Maybe Delta’s best fare guarantee just got a little better

The roundrip airfare between Minneapolis and Washington that Kevin McDonald found on Delta Air Lines’ website came to $386 — not bad. But when he checked Expedia.com, he found the same tickets for $62 less.

Multiply that by four for his entire family, and that’s serious money.

No problem, the thought. Delta offers a Best Fare Guarantee that promises if you find a lower price on another website for the exact same Delta itinerary after purchasing your ticket on delta.com, “then we’d like to make it right.”

He was sure Delta would do just that.

And you’re probably going to find this hard to believe — after all, that’s the kind of feature this is — but Delta didn’t make it right.

At least, at first.

Here’s the short rejection it sent him:

Our records indicate that your reservation is booked in “U” class of service for the departure and “L” class of service for the return.

At the time of our research at www.expedia.com, we were able to locate a lower fare of $326.60 per passenger. However, the class of service was “T”; for the return flight. Therefore, we respectfully decline your request.

Huh?

Well, it turns out that by “exact” same itinerary, Delta means that everything — including the fare codes — must match. (These codes are meaningless for most customers seated in economy class. After all, a ticket is a ticket, right?)

But countless passengers have been foiled by fare codes, and Delta knows it.

McDonald, a frequent Delta customer who works for the state of Minnesota, appealed the decision. But Delta held fast.

Then he asked me to intervene. I suggested he contact someone higher up the food chain to review his grievance, and he did. He sent a polite email to Toby Broberg, Delta’s top customer-service executive.

Here’s what he said,

I trust that you have the capacity to affect change within Delta in legitimate instances where loyal customers are unintentionally misguided. I strongly feel that my case represents such an instance deserving of your attention.

Specifically, I draw your attention to the Best Fare Guarantee Claim form.

Please note that nowhere is a customer asked to provide “fare class” information for the competing fare.

I believe that if this form requested this information, it would trigger or otherwise alert customers to the fact that this information is vital.

I can only imagine that many other loyal Delta customers, like me, have experienced the disappointment of learning that just because both the competing fare and the Delta offers are “economy class” seats, this does not mean they share the same “fare class.”

Delta’s “guarantee” is hardly the only one with ridiculous restrictions, by the way. American Airlines’ is riddled with exceptions, including waivers for specials, packages and “unpublished” fares. United Airlines’ doesn’t apply to paper tickets.

But the fare-code issue seemed like a red herring. I wondered how Delta would respond.

I was surprised. Not only did it apologize and issue four $150 vouchers — one for each member of his family — but it also promised to take his recommendation to heart.

Your suggestion about clarifying the wording on delta.com is a good one. Coach fares for all airlines are segmented at different pricing levels and are noted by a fare class code, such as Y, L, U, T and etc. For example, “Y” class represents a “walk up” last minute coach fare which will always be significantly higher than a “T” class which represents one of the lowest restricted fare. Thus your suggestion to provide a better explanation is excellent.

Delta said it would share his suggestions with its web team, and although the form hasn’t been updated yet, I’m hopeful that it will be.

The rest of you at home who are wondering why you should even bother with best fare “guarantees” — I hear you! Spend just a little bit of time reviewing the fine print, and you’ll see how gimmicky and pointless some of these warranties are.

Maybe, just maybe, one of them got a little less gimmicky.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • DavidYoung2

    I guess I’m confused why Delta didn’t offer the same fare class on it’s website for the return flight. If Expedia could offer Delta’s ‘T’ class on the return, why didn’t Delta offer it as well on the website?

    Delta did the right thing for the OP, but shouldn’t they offer the same fare class on their website that they offer through 3rd party on-line booking engines?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=703084849 Thomas Bates

    I tried to use one of those matches a few years ago, on Expedia, I believe. (It was for a hotel around Disneyland.)

    I found it cheaper on a different website, and called Expedia to get my lower rate.  The obviously foreign call center rep put me on hold for about 15 minutes.  He came back and said they couldn’t honor it, because the Expedia rate included breakfast, and the other website didn’t.  

    It wasn’t until I arrived at the hotel that I learned ALL guests get the breakfast.

    It was such a hassle, I never bothered following up again, but it just made me not even bother with those guarantees.

  • sershev

    I booked a flight LAX-JFK-SJU-JFK-LAX in T class on delta.com. Ticket was priced as separate segments LAX-JFK, JFK-SJU, SJU-JFK, and JFK-LAX. The next day I checked another website and the same itinerary was priced in T class as LAX-SJU, SJU-LAX and price was $20 less per ticket. I submitted online best fare guarantee form and they re-issue tickets and issued $20 per ticket difference but never offered $100 vouchers since according to delta it didn’t qualify for the best fare guarantee because in that case delta lowered its fares and it was available through all the outlets including delta.com

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    So much better to check all your options first and then purchase. Otherwise, you will drive yourself nuts continuing to troll to find a better fare…

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m surprised Delta did the right thing there, but I’m glad they did.

  • Ira Rosen

    It strikes me that “the right thing to do” would have been to rebook the tickets at the  other fare class and refund the difference…

  • http://www.deltapoints.com/ DeltaPoints.com

    @Christopher:disqus   – you said “issued four $150 vouchers — one for each member of his family”.

    Part of the new customer unfriendly T&C policy changes for DELTA vouchers are they are 1 per ticket and NOT transferable!

    So to redeem what Delta has offered them as compensation they will have to buy 4 tickets. This will also result in 4 reservations. So they may sit who knows where on the flights and if there is a schedule change they could be different flights.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Personally, the “best fare guarantee” aka “price match guarantee” isn’t worth my time or effort.

    Sure, I shop around, compare prices across multiple sites, and look at different options to get the lowest possible booking price. But, once I purchase, that is when I stop looking at prices.

    I may miss another $20 reduction in fare, but it has been my experience that those that recheck prices weekly, daily or even hourly will drive themselves crazy. Then, once a lower price pops up, you compound the frustration by the restrictions preventing you from getting the difference refunded.

    Then again, my extreme coupon shopper friends think I don’t have shopping sense, but my time and energy are valuable too.

  • emanon256

    Airlines have inventory management systems that open and close various fare classes based on market conditions.  When the OP made his purchase, “L” fare was the lowest available for the return, but at some point after his purchase, they decided to open up more “T” fares for sale.  Once the “T” fare was made available, it would be available on both delta . com and expedia . com.

  • TonyA_says

    You can think whatever you want to think, but Delta’s Terms and Conditions are very clear:

    The lower fare found must be for the exact same Delta flight, date, cabin (First/Business/Economy), booking/fare class with the exact same rules and restrictions as the original itinerary purchased on delta.com.
    The booking class information on the travel agency websites is usually displayed in the section entitled “Fare Rules and Restrictions” and the booking class will begin with a letter such as L, U, T, etc.
    The difference in the lower total fare must be equal to or greater than $10.

    The operational word(s) here is USUALLY  DISPLAYED.
    I have found that many online vendors, including Expedia, sometimes do not bother to include fare rule information details. So how could customers figure out the fare basis code or booking class code?

    Whether the claim form has a space to enter your and the competing’s  Booking Class Code or Fare Basis Code is irrelevant. You need to enter your Confirmation Code. Delta can simply pull up your PNR and lookup the booking code and fare basis code used for your ticket. You also need to enter the competing price and place . The presumption here is that Delta will go to that site and do the research for you.

    By telling Delta to change their form and making the customer responsible for identifying the competing quote’s booking class code, you have made it HARDER for customers to request a Best Fare guarantee. Now they need to understand booking codes and fare basis codes. What if the site they went to does not display the codes but only displays the lower price? In the current or old form, you may have a chance since it’s Delta who will do the research for you. With the proposed new form, your request will be denied immediately for failure to identify the booking class and fill up the form completely.

  • emanon256

    I think the whole “Price match guarantee” is a red herring, not the fare classes.  The way airline inventory works as I understand, is that when Delta or any airline opens up inventory, it’s available on their website, and on any other website that pulls from their inventory, based on their fare rules.  So if “T” is available on delta . com for $X, “T” will be available to any agent or website for the same $X.   The fact that the OP found a lower fare later on expedia was because Delta opened up a lower fare later after they made their purchase, hence their rule that the fare class must be the same.
     
    They intentionally exempt unpublished fares and certain packages that could include paper tickets because those could be less than they offer.  But the way the system works, whatever is offered on delta . com, united . com, or AA . com, should always be the same fare code, rules, and price as expedia . com or any travel website.  So unless there is a glitch, it will be impossible to use the “Best Fare Guarantee.”  It sounds like in this case Delta made a special exemption and gave the certificates.  I hope that Delta does add wording that it must be in the same fare class to avoid any confusion.  But that being said, the way the system works, it’s not possible to take advantage of the best price guaranty unless the airline changes there published pricing as it did for Sershev, which apparently is also exempt.

  • sirwired

    Delta needs to fix it’s guarantee, not the web form.  As long as the customer purchased the cheapest available fare at the time of purchase, they should be covered.

    Certainly if they buy a walk-up fare when bargain advance-purchase fares are available, they should not be able to use the guarantee.

    But if all that was available was walk-up fares at the time of purchase, and then shortly afterwards, a half-dozen cheaper fares are opened up, then yes, the guarantee should apply.

  • TonyA_says

    It’s a different route. It’s comparing a non-stop to a one connection flight. By going through JFK you have added a $4.50 passenger facility charge (XF code in your ticket) and another 911 TSA security fee each way. So even if all the flight segments are on the same booking class (and same fare basis) the itinerary with the connecting flights will be more expensive.

    Added: for US domestic fares, there is also a per segment tax/fee.

  • $16635417

    Kind of like the car dealer that says they will “beat any price or give you the car free”. Since no two cars never seem to be exactly the same, they don’t have to invoke their guarantee.

    Even if they did…what dealer would rather give away a free car than at least match the price of a competitor, and take an additional $1 off to at least get something for it??

  • emanon256

    Exactly!

  • TonyA_says

    True. But people need to be careful. The OTAs’ seat availability searches are CACHED when used for pricing matrices. You need to select the flights and ONLY THEN will the OTA actually validate REAL AVAILABILITY.

    Also note that the OP needed 4 seats on the same PNR since the family was traveling together. Maybe at the time he bought his tickets from Delta there were 3 available seats in T class only. So Delta gave them 4 seats in U class (the next higher class). Then sometime in the near future, other people cancelled their T class reservations and those seats were put back on the T class inventory. Now there were 4 or more instead of 3 seats in T class.

    The Best Fare Guarantee of Delta was not intended to respond to the dynamic nature of seat availability. It was suppose to protect you from SAME BOOKING CLASS FARE DROPS. Just my 2 cents.

  • emanon256

    Oh, I didn’t know they were cached!  That would explain why several times, when I used to use the OTAs, that I would pull up a $250 fare, and at booking it would tell me it was no longer available. 

  • TonyA_says

    I agree. Now that we have the 24 hour (refund) rule, your comment makes a lot of sense. The Best Fare Guarantee is ripe for so many misunderstandings. Much simpler if people can rebook within a certain time limit.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Orbitz’s guarantee is also pretty meaningless.  The Orbitz customer who gets the lower fare must have the same class fares and literally be sitting next to you for your entire itinerary.

  • TonyA_says

    That’s the only way the pricing matrix would and could work. It’s a BRUTE FORCE model. All it does is combine possible FLIGHTS between an O&D (origin and destination). But it has to have SOME REFERENCE POINT for seat availability in order to price the itinerary. So it must make an initial query to the airline’s inventory system and CACHE it. As people go about making real reservations, the CACHE is updated. But, the airlines will not allow millions of useless queries to its inventory DB just so the OTAs can have a matrix. So that is why the OTA customer must select a flight first then only will the selection be VALIDATED in REAL TIME. The result can be exactly what you said – flight/fare no longer available. Another term for BS, Start All Over Again.

  • TonyA_says

    Same with mattresses. All made by a few manufacturers but each store has a different model variation.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I think the same people who write tax law write airline pricing sometimes…

    Remember the case with the people who bought the Korean Air (??) tickets at some unpublished rate b/c someone on a forum saw them and alerted the rest?

    What ever happened with that case?

  • TonyA_says

    Most fares are PUBLISHED Tariff so all (appointed) vendors can get to sell them at the same price. The real issue is SEAT INVENTORY of individual flights. For one thing that is very dynamic – always in a state of flux. Also, not all airlines have the same level of participation (connectivity) with the different GDSs out there. Finally, airlines can stipulate what an agent can see or do. Not all agents are equal to the eyes of the airlines (especially for international routes).

    It’s very difficult to explain all of the above to consumers. Unfortunately, when vendors and airlines advertise they have some Best Fare Guarantee, then all of the above are at play. What you have is a mess – maybe a farce, IMO.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/36DYESJJL362G534PSWTXR2TB4 Steve

    Delta didn’t follow their own rule–they gave the OP vouchers, instead of the difference in cash plus a $100 voucher as it states on their website.  Vouchers aren’t like cash–they have (often severe) restrictions, and are only good if you buy a ticket, which ends up costing you more money. 

  • john4868

    But they didn’t qualify for the gaurantee (different booking classes)

  • othermike27

     Yep. And try walking out of any dealer’s with a “bona fide” offer in hand that another dealer couldn’t argue with – never happens!  All you’ll get is a number scribbled on the back of somebody’s business card

  • GradUT

    I’m curious why Mr. McDonald didn’t just book the airfare on Expedia when he found the cheaper fares?  He would have saved the money upfront (instead of having vouchers which he may or may not use) and he would have saved himself a whole lot of aggravation.  

  • Joel Wechsler

    That is why, as you know, it makes more sense to use a TA whose GDS shows live availability. Then you won’t get the BS reply you refer to.

  • Jessica Voigts

    It’s not worth it to me to shop around and check and then do paperwork that will probably get denied. And I am sure Orbitz’s commercials about their money back have the same run-around.  Good for Delta, though, for responding (and listening!).

  • Jasper Nijdam

    What I do not understand is why airlines (and other companies) bother with price guarantees that they clearly have no intend of following through on as indicated by the fine print in the rules. Price guarantees have as goal to keep a customer with you, and not another vendor. If you harass customers who have a better deal elsewhere, you will loose them forever. It’s just bad policy. Airlines wonder why customers only shop on price. It’s because there is no reason to be loyal, unless you’re a repeat customer and you’re not paying yourself.

  • sershev

    It was exactly the same itinerary: same connecting flights, same tmes/days, same taxes and fees. The only difference was is in how the base fare was calculated.
    Original Fare Details: LAX DL NYC129.30TA07A0WP DL SJU119.70TPV010/WPV6 DL NYC119.70TP
    V010/WPV6 DL LAX129.30TA07A0WP USD498.00END XF LAX4.5JFK4.5SJU4.5JFK4.5 New Fare Details: LAX DL X/NYC DL SJU Q35.00 204.00T10SL1 DL X/NYC DL LAX Q35.00 204.00T10SL1 USD478.00END XF LAX4.5JFK4.5SJU4.5JFK4.5

  • bodega3

    Emanon, on the airline’s website this is also true which totally surprised me.  The only place I know of to get live inventory is through a GDS.  The GDS shows far more than you will ever see on any OTA or airline site.  The GDS systems are regulated by laws and have to show us every flight and availability where the OTA and carrier sites don’t.  Just an FYI.

  • MikeInCtown

    More worthless vouchers! The claim form didn’t differentiate between fare classes and he is owed the difference in price in CASH!!! No funny airline money! he sent a very well written letter and got bent over yet again for having done that, yet he apparently liked it this time. i would have just booked through expedia originally and been done with it. Not worth the hassle of trying to get money back from an airline.

  • Rose Arnold

    The guarantee is a farce, pure and simple.  

  • bodega3

    I went over to DL’s website and it states that the same class of service must be available in the lower fare, not just a lower fare.  I think DL was generous to the OP when they didn’t have to be based on their policy.

    Yes, go book on Expedia in the future where you don’t know what classes of service are available, what flight options you are, just what they wish to show you.

  • bodega3

    Thank you point that out as it seems to be a point that many are missing!  But then, when you book online you don’t really notice or see this to understand it.

  • TonyA_says

    Ahh OK let me explain…
    There is a THROUGH fare for LAX-SJU. That costs  $XYZ.
    On the other hand there is a fare for LAX-JFK costing $ABC and a fare for JFK-SJU costing $DEF, and the fare rules allow end-on-end combinations, where the combination fare of $ABC and $DEF together is cheaper than the THROUGH fare of $XYZ.
    Happens a lot of times for my customers. That’s why the TA should be good at pricing.

    Added: sershev, if the reverse is true, then someone got screwed in pricing.

  • TonyA_says

    A bona-fide offer requires a VALID RESERVATION with an AUTOPRICED stored quote with the PNR and with a disclosure that Fares Can Change Unless Ticketed. Everything else is bogus.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Raven, I’m always surprised when any company does the right thing but the OP had to go much higher on the food chain than should have been necessary.  The average consumer shouldn’t have to contact VPs and Presidents to get action.

  • betsy514

    I really think Delta has been making a greater effort in the CS end of things of late.  I’ve certainly seen it when an issue is trickled up – now they just need to get the new philosophy to trickle down

  • TonyA_says

     Ya, it’s all marketing BS.

  • bodega3

    It could be that you just don’t understand it.  I went over and read it and fully understood it. 

    I find a lot of guarantees are not quite as good at you think they should be.  Did you know a lot of ‘lifetime’ guarantee on home items, like that finish on a door knob only applies if you are the original purchaser?  The manufacturer bases the guarantee on the fact that most people move every 7 years. 

  • TonyA_says

    Yeah you’re right… and I don’t understand why customers keep on believing the marketing BS that airlines and OTAs give them.

  • jm71

    Many consumers are forcing car dealers to operate differently.  The last 2 cars I bought I sent email with the specs of what I wanted to all of the dealers in the area; most responded with actual numbers — and the ones that didn’t (including those who tried to call me) I ignored.  I was able to go back and forth to clarify in writing the extras/fees/real total price, compare offers and get one to beat all of the rest, and then when picking up the car dealt with the “internet sales” team, which was much more pleasant and quick.

    Of course, airline tickets in these “fare buckets” aren’t really for different seats; they’re just a way to have inventory available at varying prices as it gets bought.  It would be like a car dealer with 10 completely identical cars (down to the color) insisting that the 4th one they sell is different from the 3rd.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe because AT THE TIME he booked Expedia also didn’t 4 seats in T class. So their fare at that time were just as high as Delta’s.

  • DavidYoung2

    Not sure that’s a problem because they were four separate tickets.  I think Delta did good on this one — I’d be happy.

  • Rose Arnold

     I understand it completely and it is a farce.  And I understand the lifetime guarantee on “door knobs”.  That too is a farce.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Trufax, Nancy.
    Trufax.

    :) 

  • Raven_Altosk

    I did something similar. When I was presented with the $500 administrative fee while signing the papers, I just got up and left. The salesman followed me out and asked why I was leaving. I told him I don’t pay extortions. He looked confused, and I pointed it out to him. Amazing how fast that $500 came out of the bid price.

    I think they figure they can get away with it because at that point, people are tired of signing/dealing with the sale and just want to get it over it.

    Not me.
    Muwahahaha.

  • bodega3

    I guess being in the business I undestand why they have the guarantee the way they do.  Macy’s will refund the difference on a pair of jeans within a certain window of time, but it must be the exact same pair of jeans not any pair of jeans.  That is exactly what DL is doing.