I Could Have Saved $400 and 18 Hours — Reader Mistake Story
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 Mel, who failed to take advantage of elite benefits and other airport services:
My wife, two kids (8 and 6) and I booked a flight from New York (JFK) to San Jose (SJC) on Delta to visit family. We arrived at the airport two hours prior to our flight time. It was early in the morning and surprisingly crowded with the bag check line looping several times around. Due to the chaos and us almost losing our 8-year-old, my wife took the kids through security and I stayed behind to check in our one bag and meet them at the gate afterward.
By the time I reached the counter, the agent told me I was 5 minutes too late — the cutoff time to check in bags for our flight had just passed. Apparently, JFK is very strict about having all bags checked in one hour prior to the flight. Because the security line was also very long, the agent told me I wouldn’t make the flight and I would have to be rebooked while my wife and kids continued on their journey.
The only flight available was one out of LaGuardia (LGA) to San Francisco (SFO) with a connection (that ended up being delayed) in Texas. I didn’t have to pay a change fee, but I did have to pay the $400 fare difference. My wife and kids made it to SJC. I took a cab to LGA with my one bag I needed to check in, and finally made it to SFO 18 hours later at 1:00 am. Fortunately, my brother was able to make the 1.5-hour round-trip drive to pick me up at that hour.
The next morning, my sister-in-law asked me why I didn’t use curbside check-in at JFK. She also reminded me that I have Medallion status (since I travel a lot for work) and asked why I didn’t use the priority check-in line. Because I only have a carry-on bag when I travel for work, I have never had to check in luggage, so using the priority line never occurred to me. It was very early in the morning, we were trying to not lose our kids in the crowd while handling all the luggage, and we hadn’t had our coffee, so neither of us thought of those options at the time.
If we had, curbside check-in or priority check-in would have allowed us to make the cutoff time and get on the same plane. That would’ve saved me an additional 18 hours of travel, my brother from having to pick me up at 1:00 am, and $400 plus the cab fare to LGA. Next time we travel during peak times, we’ll get to the airport even earlier and make sure we utilize other check-in lines available to us.
The benefits of airline status go beyond upgrades and fee waivers; even at the lowest tiers, frequent flyer programs offer an assortment of other perks (like priority phone lines or partner services) that can make flying easier and more enjoyable. However, those perks are only worth what you get out of them, and as Mel’s story shows, ignoring them altogether can be costly. You shouldn’t go out of your way to use benefits just to extract full “value” from your status (or from an airline credit card), but you should at least know your options in case they’re needed. My advice is to look over your benefits thoroughly when you first earn them, and then keep a link to an overview handy in case you need to review.
Mel’s story offers two more helpful reminders. The first is that curbside check-in is available to everyone, not just to those with elite status. It’s a good strategy for circumventing long lines at the ticketing counter, so if you need to check bags and you expect crowds around your departure time, find out whether curbside check-in is offered. The second is that cutoff times for check-in and bag drops may vary by airline and destination. For example, Delta requires domestic passengers with checked bags to check in 40 minutes before departure in Seattle and San Francisco, but extends that to one hour at JFK and as long as 90 minutes in St. Thomas (STT). Make sure you know the cutoff time for your flight if you plan on cutting it close.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Mel a 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy. Edit by The Points Guy.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
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.
- 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