Can this trip be saved? Help, my airline wants more miles

Glenn Valentine wants to use his frequent flier points to get from Orlando to Sao Paolo, but Delta Air Lines wants too many miles for the trip.

“The system wanted an additional 50,000 to 100,000 Skymiles [for one leg],” he says.

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That’s not uncommon. Other airlines, notably the old Continental, had a double or nothing program for frequent fliers trying to redeem their miles.

Is it right for an airline to keep asking for miles? Should I step in and ask Delta to drop its demand?

Before I continue, a few notations about “Can this trip be saved.” Just because I’m asking the question doesn’t mean I don’t already know the answer (although that doesn’t necessarily apply to this week’s case).

Also, the fact that I’m asking if a trip can be saved doesn’t mean I’m in any way endorsing a case. It only means that I’m asking for your opinion.

Back to Valentine.

He’s concerned that readers will think he’s a “former elite flier” with the “entitlement” mentality, but I assured him we would all be on our best behavior. Valentine is a long-time reader of this site, and I’m sure we’ll judge his case on its merits.

In his initial correspondence with Delta, he describes how he tried to use his miles to fly to Brazil, and managed to get two coveted business-class tickets from New York to Sao Paolo for 100,0000 miles per seat.

Now imagine my dismay that in order to organize my travel from Orlando the system wanted an additional 50,000 to 100,000 Skymiles!

Despite the claim that the online system will “Mix and match dates, cabins, and prices to get the best possible deal.”, it wouldn’t allow me to examine the possibility of coach seats from MCO-JFK, nor does it appear that these seats would have been included as part of the over-all travel (like they used to be), even if I could have looked for them?

Ultimately, I felt my only option to stretch out my hard earned Skymiles was to purchase roundtrip tickets from Orlando to JFK, in order to connect with my award tickets from JFK to Sao Paolo.

You may call me spoiled, but in my 17 years as a Medallion level flyer with Delta, I never felt that I should have to resort to purchasing additional tickets in order to take advantage of reasonably valued award tickets. Therefore, I would also like to ask for at least a partial, if not full, refund of the costs for the domestic tickets.

Delta’s reply? So sorry, but that’s how the system works.

It is no secret that the number of seats offered for award travel is limited, and I certainly understand that not being able to travel as desired can be disappointing. Availability is monitored on a regular basis and determined by many factors including seasonal trends, peak travel dates, and destinations.

We do, however, offer three award levels. Members have the ability to mix and match all three award levels on the same ticket. While the highest level requires the most mileage, it also provides the greatest degree of flexibility and this option may meet your requirements. It allows members the opportunity to travel almost anytime seats are available.

It is also important to mention that we monitor our award seat access throughout the availability period of any given flight. While seats on some flights may be allocated up to 331 days prior to flight departure, this may not always be the best time to look. Award seats can be opened as late as the last week, or even the day prior to flight departure.

As you can imagine, the popularity of our program means that passengers traveling to our most popular destinations are all looking for the same limited availability.

With that said, I am truly sorry for your disappointment with the reservation you currently have, and I apologize that I am unable to resolve issues related to future date travel.

Form letter. Valentine appealed to the higher-ups at Delta. Here’s their response.

Rest assured that your comments are not lost in anyone at Delta Air Lines. While I am truly sorry for your utter dissatisfaction with our program, we appreciate your taking the time to share your feelings with us. Your feedback is important to us as we are constantly enhancing our loyalty program to keep it strong and of value to our customers.

As to your request for complimentary upgrades, these are not goodwill gestures we provide for flight disruptions or service issues. It is not our intent to judge the merits of individual requests, but to maintain some consistency in and integrity of our upgrade inventory due to the high value and demand of our forward cabins. I know this is not the answer you were hoping for, and I am sorry to disappoint you.

Again, I apologize. Your support is important to us, and I thank you for your additional time and effort. We look forward to the privilege of serving your air travel needs again soon.

Valentine is appealing his case to the CEO, but he’d also like me to mediate this.

I’m not sure I can find a way to argue for Delta to reimburse his domestic ticket. But requiring him to pay 50,000 to 100,000 miles for a domestic ticket seems a little high, doesn’t it?

What should Delta do to make this one-time elite-level customer happy? And should I mediate this?

Survey says … no.

Update (11:30 a.m.): Because of a technical glich, comments on this post didn’t work this morning. They are now up and running.