5 Tips From A Delta Reservation Agent

What’s the best site for finding airfares? How do I score free upgrades? Will anyone actually try to call my bluff when I claim a bogus bereavement fare? No one is better suited to answer these questions than an experienced flight reservation agent.

Earlier today, one such Delta agent offered herself up to a ton of these questions during an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit.

Here are some highlights we cherry-picked for you:

1. On the best site for looking for airfares:
“Bing.com/travel – the fare predictor is pure genius. Not even Delta agents have access to that information. A close second would be Skyscanner.

In general you want to book 6 weeks to 12 weeks in advance. Any earlier and the flights won’t be on sale, any later and the others will have already snapped up all the low fares. Award tickets are another animal though…

I love that skyscanner lets you search with the airport code “USA”. It brings up all the flights from the USA to a particular destination. Often it’s cheaper to book one ticket to the coast and a separate flight internationally. Skyscanner makes planning that easy.”

2. In response to a reader who suggests getting a cheaper flight by booking a flight where your actual destination is the layover stop and then just get off at the layover.
“That works only for one way tickets and if you aren’t checking bags. On a roundtrip, skipping any flight in the itinerary causes all the remaining flights to cancel. So your return flight will cancel too. If you check a bag they’ll check it all the way to your end destination any you won’t be able to pick it up at your ‘layover city.’”

3. On booking super far in advance:
“Unless you’re booking business/first class, booking super far in advance is always a bad move. Airlines charge higher fares for those reservations. It’s just like in the tech world where the early adopters pay more.”

4. On unethical behavior that people use to score discounts/fee waivers:
“There are lots of unethical ones like booking child fares for adults to get 10-20% off or using bereavement/medical exemptions to get cheaper last minute fares or to get agents to waive change fees. Delta/AirFrance/KLM require a bit of info such as a hospital name, address, and phone number for a medical fare but they NEVER call to check up on it so I’m surprised more people don’t just lie about it.”

5. How to complain your way into free upgrades/miles/etc:
“[A]fter your flight you should call or email (preferably the later) and let them know about every single thing you didn’t enjoy about your flight (food, movie selection, rude flight attendant, tray table didn’t work, wifi didn’t work etc). The airlines have a specific department to deal with complaints and they’ll give you tens of thousands of miles, free business lounge passes, travel vouchers, drink tickets etc.”

You can check out the whole session at Reddit.

Comments

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  1. Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

    “[A]fter your flight you should call or email (preferably the later) and let them know about every single thing you didn’t enjoy about your flight (food, movie selection, rude flight attendant, tray table didn’t work, wifi didn’t work etc). The airlines have a specific department to deal with complaints and they’ll give you tens of thousands of miles, free business lounge passes, travel vouchers, drink tickets etc.”

    And cue the deluge of emails filled with bogus complaints.

    • woogychuck says:

      It’s pretty much BS anyway. My wife and I had the trip from hell with Continental. My wife was injured by a member of the flight crew, and on all 4 legs of the flight they assigned my wife, my 2 year old son and I into separate rows and made us walk around the gate/plane asking for people to switch, we missed a connecting flight due to a mechanical issue on the way to our destination, and our luggage was misplaced on the way back.

      When we called, emailed and mailed them complaints, we got a call back saying that they weren’t liable for the injury because we accepted medical care (a bandaid) from the gate crew after the flight and the other issues were out of their control. They then accused us of lying despite having photos of the cut my wife had, as well as photo copies of the incident report from the gate crew and the bill for the stitches my wife required.

      In the end, they offered us nothing but excuses.

  2. scoosdad says:

    2. In response to a reader who suggests getting a cheaper flight by booking a flight where your actual destination is the layover stop and then just get off at the layover:
    “That works only for one way tickets and if you aren’t checking bags.”

    And would also suck if you are unexpectedly forced to gate-check a bag as you’re boarding. I’m not sure you’d be able to retrieve your bag at the layover stop if it had a tag on it with the final destination. You’d almost need to bribe the gate agent to put the layover stop on your checked bag tag when they take it from you.

    I suppose you could always lie and say that it has medication in it that you’ll need during the layover. They might just let you bring it onboard at that point and find room for it somewhere.

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      Yeah, if you’re going to do that one option is to send your luggage UPS to the hotel or to your home, whichever you’re headed for.

      I’ve done that before and saved $400 each for 2 of us.

    • j2.718ff says:

      Also, if a flight is canceled, they’ll make sure you get to the final destination, but you might have a layover somewhere else.

    • steve6534 says:

      Also keep in mind that flying an airline with multiple hubs and any sort of mechanical or weather problem the day of the flight can cause you to get re-routed through a different hub. Search for “hidden city ticketing” to draw your own opinion. At the minimum I would suggest never using a frequent flier account to claim miles since getting caught performing this “trick” can cause your account to be closed and miles forfeited.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I’ve never tried either of those fare finding locations. But I will now.

    • Portlandia says:

      I use the fare finder websites all the time and I ALWAYS ALWAYS then book directly on the airline’s website. If you get into trouble anywhere in your itinerary you are less likely to be sent back to deal with Expedia’s or Travelocity’s customer service and can deal directly with the airline’s representatives.

      • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

        Good point.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        YES OMG YES.

        I recently ran into this with Expedia, who seemed lost when it came to actually rebooking a return trip I had to change with US Airways, due to their USA / United bullcrappy. I finally had to call the airline. So they’re fine, if you never have a problem, which is unrealistic.

  4. Opdelt says:

    I read something about Bing being useful and my bullshit meter blew up. I didn’t bother reading the rest. Anyone that claims Bing is useful should not be considered credible.

    • yourbffjill says:

      I’m no fan of Bing (or, for the most part, Microsoft), but I was a huge fan of Farecast, which got bought by Microsoft. Going to farecast.com redirects you to bing.com/travel now. I don’t think her credibility should be called into question over a stupid Microsoft bias.

    • Hawkins says:

      Have you actually tried bing.com/travel? Or are you just being an idiot? I find that it works pretty well, and I use a Mac.

  5. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    #6 Never fly a pet via Delta unless you have a large life insurance policy on it.

    • energynotsaved says:

      We flew the cats across county in the cabin. Figuring I better talk to Delta directly, I paid $25 per ticket to talk to them and book our flights. The agent booked us and gave me max under seat sizes for the carriers. As I tried to get cat carriers, I realized that the agent had put us on a connector that had seats with just 11 inches of clearance. So,I called Delta and I rebooked. That agent screwed up the flight and booked us for the day I was calling. So, then I had call three. Amazingly enough, they fixed it and didn’t charge me more. However, I’m still pissed that I had to pay an extra $50 to talk to an agent that couldn’t book the flight. My cats arrived, but I wish I had taken the cat mellow pills. Far more stress than needed.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        My last flight, I flew with a military doggie in the cabin. He was a great big German Shepherd and was very cool about the whole thing. His soldier said he was an ordinance doggie. It was fun riding with him. :)

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      “#6 Never fly a pet via any carrier other than a specialized pet carrier unless you have a large life insurance policy on it.”

      FIFY

  6. flyingember says:

    These aren’t that helpful. Bing is the least helpful suggestion because they’re missing the bulk of options for KC, Southwest/Airtran and that’s 1/4-1/3 of the flights at the airport.

    And then considering that, there’s no way the Bing options are cheaper given the lack of Southwest. the lack of aggage fees instantly make Southwest cheaper for nearly every option.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Unless you get a lower fare than SW and your situation doesn’t apply to those aggregate fees.

      Literally, your mileage may vary.

    • tsumeone says:

      There are plenty of areas of the country with no southwest airport within a reasonable driving distance. Southwest Virgina and East Tennessee for example.

    • Puppyclaws says:

      Since Southwest, who now owns Airtran, won’t allow travel aggregate sites to list their prices, that is Southwest’s fault, not Bing’s.

      I always make a point of checking Southwest’s site when booking travel, always always always. And I never never never fly them because it’s always 1 and a half times the price of everything else, on those occasions where they fly where I’m going at all. That hardly makes up for a $25 bag fee, especially knowing I can’t even pick my seat. I just can’t understand all the raves they get. Maybe if you live somewhere else they’re cheaper?

  7. joe h says:

    Was stuck on the tarmac in Minneapolis for 12 hours total. We would board, deice, wait in line and just as we were about to take off, the pilot had to turn back, each incident was 3 hours waiting for that, and one hour waiting at the gate. It was snowing and only one runway was open. First time we turned back because of fuel issues, then mechanical warning, then third time we lucked out. First boarded the plane 6am, we were in the air at 6 pm. On the way back we boarded at 8am and the plane tripped a breaker and was unusable. It was 10pm before a seat finally opened up.

    For our inconvenience my brother and I were give $150 vouchers, and delta claims we were only given that because the gate agent was a prick. So please don’t abuse that system, when you do actually get screwed over, the compensation is barely peanut compared to what you are actually losing

  8. wagnerism says:

    Child fares at 10-20% off? I have flown dozens (if not hundreds) of times and have never seen the child tickets being any cheaper. (to be fair, I have only flown with children three times)

    I have always wondered why they asked for separate counts for adults and children/seniors on the website when searching for fares.

  9. Liam Kinkaid says:

    5. How to complain your way into free upgrades/miles/etc:
    “[A]fter your flight you should call or email (preferably the later) and let them know about every single thing you didn’t enjoy about your flight (food, movie selection, rude flight attendant, tray table didn’t work, wifi didn’t work etc). The airlines have a specific department to deal with complaints and they’ll give you tens of thousands of miles, free business lounge passes, travel vouchers, drink tickets etc.”

    And the airline can also decide that you’re more trouble than you’re worth and cut you loose so you can go ruin some other airline’s day for a while.

  10. j2.718ff says:

    Never book too far in advance? Does this apply to popular travel days (eg: thanksgiving) too? In my experience, the only direction prices for those flights go is up.

    • Kat says:

      In my experience, the advice applies to holiday travel too. I live in Florida but attended school in Newfoundland, Canada for a bit. During my last year there I tried to buy my plane ticket for Christmas break in September. The cheapest ticket I found was $1,200 (my average r/t ticket for that same route up to that point had been $750). I checked again late October and the price of the same flight had fallen to $575.

  11. gman863 says:

    Tip #6: If you have a close friend or relative who works for an airline, ask them if there are any employee discount (“buddy pass”) deals they can get for you.

    Although eligibility on who qualifies for such a discount varies by airline, flying this way may save you up to 50% off even super cheap discount fares. In addition, deals like this usually include the first two checked bags free.

    The caveats on using this plan are:

    * It’s technically a stand-by ticket. Best odds for 1-2 people; bad odds for a large family traveling together.

    * Your standby status is based on the seniority of the airline employee who got the ticket for you. A ticket booked by a baggage handler who has been with the airline for 12 years trumps one purchased by a pilot who’s been there for 2 years.

    * There is a dress code for this type of ticket (really) – figure “business casual”. Leave the Metallica t-shirts, cut-offs and Snookie dresses in your luggage.

    • cowboyesfan says:

      * Your standby status is based on the seniority of the airline employee who got the ticket for you. A ticket booked by a baggage handler who has been with the airline for 12 years trumps one purchased by a pilot who’s been there for 2 years.

      That’s not true for AA.

    • Preppy6917 says:

      As an airline employee, “friends” who harass me for buddy passes get blacklisted from ever receiving one. Why? Because the same people with the gall to ask for one are usually the same ones who will create drama when they don’t get on their preferred flight.

  12. benminer says:

    None of those travel sites search Southwest so if you’re going somewhere they service you should always remember to try them. I just booked BWI to GSP (direct flight) on Southwest for $196 including all taxes. Lowest price on Skyscanner was $280 and there was a layover in Atlanta.

  13. Snapdragon says:

    Bereavement discounts, my eye. The one time I needed that ‘discount’ it was a joke. I found something cheaper, at the customer service agent’s suggestion, by going through the website.

  14. dougp26364 says:

    While this reservation agent might take reservations, it appears they don’t buy many tickets themselves. I’m not seeing any real good advice being given.

  15. Broke_Daddy says:

    Wow. I guess it sucks that I’m honest.

  16. A.Bursell says:

    RE: 5. How to complain your way into free upgrades/miles/etc:

    Interesting that some customers get “thousands of miles, lounge passes, travel vouchers, drink tickets, etc.” I must have done something wrong. After my last Delta flight, where I had to sit sideways in my seat for 5 hours with an oversized woman literally pressing against me (forget putting the armest down), I wrote a nice email. I explained my discomfort, asked about their oversized passenger policy, and then asked for an upgrade pass for my next flight to make up for it. All I got in return was a $50 credit to use within 1 year. What did I leave out of my email that would have gotten me something useful?

  17. RickN says:

    >>How to complain your way into free upgrades/miles/etc:

    Interesting. My wife and I just got home from vacation and Delta lost not one, but two of our bags. Their luggage tracker says they have now made it as far as Minneapolis (I changed planes there en route to Atlanta).

    I have to fly again in July. I wonder if I can get some benefits from this?

  18. Trojan69 says:

    She does not know of what she speaks when it comes to advanced booking of blackout times. If I wait until September or October to book passage home for Christmas using Delta, I will pay a minimum of $250 more than I will right now. My flight choices will also likely be reduced. I just checked.

    Her advice on switching carriers for a domestic transfer to an international airline may be good, but there is also the very real possibility that now the pax will have to retrieve luggage, somehow move to a new terminal on the coast (or whatever hub), and then have to go through TSA again. The same process occurs on the return.

  19. cryptique says:

    Any story with a photo of those Biscoff cookies will get an instant click from me.

    Seriously, those are the best thing about flying Delta. And recently I discovered that they make a spread out of them. Diabolically delicious.

  20. palace_gypsy says:

    The best discount I got was from Delta, gave up my isle seat to a woman who had just had hip surgery and was loud in her discontent.
    Got a $10.00 voucher on another flight for being nice.
    Go fig.

  21. lettucefactory says:

    “Delta/AirFrance/KLM require a bit of info such as a hospital name, address, and phone number for a medical fare but they NEVER call to check up on it so I’m surprised more people don’t just lie about it.”

    Well yeah, of course they don’t check. I imagine that HIPAA makes it next to impossible for an airline to call a hospital and ask, “hey, do you have a patient by this name with that disease?”

  22. rstark says:

    this “rep” is a moron. besides the whole “im advertising for bing.com/travel” the rest is a joke. The fares I buy in March for a flight in June are not higher, this has happened every year. If you buy tickets for a plane in August for Christmas, the fares only increase.

  23. JPals says:

    Re:#5…that is true. I had a very bad situation with Delta several years ago. I was leading a church group trip to Italy. When we got to Fumicino for our return flight the airport was a disaster: long lines total pandemonium. When it was our turn to go check-in they informed us that our flight had already boarded and was on the tarmac!!! OHHHH BOY. Try calming down 25 people who have no clue what to do next. Well, a long story short eventually I got everyone home the next day except for myself and a couple of others. When I did return to the States I raised Cain with Delta. At the very elast they should have sent a rep around the lines in the terminal for last call to our flight. At first they put up a fight and mailed me a nasty letter saying it was my fault. But I was insistent in my complaints and called them.. I even wrote FAA and my local Senator (Clinton) and Rep (Crowley). Well Delta did own up to the neglect and they gave all of us $750 voucher! I was not expecting anything more than an apology and possibly discount on a flight. I try to fly Delta now when I get the chance. That was a class act on their part even if one of their managers wrote me a nasty letter blaming me for their total mess at the airport! They Man’d-up to it and did the right thing.