Booking a Mixed-Cabin Award Flight — Reader Mistake Story

Mar 28, 2018

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.

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jeff, who unexpectedly found himself in economy on an international flight. Here’s what he had to say:

I have been a Delta Diamond Medallion for the last six years. I thought I knew all the tricks of the booking system and that mistakes were a thing of the past. Wow was I wrong.

I had a tentative business trip planned to Asia in mid 2017, and my wife was finally able to accompany me — Thailand, here we come! Delta was showing good premium award availability, so I purchased a mixed-class award for my wife online. She was booked into first class from STL-DTW, business class from DTW-ICN (one of our last chances to ride in the top of Delta’s 747), and business class again on Korean Air from ICN-BKK.

A few months later my business trip was canceled, but we decided to travel to Thailand anyway. As work was no longer paying for my airfare, I looked online and amazingly found the same flights showing up at the same price. Once again the award stated it was in mixed classes, but I didn’t expand the flight details to reveal the breakdown of those classes. I also did not take the time to contact both Delta and Korean Airlines to confirm my seat assignment; I knew my wife and I would no longer be sitting together on any of our flights, but I assumed we’d be traveling in business class together.

This proved to be true on the first two legs of our trip, but the last leg was a surprise. The day of the flight (even after checking in), I did not pay attention to all of the boarding passes we received. It wasn’t until we were about two hours from landing in Seoul that I realized my boarding pass for the flight to Bangkok listed me in economy! Further investigation confirmed I had a middle seat in economy for the last six-hour leg of our 26-hour trip.

At 6’7″, I had a slight panic attack at the idea of a middle seat, but fortunately I was able to switch to an exit row during our layover. My wife was of course seated in business class, and she slept great during the flight. The lesson here is to always explore the details of what “mixed class” could mean on your booking, and take the time to confirm your seat assignment.

Jeff’s mistake seems like an easy one to avoid, but it’s also an easy one to make, as some airlines could do a better job of designating mixed-class awards in their search results. Delta typically lists SkyMiles awards based on the cabin of the itinerary’s longest leg (Detroit to Seoul in Jeff’s case), and the only indication that you might be sitting elsewhere for part of the trip is a bit of inconspicuous text above the price. In contrast, United highlights mixed-cabin awards in red, while Alaska uses only a small icon in place of text, but adds a pop-up window that forces you to confirm the mixed cabin when you select an itinerary. You should always double-check details before you buy, but that degree of clarity should be standard.

This is an issue for revenue flights as well as awards, especially if you’re searching or booking through a third party. Neither Google Flights nor Priceline indicates mixed-cabin itineraries in basic search results; you have to expand them to confirm where you’ll be sitting on each leg. A mixed cabin may also work to your advantage. For example, I sometimes see premium economy itineraries (where the main leg is an international long-haul flight) that include a domestic first class leg on a smaller aircraft. In scenarios like that, attention to detail can get you a better deal than expected (rather than help you avoid the opposite).

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jeff for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo courtesy of Klaus Vedfelt/Getty.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

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
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • 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
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
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.