10 things in the travel industry I’ll never understand

Almost every day I come across something in the travel industry that makes me wonder “why?” Some are good, some are bad, and some are just downright strange, so I figured I’d share a few of my favorites (again, some of these are good policies, which are actually more surprising than the bad policies, given the direction the airline industry in general is heading).

Why doesn’t Delta have close-in ticketing fees on award tickets?

Delta has done everything they possibly can to monetize on their mileage program and make SkyMiles as difficult as humanly possible to use. They charge $150 for any change (even just date or time changes, which American and United don’t charge for), they don’t let you make any changes to an award ticket within 72 hours of departure, they impose fuel surcharges for award tickets originating in Europe and on many of their partner airlines, etc. Yet they don’t have any close-in ticketing fees on award tickets, like American, United, and US Airways. They’ve leaving $75 on the table!

Why does Asiana make seat selections so damn difficult?

Have you ever tried selecting seats with Asiana? I can understand an airline holding back some of their seats, though they block a majority of their first and business class seats for pre-assignment. For example, on the 777 they’ll block at least four of the eight first class seats, meaning you can’t actually assign seats to sit together in the center section in advance. Why, and how exactly does this benefit anyone? It causes more of a shuffle aboard than if they just let people assign seats to begin with.

Why does Korean Air make it so damn tough to redeem awards?

While we’re talking about the airlines of Korea, have you ever tried to redeem an award ticket with Korean Air? Not only can they not be booked online, but you have to fax in your birth certificate, rights to your firstborn, and a blood sample… or something like that. In all honesty they make you fax in a copy of your ID and an authorization form. What the…? Fine, do that to me if I’m redeeming an award ticket for someone else, but if the member is traveling, what’s the point of all this authorization garbage?

Why does US Airways have a rates desk if they can’t calculate taxes for the life of them?

Airlines have rates desks, to, ya know, calculates rates and taxes. When an award ticket is complicated they often have to go to the rates desk to have the taxes calculated. I swear the rates agents are just throwing darts at a dartboard when trying to decide which taxes to charge.

It’s most evident when you’re making a change to an award ticket. When you make a change taxes almost always change, even if it’s by a few cents. This is because on an international itinerary many of the taxes are calculated in local currencies, and they often fluctuate.

One incredibly obvious example would be an award itinerary with a flight originating in London. Last week I changed an award ticket from Los Angeles to London roundtrip to Los Angeles to Frankfurt roundtrip. The UK has a ~$200 air passenger duty (APD), making the taxes the highest in Europe. So there should have been a hefty refund when changing the destination to Germany (which still has high taxes, though not nearly as high). After the agent put me on hold for 20 minutes to have the rates desk recalculate the taxes, she comes back and says “okay, the taxes stay the same, it’s just the $150 change fee.” I don’t think so…

“This is Susie.”

If you call US Airways Dividend Miles the agent will answer the phone with “Hi, this is _____, I see you need help with making a new Dividend Miles reservation.” If you call Alaska they answer the phone with “hi, this is _____.” My gosh, you get a better greeting at Dominos.

Why don’t Delta miles expire?

Picking up on my point from earlier about Delta not charging close-in ticketing fees, why on earth do their miles not expire? Most US airlines’ miles expire after 18 months of inactivity, and I can totally see why they do that. There’s liability on their books for unredeemed miles, and if someone doesn’t have any sort of activity at least every 18 months they’re probably not at all engaged in your program or dead. But there’s still liability associated with those miles, no?

I mean, I think it’s great miles don’t expire, I just don’t get why. Because it’s really an improvement for those that aren’t interested in being engaged in the program, and not those customers you’d actually want.

Why doesn’t American allow free same day changes for Executive Platinum members?

Delta gives this benefit to their Gold, Platinum and Diamond members, and United gives this benefit to their Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members. American, on the other hand, charges their top tier members $75 to make a same day flight change. It’s an area where they’re way behind.

Though I guess this is one of those complaints where I know the reason — they don’t have to provide it for free, since the program is sufficiently rewarding otherwise. Eight non-fare restricted systemwide upgrades? As long as they offer those, everything else is just a nice bonus.

Why does Alaska Airlines not charge their MVP Gold members to make changes to revenue tickets?

While most airlines don’t have ticketing or change fees for their top tier members on award tickets, Alaska takes it a step further and offers their MVP Gold members free changes on revenue tickets as well. That means you don’t pay any change fees on revenue tickets booked through Alaska, even if they’re for travel on a partner airline like American or Delta.

It’s an awesome benefit, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why. The Mileage Plan program is actually really rewarding and I think Alaska is in the fortunate position to not really have too much network-wide head-to-head competition. Yes, they have airlines competing with them in individual markets, but their route network is unique, and I think people fly with them because of that. Globally airlines made close to $23 billion in ancillary revenue in 2011, and I feel like Alaska is missing out a bit on their share of it by doing that. But of course I’d hate to see this policy change! Just something that’s surprising to me in this day and age of nickle and diming.

Why have Aeroplan/United still not fixed the way they display Lufthansa award availability?

Late last year Lufthansa started only releasing first class award space to their partner airlines 14 days out, yet Aeroplan and United have continued to show “phantom” award space further out than that. I suspect this results in a lot of lost productivity for them since they get calls from people over award space that’s not bookable online. And this makes me wonder why they haven’t fixed it. Or more accurately, where are Aeroplan and United pulling space from that shows it inaccurately, while ANA shows Lufthansa award space accurately?

Why does Hyatt do web check-in?

Hyatt allows web check-in, though I still haven’t figured out what purpose it serves. You still have to check-in as you usually would, so what exactly does it accomplish?

Anyway, those are a few of the things that make me scratch my head. Anyone else with me? What are some things in the travel industry that make you scratch your head?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel
  1. The us airways rate desk is really ridiculous. One time I tried to book a first class ticket to Hong Kong through CDG and they quoted me ~$790 in taxes and fees. I was like since when have you started charging fuel surcharges.

  2. UA give free SDC (actually a moving 24-hour window) for Premier Gold, as well as Platinum, 1K, and GS (for tickets issued after May 16, 2011)

  3. Alaska refunds – in general Alaska has a somewhat peculiar fare mechanism due to their route network. They don’t really have (significantly) below-cost fares to just fill in some marginal seats like is often common for legacies. Adding up segments often leads to a fare comparable to their respective parts (e.g. I’d expect GEG-SEA + SEA-DCA ~= GEG-SEA-DCA, whereas SEA-EWR + EWR-BWI != SEA-EWR-BWI). Their full Y fare is often much lower than a legacy, and there’s no 200 transcon in L/O. Given the lower spread of fares, there isn’t as much that a traveler can game – fares are fairly constant and tend to go up over time fairly steadily.

  4. Hilton does the e-check in also. Until they figure out how to make your cell phone your room key, I don’t get the point.

  5. Is it possible to book a room without a CC guarantee nowadays? If that is the case I can see why e-check in may be viable. So you room does not get given away.

  6. @ Murphy — I don’t think so, though I’m curious, is it really beneficial to select a room? You never know for sure when the person will check out or when you’ll arrive so I always appreciate when the hotel automatically allocates the best available room for me based on status (as I find good hotels to do), and then modifies that at check-in as needed based on availability.

  7. At e-check in can you see if you have gotten an upgrade?

    Without doing an e-check in I have looked at my existing reservations and seen an upgrade applied to room type keeping my original fare.
    I believe this was for Priority Club.

    I’ve had success calling to “confirm” my reservation and asking for upgrade prior to arrival.

  8. Same flight number one-stop flights only get point-to-point mileage…even when you have to change planes. I don’t get that at all.

  9. Good tip on Alaska – I didn’t know that applied to non-Alaska travel booked through them. Great to know!

  10. Delta does #1 and #6 so that they can brag. “We are the only airline that does not charge close-in award fee and whose miles do not expire!! We are best in class!! We really value your loyalty!!”

  11. I would swear I’ve booked a few hotels recently where you weren’t required to enter a credit card, but they wouldn’t guarantee the room past 6pm (or thereabout).

  12. excellent articles … but I think we’re just reminding airlines to change their policies for the worse =_=

    as UA Gold, the free SDC benefit is immense for me (esp since I don’t have top tier status). If time permits, I could switch from nonstop to 1-stop to squeeze more PQM, or if my original flight is delayed, I could switch to one that’s on-time.

  13. Well the Hyatt web check-in is useful if you’re arriving late for a really busy (sold-out) property – since you’re already checked-in, chances of being walked are greatly reduced.

    I don’t know AA’s program very well but the last time I did a change (to an earlier flight ORD-CVG since I arrived from HKG on CX “early”) they charged me a $50 “change fee” but indicated that I wasn’t an “elite” on AA (so my impression was that if I was – I wouldn’t be charged).

  14. Whoa…are you saying that as an MVPG, you could book a DL operated flight with a DL flight number (ie, not a codeshare) on alaskaair.com and be eligible for free changes? Does that include full cancellation and refund?

  15. Delta tried both of those things, close-in fees and miles expiration. They still didn’t make any money because the only people who can figure out how to cash out Delta miles are Plats who don’t pay fees anyway, so they weren’t leaving $75 on the table. They were just making people mad to no profit. That’s how I remember it anyway…I guess it’s been awhile.

  16. Hilton offers web check-in as well – i guess it’s pretty cool that you can choose the room you want to check-in to.

  17. @Gene/lucky – There needs to be at least one AS-operated segment on the PNR. Similarly, this has to be an AS fare (or the AS website won’t show it).

  18. Too bad AS sells DL-only tickets for a very few routes. It would be awesome if they sold my beloved SFO-ATL-SFO since I buy tons of these every year. If they sold that, I would work to keep my status-matched MVPG status!

    Are there any tricks to force as.com to offer more DL or AA only tickets?

  19. @oleg — I can find some AA-only (eg, SFO-JFK, SFO-LAX) and DL-only (eg, SFO-LAX) itineraries at alaskaair.com. Are you saying that these itineraries would not be eligible for the MVPG change/cancel fee waivers?

  20. @ Manikandan — Keep in mind you can only redeem Korean Air miles for travel on select Emirates routes. The booking process is the same as any other with Korean Air, and you have to call to book.

  21. Reasons why AS doesn’t charge MVPG’s change fees:

    1) To compete with WN, which doesn’t charge change fees, and is a primary competitor on the west coast

    2) It encourages elites to book on AS even if their plans aren’t firm, so AS captures the business and/or gets an interest free loan until they travel

  22. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but why does Hyatt not allow you to put your choice of airline program in your profile and select if you want points or miles? I’ll take points usually, but this summer they had a Delta promo for earning up to 24,500 miles and I decided to go with that – the headaches associated with getting a front desk person to A) Know how to put my miles request in the computer and B) Getting credited the miles instead of points were both a hassle nearly every time. Also, why can I not book more than 2 rooms on line at a time? I’m pretty experienced at the travel game but am new this year to Hyatt (thank you diamond status match and credit card!) – so is it just me or are these two issues lame?

  23. @lucky – I guess so – but was given the boarding pass with seat assignments right then – actually this was the 3rd change that I’ve done with AA – the other 2x were at YYZ (also in conjunction with a CX award) – once I was charged $50 , once I wasn’t – not a big deal – and the times that I was charged, the flights turned into mileage earning flights.

  24. @ Carl — Great points.

    @ Matt — As far as your first question goes, agree it’s ridiculous. Have to either give the info at check-in or call. Very frustrating!

  25. @Gene – Good question, in practice finding tickets without AS segments there is so difficult, I have no first hand experience (I did recall hearing about the segment requirement). Official wording on the benefits page is “Waivers on Mileage Plan service charges and ticket change fees on your Alaska Airlines tickets (member only).” – presumably can call and ask, or send MP an email.

  26. Lucky – Regarding Delta Skymiles not expiring: “loyalty” programs aren’t so much about generating loyalty to an airline anymore – they’re about generating significant revenue for the parent company, who sell miles to other companies who subsequently reward their own customers with those miles.

    Having award miles in a bunch of dormant accounts potentially keeps a “Skymiles” customer (as opposed to a Delta customer) over the long term, and costs Delta next to nothing. The hope is that the more members they have, the more miles will get sold to companies who award them.

    I actually think we’ll see more of these non-expiring miles across other programs in the future – as well as more spun off programs, like Aeroplan.

  27. Here’s something that makes me figuratively scratch my head:
    If something’s going right and some airline is NOT screwing their passengers in some obscure way, why on earth would you publicly alert them through your blog? For example, “They’re leaving $75 on the table!” That made me cringe.
    How about just alerting your readers, and the various airlines that are doubtless monitoring what you have to say, about what is wrong and bad, which, from a rare flier’s point of view, is almost everything?

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