Last week, I needed to make airline reservations for two trips.
I finalized an extended trip beginning and ending in South America, and helped a friend book a round-trip flight between Philadelphia and Atlanta.
The trips were to be booked on United Air Lines and Delta Air Lines, respectively.
I expected both reservations to be easily accomplished, but that wasn’t to be. Each had serious complications due to the ticket purchase rules of the airlines. Those rules make no sense to me.
My South American flights were purchased with American Express Membership Reward points, and should have been easily acquired, but United’s rules gummed it up. The Atlanta round-trip, to be made on Delta’s own website, should have been a no brainer, but Delta’s online reservation system methodology resulted with the tickets being purchased on another airline.
Surprised? I was.
I always try to fly to my destinations on direct, non-stop flights. It shortens my transit time, and reduces the chance my luggage will be lost. My preferred frequent flier program is part of the Star Alliance, so I wanted to fly on a Star Alliance member airline. I chose flying United out of Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Buenos Aires’ Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE).
The flight takes about 11 hours, so I wanted to purchase either Business Class or Economy Plus seating for comfort. The Business Class fare was $11,244 for two tickets, which made the Economy Plus seating an easy choice.
It turns out I couldn’t purchase Economy Plus tickets via American Express. Travel agents, in general, don’t have access to Economy Plus tickets. My personal travel agent told me the only way he could purchase Economy Plus tickets directly was if he went on the United Airlines website, or telephoned them, and purchased the tickets like any traveler.
I was using American Express’ loyalty program, Membership Rewards, to cut down on the cost of the trip, but that meant I’d have to purchase the base ticket via American Express, but upgrade the seats at United. To ensure that would be possible, I called United. The United representative said there were plenty of Economy Plus seats still available for my flights on the “two seat” sides of the Boeing 767-300 airplanes, and my American Express purchase would be upgradable. She couldn’t give me an accurate cost for the upgrade, which I still don’t understand.
I purchased the tickets via American Express, then immediately went to United to purchase the Economy Plus seat upgrades. In the twenty minutes it took to complete the American Express booking, several Economy Plus seats had been assigned, but I was able to purchase the seating desired.
What should have taken 15–20 minutes at American Express took almost two hours, when you consider the lengthy time I was on hold waiting to speak to United to get information about the upgrade.
United, and frankly all the airlines, need to make it possible for travel agents to sell their upgraded economy seating. There is no reasonable justification, in my opinion, for not permitting these purchases through travel agents.
Over at Delta, I wanted to make a reservation for my friend to fly from Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). Making a reservation on Delta Air Lines’ website should have been easy.
It started out well enough for my friend, who isn’t a frequent flier at Delta or any airline. However, the process got hung up when we attempted to reserve an Economy Comfort seat, on the aisle, so he would have an easier flight and an expedited path to the lavatory.
When we went to choose an Economy Comfort seat, the website said,
“Move up to Economy Comfort* by purchasing an Economy Class ticket, then visiting My Trips to view, select and purchase the seat.
*seat selection only available after flight purchase
*subject to availability
*prices may vary”
So in other words, despite making our purchase solely within the Delta Air Lines’ website:
• We couldn’t purchase the upgrade seat at the time we purchased the ticket;
• We couldn’t determine the total cost of the seat on the Delta flight until we actually paid, presumably, for most of the ticket cost;
• We couldn’t be sure that by the time we could purchase the upgrade seat, it would still be available.
To me, this situation is even worse than the one at United, described above.
Travelers wishing to purchase an upgraded seat on the Delta website should be able to determine the final cost of their seat before making their ticket purchase; they should be able to upgrade their seat as part of that ticket purchase.
We turned to US Airways.
At the US Airways website, all went smoothly, then when we went to choose a seat, we kept our fingers crossed. For the flight to Atlanta, we put our mouse pointer over a Choice Seat and immediately the cost of the seat was revealed. We clicked on the seat and were able to choose it. The cost was added to the ticket. The same was repeated for the flight to PHL.
Unlike at Delta, the US Airways’ website had no seat upgrade purchase barriers. Purchasing the round-trip ticket with the upgraded seats on each flight was a breeze.