asia this winter.
But could I repeat the performance??
As for a moral of this story, I’m not entirely sure one exists.
Searching individual segments and feeding them to the agents used to be a booking method that worked consistently. Some agents (e.g. the first one I spoke with) won’t process those requests any more, claiming that members are ruining the program for others. At other airlines such requests mostly cannot be priced at all or end up as end-on-end, additive rates. Again, not good for members.
The other age-old adage is HUCA: Hang Up and Call Again. While that did eventually work here I’m not entirely sure it was supposed to. Delta’s policies are spectacularly unclear on the issue and who knows what would really happen next time. On the plus side, it is unlikely that I’d successfully manage to talk to everyone in the call center again like I did once some years ago.
I also feel like there’s a little bit of a victory lap to be taken right now, as this is two different long-haul partner awards in business class I’ve booked with Delta SkyMiles in the past couple weeks, both at very reasonable rates. Sure, they’re not always easy to find, but I got what I needed with only a day or two of flexibility required.
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