Delayed Flight With a Split Itinerary — Reader Mistake Story
One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there's also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I'm calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.
From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to email@example.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how your trip went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made it right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).
Recently, I posted a story from Richard, who paid a hefty price for getting distracted at the airport before his departure. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Bunni, who ran into trouble when booking a flight across multiple itineraries. Here’s what she had to say:
I have a story about a mistake I made while booking a trip to England for this past Fourth of July. I was only about 2,500 miles from earning Delta Platinum Medallion status (I had already met the spending requirement), and while I wanted to use SkyMiles to book my flight, I also wanted to finish qualifying so I could use my elite benefits on a few other international trips I had planned.
I phoned Delta and spoke to an agent about my dilemma. We were looking at a flight from LAX-JFK-MAN and back, and he suggested I pay cash for one of the legs and use miles to book the rest. He went though the routes and prices and recommended I buy the first segment (LAX-JFK), since it was cheaper and I would get my points more quickly. It sounded like a good idea, so I booked it and then went about planning the rest of my trip.
Upon arriving at LAX, the attendant at the baggage drop pointed out that I only had one leg booked, and that my flight was delayed a bit. I mentioned that I had another ticket for the rest of the trip, and she managed to push the bag through to the destination. Everything seemed okay; even if my bag was delayed, I had backup clothes and toiletries in my carry-on, so I was still ready to go.
While getting something to eat, however, I was notified that my first flight was delayed by a couple of hours. I took my food to go and headed to the gate, where I found a long line at the desk. I explained to the agent there that a delay on my first flight would cause me to miss my second one, and as she reviewed my reservation, the look on her face said it all. She said the trip shouldn't have been split into two different itineraries, or if it had to be done, that I should have booked the last leg separately instead of the first.
She tried to help me, but said the options were limited since she didn't book the ticket in the first place. My only chance to get to Manchester appeared to be via Amsterdam on a KLM flight departing later that night. The ticket was almost $2,000, and the Delta agent told me that the flight might be oversold, since she didn't have any seats in her allotment. She also said Delta couldn't help with any sort of refund from the segment I had paid for, but she was at least able to retrieve my checked bag so I could take it with me. I thought they would have been more helpful in getting me to my destination since the whole trip was booked on the same airline — lesson learned!
Ultimately, I decided to buy the last-minute flight. As I made my way to the international terminal, I couldn't help but panic a little wondering if the flight was actually oversold, but the attendants at the KLM desk assured me that I did get one of the last seats that were available on that particular flight. Apart from the six-hour delay (on what was already a short international trip), everything was normal after that. I pushed the shocking out-of-pocket cost to the back of my mind, knowing I'd deal with it when I got back. The trip turned out to be wonderful, and I was glad I went.
Upon returning home, I phoned Delta and they assessed the situation. They said that I should have never bought the first leg separately even though their own rep was the one who suggested it. After some back and forth, I ended up getting a mileage refund for the unused award ticket, plus a $150 Delta gift card and 20,000 miles on top. At the end of the day, however, I was still out the money I had spent on the new ticket.
The moral of this story is to never split a ticket by putting the first leg on its own. If something goes wrong, it's curtains for the rest of your trip!
There are several valuable lessons to learn from Bunni's experience. First, even the best airline customer service agents make mistakes. They sometimes provide bad information, and they don't always know what's best for your itinerary. If you're making unconventional travel plans, be sure you're aware of what's at stake and how those plans could backfire, because airline representatives can't be trusted to see all the angles. Of course, customer service agents can also help in unexpected ways, so remember to treat them kindly and keep them on your side.
The second lesson is that splitting your itinerary is risky, and the more tickets and connections you have, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. Airlines have some obligation to get you from your ticketed origin to your ticketed destination, but they're not responsible for what happens before you depart and after you arrive. Even though Bunni's two itineraries were booked with the same carrier, the first ticket only required Delta to get her to JFK, and not on to Manchester.
That being said, I don't think splitting your itinerary is universally a bad idea. It makes sense if you want to use both cash and miles, or if you're booking a connection to set up a lucrative flight deal. The key is to give yourself lots of room for error — it's better to spend an extra hour or two on a layover than risk losing your whole itinerary because of delays.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Bunni for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her travels.
I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city or missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!