I flew out today to visit my uncle who had a stroke. My outbound was American and return on Delta. My wife was supposed to fly with me, but one of our dogs is sick (we were up much of the night), and she made the call to take the dog to the vet today — this isn’t something we could leave to our dogsitter.
I had booked outbound travel on American, paid ticket for me and mileage ticket for my wife, return on Delta using miles for both of us.
It was no problem cancelling the mileage ticket on American. I’m an Executive Platinum member and get free cancellation and redeposit of award tickets. So even though she was already checked in and it was two hours prior to flight, it was just a quick phone call to get miles back in my account.
Delta was supposed to be trickier.
- Delta’s rules are that there are no changes to award tickets within 72 hours of travel at all.
- I have no elite status with Delta.
- The change fee is $150 in any case and I’d be on the bubble whether or not to pay that to get my miles back.
So what’s even the incentive to let Delta know she wouldn’t be traveling? Well I figured there might be another passenger trying to get on the flight and making one more seat available to someone else was worth a call. Maybe they’d process someone’s upgrade earlier.
I rang up Delta, explained to the agent that I would be flying but my wife wouldn’t be. I told her the reason for the trip and why we needed to cancel her travel. I did not even ask for any favors.
She went ahead and cancelled my wife’s reservation. Then I asked, “is there any way to get some of the miles back?”
The agent paused for a moment and said “well normally it would be $150” not mentioning the airline’s 72 hour rule “but let me see if I can get that waived.” She puts me on hold, comes back a couple of minutes later and says that she’d be able to do it, just let her know the hospital where my uncle was admitted to document the record and she’d refund the miles and the taxes.
This was taken care of during the time I boarded my American Airlines outbound flight, less than 24 hours before the Delta flight’s scheduled departure.
When frequent flyer programs launched award tickets were supposed to be a reward for loyalty, and award customers were expected to be treated better than paying customers. There are often steep change fees on award tickets now, but mileage awards are for the most part still cancellable with points redeposited into an account. In other words even after myriad rule changes over the years, inventory issues aside, they’re still more flexible than paid tickets.
Miles aren’t just an alternative currency used to purchase travel or services from an airline, they are a thank you for your business, and redeeming miles should feel like a reward and not a punishment. Delta got this one right.
Update: Not for nothing but a contrasting experience was when my 15 year 10 month old dog passed away in January. I cancelled a weekend trip and Hyatt refused to extend my 120-day expiring category 7 free night, even though they had just announced that those certificates would be valid for 180 days going forward.