A Cautionary Tale of Booking Award Tickets for Others

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One of the joys of frequent flyer miles is that most programs allow you to use them to book flights for anyone as long as the miles aren’t sold or bartered. I’ve been made a hero many times when friends/family members in need had to get somewhere and flights were prohibitively expensive – yet I was able to book them mileage awards for next to nothing (see also Using Miles for Last Minute Emergencies).

I personally have more miles and points than I can use, so I often get the most joy out of seeing other people use them (and because I am gunning for Delta Diamond status again and award tickets don’t accrue elite miles). A close friend of mine wanted to go to Kenya to help on a charity mission, so I booked him a roundtrip business class ticket from LA using 120,000 Delta miles and $285. I pieced it together in 10 minutes using ExpertFlyer and Airfrance.us (For the Kenyan Air legs) and then called into Delta to get it booked. I thought it was a good use of miles, since the cheapest ticket on the same days was $9,500.

I paid for the taxes using my credit card, which is stored in my Delta profile (plus I wanted the 3x points for using my Amex Premier Rewards!). However, when he tried to check-in for the flight, he got an error and when he called Delta, they said he was blocked out of the system because they needed to verify the credit card used for the award, so he’d have to show it at check-in. Uh oh!

I called the Delta Diamond line and explained the situation and let them know I was upset because this was never mentioned to me when I booked the award. The agent apologized and said that Nairobi was on a fraud list, so they have extra security measures like this. I asked if I could change the form of payment, but she said no dice. She said I could go to any Delta ticketing office and show the card prior to departure to have the hold lifted.

Luckily, I was in LA and actually flying out on the same day (but in the morning), so I escalated the issue that morning when I checked in for my flight. A friendly Redcoat-Delta’s senior customer service agents who are generally enabled to solve most complex issues, notated the PNR, but I wanted them to verify with Air France that there’d be no issues. I ended up escalating it a level higher to a Performance Leader (senior operations staff at the airport who have wide control to fix problems) and he couldn’t have been nicer. He gave me his business card and promised to have it cleared with Air France so there would be no issues.

In the end, it all worked out fine and my friend had no issues checking in, thought it was a nerve wracking 24 hours.  I did a little research on Flyertalk and this issue has come up intermittently in the past with other airlines and other destinations, so I just wanted to warn everyone to use the credit card of the passenger who is flying to pay all fees, when possible.

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