Partner award redemptions provide tremendous value and flexibility to those booking award travel. They often allow redemption at lower mileage levels than by booking on the operating carrier. For example, British Airways charges just 7,500 miles for short-haul economy flights within the United States on American. That same flight sets you back 12,500 if booked using American AAdvantage miles. However, there is a potential pitfall. As I recently found out, “weather waivers” can be difficult to utilize when storms strike.
First, some background on what got me here. Last October, Delta briefly opened up a ton of saver award space on transcontinental Delta One. While Delta normally charges 45,000 SkyMiles each way for this space, partner Virgin Atlantic charges half that. Even better, thanks to a promotion, you could transfer Amex Membership Rewards at a 30% discount. That meant just 18,000 MR points for a transcon flight in Delta One. Given that Delta almost never releases saver space, this was a great deal. Since New York to Los Angeles (or vice versa) is easy to do over a weekend, I jumped on it.
Ultimately, I ended up booking the following route:
I booked the Dallas – New York and Los Angeles – Dallas legs on Southwest, thanks to some funny money I earned from #MAXFail back in October. The first Friday/Saturday in March seemed like a good time, before busy season but after the worst of winter. Before you ask, yes, I fully understood the risks of separate tickets. But with an overnight in New York on Friday, and a 3.5-hour layover in Los Angeles, this seemed reasonably safe. Mother Nature decided to have some fun in the end, though.
Mayhem in the Form of an Early March Nor’easter
I follow weather pretty closely, and I nervously noticed the possibility of a Northeast storm in the weather models about 10 days out. Sure enough, by early last week, a Nor’easter looked like a sure bet. All domestic airlines issued weather waivers by Wednesday, including travel to and from all New York airports. This included travel for both Friday and Saturday. With a “weather waiver”, airlines waive the change fee and fare difference for a limited period. In this case, you could postpone travel until March 6th. (The highly limited utility of these waivers is an issue, though one beyond the scope of this post.)
Great, maybe I can just switch my plans from Friday/Saturday to Sunday/Monday, right? Well, not so fast…
Delta Starts by (Correctly) Passing the Buck
I knew a Delta reservation on Virgin Atlantic ticket stock might cause issues. I’m hardly an expert on these matters. But Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly summarizes it nicely with a similar situation:
The situation: one of my employees was traveling from Newark to Los Angeles on United Airlines. His flight was delayed. The ticket was issued by Aeroplan (Air Canada).
Under these circumstances, United is on the hook to rebook him even though Air Canada issued the ticket. In checking in for the flight, United had taken control of the ticket and become responsible for getting him to his final destination.
In my case, I interpreted this to mean that Virgin Atlantic remained responsible, since I had neither a delay or cancellation at that point. And since it was only Thursday, I hadn’t checked in, either. The problem was that Virgin Atlantic made no mention of travel waivers to the Northeast. So I decided to take a chance and call Delta first. As I expected, no can do. But the agent did say if the fight canceled, Delta could help.
Virgin Atlantic Passes It Right Back
My next stop: the Virgin Atlantic call center. And I promptly ran into a brick wall. The agent claimed he could do nothing, because Delta showed no award space on any flight during the waiver period. Perhaps the answer would have differed if VA also had a waiver in place? In any case, he assured me that yes, Delta can definitely help me regardless of who issued the ticket. I knew that was wrong, but as Matthew noted, arguing with an agent never gets you anywhere. I had work to do, but decided to try one last thing before trying my luck with a different agent.
Delta’s Twitter Team – Punting it Back Again
I’ve had some luck with Twitter, most notably getting my SPG Amex bonus issue resolved. So I decided to send @Delta a direct message, begging for help since I kept getting punted from one airline to another. An agent answered promptly and reached out to a supervisor. But ultimately, the answer remained the same.