How to Handle a Delayed Inaugural Flight

Jul 1, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Encountering travel delays is never a fun thing, but when an inaugural flight — on a new aircraft or to a new destination — is unexpectedly pushed back, the complications can mount for those who booked the originally-scheduled departure. Today, we’re sharing a story from TPG reader Rob, who found himself on the hook for thousands in hotel charges and unable to fly on a special inaugural flight following an unfortunate Delta delay:

After seeing a TPG deal alert, I booked the previously-inaugural Airbus A330-900neo flight in Delta Premium Select, scheduled for July 1, 2019. I was excited for the opportunity to become a member of the A330-900neo First Flyers Club. Unfortunately, toward the end of May, I received an email informing me of an equipment swap, downgrading my seat to Comfort+ on an ancient Boeing 767-300, and read that Delta was officially delaying its second inaugural flight of 2019 by two full weeks.

Making matters worse, I had already booked 3 nights at the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund. I prepaid for the stay using my Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, which saved me money but made the room noncancelable. I booked a fourth night at the Park Hyatt Shanghai through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, accessible with my Platinum Card® from American Express.

While Delta is allowing passengers who booked specifically to be aboard the A330-900neo inaugural to move their flight to a future date without penalty, I couldn’t move the rest of my trip. I even prepaid for a noncancelable positioning flight to get me to (and back from) Seattle for the A339’s launch, further complicating things. Delta was kind enough to re-route me through Los Angeles so I could sit in Premium Select on an Airbus A350, and I’m still very excited to stay in such luxurious properties once in Shanghai. Given all of the immovable elements of my trip, it’ll be some time yet before I catch a ride on the A339. 

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

While inaugural flights are rare, the temptation to save a bundle by booking noncancelable hotels and activities is not. Below are some of our top tips for avoiding a similar situation as Rob.

In This Post

Be careful booking flights on separate itineraries

(Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)

Oftentimes, the best flight deals that TPG serves up originate in major cities like New York and Los Angeles. To get the deal, you have to book in/out of a major gateway. Some deals are so good that it’s worth doing so, and then booking a separate flight to get you from your actual home airport to the gateway airport where the deal is based. For inaugural flights, you need to get yourself to the launch city — in Rob’s case above, that’s Seattle.

Separate itineraries create a lot of risk. If anything goes wrong with one, the other is in jeopardy. Even if you’re flying each itinerary on the same airline, that airline is under no obligation to help. The only way to guarantee a solution throughout the entire journey is to book all flights on one itinerary.

Related: The 7 Best Starter Travel Credit Cards

One workaround is to book positioning legs using miles, where cancellation fees are occasionally waived for elites. For example, Delta waives change fees on all SkyMiles award tickets for Platinum and Diamond members, which essentially makes each SkyMiles award ticket a very valuable refundable ticket.

Another is to book a positioning flight to a city you wouldn’t mind being stuck in should your connection be delayed or cancelled. For inaugural flights, you wouldn’t have that flexibility, but with some flight deals you can find roughly the same pricing from a variety of airports.

Create your own next best thing

LAX Airport, March 2019 (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)
If life throws you a curveball, you might as well re-route to plane-spot at LAX (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)

In chatting with Rob, he kept a cool head and considered all options. While your miles may vary, he looked at what other Delta flights to Shanghai were flown with a Premium Select cabin and realized that he could still secure a Premium Select seat if routing through Los Angeles on the Airbus A350. He even requested to arrive into Los Angeles the evening prior for some additional plane-spotting at LAX, which was granted.

On the return, he requested to route home via Seoul with a long layover, enabling him to briefly explore a country he has yet to visit. In essence, this is an exercise in making lemonade out of lemons, but it goes a lot smoother if you come to the airline with suggestions (and flight numbers) they can immediately implement.

Remember: be kind when you call. You’re asking for rules to be bent, and you’re talking to an agent that had nothing to do with delaying or canceling your flight.

Avoid noncancelable hotels surrounding inaugural flights

The Times Square Edition (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Delta is 2 for 2 in 2019 for delaying inaugural flights, with its A220 launch pushed back a week and the A339 launch pushed back a fortnight. A staggering amount of stars need to align for a brand-new aircraft to take off as expected for its first revenue flight, and while airlines are great at forecasting, these launch dates aren’t etched in stone.

If you book yourself on an inaugural flight, you’d be wise to book hotels, positioning legs and surrounding activities that can be changed with little to no penalty.

Use a credit card with trip cancellation and interruption protection

(Photo by Lisa Weatherbee/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Lisa Weatherbee/The Points Guy)

While your miles will vary, it’s always best to have some level of protection in the background, even if it doesn’t work in absolutely every scenario. One credit card benefit provided on select credit cards that many people overlook is the trip cancellation and interruption protection benefit. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card both provide trip cancellation and interruption insurance with relatively high maximum coverage amounts.

This benefit provides reimbursement for non-refundable prepaid trip expenses when a trip must be canceled or altered due to a covered situation. Covered situations, maximum coverage amounts and eligible expenses vary across the cards that offer this benefit, so we’ve created an exhaustive guide to understanding those nuances. Be sure to give it a read and consider which card is right for booking your next trip.

Bottom Line

All in all, Bob’s dilemma wound up working out, as he’ll still be able to enjoy a trip to Asia in relative comfort — though missing out on the inaugural flight he specifically booked does sting. If you find yourself chasing one of these maiden voyages of a new plane for a given carrier, be sure to keep the above strategies in mind, as you never know when you’ll find yourself in the exact same situation as Bob.

 Featured image by Lisa Weatherbee/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.