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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