How Delta Tried to Turn Car Trouble into Highway Robbery

Delta Scare Lines Small

I’ll be the first to admit the story that follows is mostly my fault.  I’m sharing it to 1) Serve as a cautionary tale, and 2) Tell Delta that I will not give into their attempts at extortion. 

When you travel enough eventually Murphy’s law catches up with you.  Last Tuesday was my turn apparently. As I detailed here on the blog I booked a last minute trip to Cancun for my wife and I using Delta Miles.  The flight from LAX-CUN was scheduled for 8:00am and we did our packing the night before. An early morning alarm, 5:00 wakeup and by 5:35am we were leaving the house, only to be met with a car that would not start.

I left the car lights on overnight. 

I tend to do things like this–when I’m rushing, or excited over a trip, I totally blank on small details.

A quick call to AAA and a truck was dispatched, and would be here in 30 minutes or less. Not a problem, I did the math in my head: it was 5:35am, hopefully the truck would arrive by 6:00 or so, we’d be jumped an out on our way by 6:05, at the airport by 6:45 or so, and we’d just jump into the lounge and grab a quick bite before heading to the plane.

Fast forward to 6:10, the truck arrives, jump-starts the car and we’re off closer to 6:20am.  I already started re-adjusting the plan; skip the lounge, and just eat on the plane.

On a good day I live 30 minutes from LAX. This was an exceptionally bad morning, and it took an hour plus to go the 22.5 miles from my house to LAX. Murphy strikes again.  I knew we’d be missing our flight about 20 minutes into our drive to the airport, but we still gave it our all, hoping for the best.

By 7:20am we were parked at our parking lot, and the shuttle took less than 5 minutes to pick us up. The ride to the terminal seemed to take forever. And it didn’t help that the shuttle was full, and making a stop at every possible terminal.

7:30 we rush inside, and are met with a short, but slow line for skypriority check-in. 7:35 I hit the kiosk, and get the news I knew was coming:

It is too late to check in for this flight.

We were done. The helpful agent reiterated that it was too late, even if he could do something the cutoff to check our bag had passed, and we’d need to go to special Services and be rebooked. My plan was to give Special Services a shot, and then call a phone agent if I got any resistance. In Hindsight I probably should have started with a phone agent…

Special Services; No Service, and Certainly not Special

Delta, just call Special Services what it is: a shakedown of your passengers. I waited a short 15 minutes and was then greeted by an agent who I won’t name publically–We’ll call him “Jim” for the purpose of this post.  The conversation went something like this:

Jim: “Ohhh you missed your flight?” *heavy breathing in* Well, that’s too bad.

Me: “Nothing went right this morning, we started out with Car trouble, and it went downhill from there.  Have you ever Had one of those days where nothing goes right?”

Jim: (Totally ignoring my question) “You see, the problem is we only have one flight a day to Cancun.”

Me: “Yes, I know, which is why I’m wondering what we can do.”

Jim: “You’re only going to Cancun for a week?” Why so short of a trip?

Me: Small talk while Jim typed away at his keyboard, explaining why we were “only” going for a week.

Madly typing away at the keyboard…and then picking up his phone Jim made a call. I knew the routes and times of flights to Cancun as well as Jim did since I looked at all possible ways to get there with Delta Miles just last week.  The phone call to nowhere stretched on.

Jim: “Do you want to go anywhere else? I could get you to Puerto Vallarta on the 11:30?”

Me: “No, that really won’t work for me.”

Jim (Over the phone): “So, we could put them on the 10:30am, but that flight’s delayed, so they’ll miss the connection in Atlanta. Overnight? Hold on”

Jim (to me now): “So we can get you on a flight to Atlanta and then tomorrow on the 8:30am flight to Cancun from Atlanta.”

Me: “Noting through another city like MEX? or Anywhere else?”

Jim: “No, this Atlanta option is your best bet. Oh, and this would be $155 and 80,000 skymiles more, Will that be cash or charge?”

Me: “Jim, is there any consideration you can have here, I’m not looking to pay anything different.”

Jim: “Sorry, that’s the best I can do, the additional charge is for is a change fee plus the difference in mileage fare.  I’m seeing here you have enough miles in your account for this.”

Me: “Having enough miles and being ripped off are not the same thing.”

As the agent attempted to extort nearly $1,000 of my hard earned miles and money I quickly remembered who else flew to Cancun nonstop from LAX. Virgin America wouldn’t be a good place to start because they’d likely be sold out of all but their most expensive seats, Then it hit me…United flew a nonstop. It was worth a look. I knew flights to Cancun were available when I looked last week, and sure enough searching in the United app brought up that same flight leaving in 2 hours; a 10:32 nonstop with low level room at 17,500 miles.  There also just so happened to be room on the nonstop back on our preferred date as well for 17,500 miles. Total for both of us was $296 and 70,000 miles.

Pure Luck that these exact flights were available--but I needed something to go my way that day, and I'm glad this did.
Pure Luck that these exact flights were available–but I needed something to go my way that day, and I’m glad this did.

Once Jim attempted to strong-arm nearly $1,000 from my wife and I I was sure I’d be booking the United Flights.  After the back and forth over the $155 and 80k skymiles I pressed the confirm button in the United app. I’d bought the 10:32 flight at 8:35 Am, just under 2 hours before it would take off.  The value of a walk up ticket to Cancun was nearly $1k.

LAX-CUN $923

Me: “I just booked the 10:30 United Nonstop, which works out best for us. We’ll just be a few hours later than our original flight was supposed to be arriving today.”

Jim: (In a “church lady-esque” condescending tone):”OH? You Booked a United flight, did you?”

I like to think of myself as a pretty patient guy, and I let most stuff roll off my back.  I was frustrated with the situation but was never rude to Jim in any way.

Me: “Look, Jim, can you just cancel this Delta flight and redeposit my miles? I’ll be on my way  to United check in.”

Jim: “Let me see about that.” Looks into it for a brief moment and comes back.

Jim:“So to redeposit will be $150. Cash or Charge?” (it started really bothering me that ever sentence Jim started began with the word “So,”)

Me: “Jim, I understand the situation here is not really in my favor, but is there any way you can just redeposit for me without a fee, I’m now double booked and out quite a bit already.” (for all he knew I booked the United flight with cash).

Jim: Waving his hands and shrugging his shoulders in a *I could care less* manner, “So, I can’t do that, I shouldn’t even redeposit for you since you’re within 72 hours of flight time, I’m breaking that rule for you at least.”

Me: “Wow. I’ll call over the phone on my way to United and I’m sure I’ll get someone more helpful.  Have a good day.”

A Little Eiplogue to my Tale of Saddness

I started this story saying that most of what happened could be seen as my fault.  No one but me foolishly left the lights on, and had car trouble.  I can’t blame Delta or anyone else for my missing the flight. However, I mentioned my troubles to Jim immediately, and found z-e-r-o compassion from this gentleman.

It was what happened next which really pissed me off.

As I was waiting for my United flight to ticket I noticed that I had received an earlier alert (at approx 8:15) that my flight was delayed by 45 minutes.  This couldn’t be my United flight since it hadn’t even been purchased yet. Sure enough this was an alert that my Delta Flight was Delayed. 

In addition the delay kept getting worse. As soon as I saw this alert on my phone I looked on the Departures Monitor in front of me, and saw that the 8am flight I had missed was now scheduled for 9:07.

Jim had to have had access to this information at some point during our talk. 

My issue wasn’t that I would have had a chance to make the plane, I realize I was late. I didn’t expect Delta to let us on the plane, I’m sure it had pushed back, or the door had closed.  The issue I have is that Jim reacted and treated the situation as if there was nothing he could do. He had to know the flight was delayed at some point during our talk, but never once brought it up. He was attempting to extract money and miles while the flight delay kept building.

In fact at the time Jim told me he wanted $150 to redeposit the miles for the ticket (8:35am) the flight was already 1 hour delayed. Because of this 1 hour delay the Delta App was now allowing me to change to any flight I wanted that day, including the one Jim wanted to charge me nearly $1,000 in cash and Miles for.

Delta Flight


In the end I doubt would have done anything differently, even if Jim had been more helpful. Booking the United flight was the right move. Flying out the same day instead of the next morning meant our tours and activities didn’t need to be rebooked. It meant that the trip was going to happen as planned. In addition, we were on a nonstop flight home instead of having a layover in Mexico City. I made one call to our transportation in Cancun, told them we’re now on a United flight, and would need to be picked up a few hours later. We cleared security and settled into our “First Class” seats:

We Ended up in the Last row. Still better than having to either spend a night in Atlanta, or go home and do it all over again tomorrow.

The flight was fine, we actually eneded up having no one next to us, which was nice as well. After a brief maitnance delay an extremely communicative captain wisked us away to Cancun in just under 4 hours.

Take Away

The information and advice I received from Delta’s on the ground rep was awful. Knowing the flight was delayed and still trying to twist my arm for cash and miles was *nearly* criminal.  If you read Milenomics you know I’m not a huge fan of airlines. This story is a great example why: The airlines know most people will pay whatever it takes to get to their destination.  I’m not most people, but I still don’t appreciate being lied to about the status of my ability to rebook, and trying to being gouged not once, but twice for a change fee (plus fare difference) and a redeposit fee.

As I checked in for my United flight I saw the time on my Delta flight was now scheduled for 9:20. A quick call to the skymiles phone center and a request for refund was met with a great phone rep who apologized for the delay, asked if I wanted to be rebooked at no additional cost, or if I wanted a full refund of my 120,000 skymiles and $233 in fees. I took the refund, the agent processed it, and let me know I’d receive my miles and money back.

The advice you often hear is true: Call as soon as you know you might be late, and use the phone agents rather than the on the ground extortionists representatives at the airport.  Don’t count on the “Flat Tire Rule” to exist (it doesn’t), or to help you out of a jam. Ever.

In fact, the best advice is don’t miss your flight, and especially don’t miss it when there is only one flight a day!

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. Ouch. Sorry to hear of your troubles.

    I’ve learned the hard way that there are times that it may be worth paying for a cab. I think you may have added too much stress to the situation by wanting to drive your own car, even though you knew it was dead on your driveway. That’s the one thing I wouldve done differently.

    But actually you are very very lucky about the flight delay and getting a refund. You should be pretty happy about that!

    P.S. Was at Joe Josts on Sunday! Would have bought you a beer in exchange for that story!

  2. Blue: The idea of a cab neer even crossed my mind! I’ll keep that one in my back pocket for the future.

    Still in LBC? Or was it just a weekend thing?

    We were incredibly lucky, even though the morning started off terribly. The trip exceeded my expectations, so glad we didn’t just give up on it.

  3. That sucks! I have a delta flight from MDW to STT coming up this weekend, with a connection in ATL, and a first trip for 5 month old. Getting a bit worried to say the least.

    Try writing to the twitter team, that’s usually a fast way to get problems fixed/reimbursed across most service industries.

  4. I’mh god how delta sucks!! So glad u worked it out eventually!! I hate when trips start with stress attacks like this!! I can just see how u must have been ready to strangle him! All that works with delta- if even- is a schedule change. Just canceled an award flight yesterday. Online wanted 150 for redeposit even tho it gave the blurb about schedule change. Had to call & mention it to get the 150 waived. I’m sooo glad yr vacation wasn’t wrecked!

    1. M: Thanks, the stress might have actually made the trip more relaxing… although I’m not going to start future trips out in such a way on purpose. 😉 I too had a similar experience–online said I could cancel but still wanted to charge the $150. Delta’s phone reps seem to be much more ready to waive change fees.

  5. Whoa! That was a close call indeed! I have found that usually when the ‘debris’ starts flying around like that and it seems like everything is going wrong, that there is usually a light at the end of the tunnel and oftentimes, things work out better. Glad that you managed to skip through this pile of debris relatively easy!

  6. I am so glad the trip turned out well, even if it got off to an awful start. My family thinks I am crazy to always build extra time into airport runs for unexpected happenings. But I learned that growing up. I’m the one whose dad worked for TWA….and my folks just hated to be late.

    Do you think Delta is worse than the others? It makes me wonder if company stats track this kind of thing, as in LAX ground reps refund more $$ than SFO does, so there is pressure on the counter people to hold the line on refunds.

    1. Elaine: I won’t go so far as to connect one agent to the company. I’ve actually had great expereiences with Delta phone agents, once a ticket is booked that is. I’ve called in for some crazy requests, and can’t remeber being told “no” outright.

      I will say this: the counter agents I observed while waiting and talking were all spewing the “Cash or charge” line like it was a mantra. Again that could be the time of day, the circumstances surrounding everyone’s travel situation, or the company policy. The phone agents just seem to be much better at this, which is odd to me. I would imagine it is easier to be cold-hearted over the phone than when looking someone who’s obviously distraught in the eyes. Either way, I’m sure this will change how we plan future trips to the airport!

      1. I think the counter folks can get into more of a power trip. The phone folks must realize that you can HUCA. It may be as simple as you unfortunately dealt with a jerk. Or maybe his boss is a jerk who commands the reps to not waive anything.

        I forgot to mention that “Jim” not telling you about the delay which meant easier rebooking/redepositing rules was really slimy. I hope his car doesn’t start next time he needs to get somewhere important 😉 !

  7. Sorry to hear you had such a rough start to your trip and I’m thankful you ended up finding a reasonable solution.

    Just wanted to share that my experience with ground agents has typically been more helpful than phone agents — at least at my small airport where agents walk over to airlines and rebook you in minutes. I think you should be ready to play from all possible angles because you never know what will work best.

  8. My kids run down the battery in our car regularly – that would be a 5 minute delay to jump-start it. Or maybe 10 if I had only 1 car and had to wake a neighbor.

    On the other hand, I just replaced a pane of glass that I broke breaking into our house at the start of a trip in March. We decided to take a cab for convenience and were in security when my wife realized she forgot the charger for the knee in her prosthetic leg. When it’s dead, it is basically locked and straight, and she can’t walk much. Definitely not going to work at San Diego Zoo and other stuff we had planned. So I ran out, jumped into a cab at arrivals as someone else got out, and went home to realize I had left the house keys in a suitcase. So I picked up a paving stone, broke a window in the back of the house, crawled in and walked out the front door to the cab like nothing happened. Fortunately that was an old single pane window so the glass cost like $13 at Lowes. With 5% back from Discover, of course.

    1. Kenny: I would seriously have bought *you* a beer to have heard that story! Wow… you’re like MacGyver, kept your cool and made it work. Glad it all worked out…but really, amazing story.

      1. Sam, I had the pleasure of meeting Kenny, his wife and his sons at the #CharlotteDO. They are a delightful family and Kenny does seem like the kind of guy who just gets it done.

        Kenny, I never realized that your wife has a prosthetic leg, so that must be some great charger 😉 !

      2. Thanks guys! I forgot the most fun part. I didn’t tell anyone until I got home, then told the Mrs. our house got broke into while we were away, and let that sink in for a few minutes before letting her in on the fact that I was the perpetrator. 😀

  9. Oh, I forgot to mention, we had some battery troubles recently too and we bought a handy-dandy charger at Costco for about $89. You plug it in the wall and it holds enough charge to start your car and then some. I carry it around in my trunk and just last week I helped a stranded motorist whose car wouldn’t start in the SW parking lot. Came home, plugged it in overnight, and back in the trunk it goes. My neighbor used one to help us once and I became a convert.

  10. I have had a few similar close calls on Delta flights. This is one of those times where status is very worthwhile because the agents on those lines are quite good and accommodating. I have never had to pay extra for changes, even when it was my fault.

    Living in LA must be pretty stressful if you travel often! Does on site parking require a shuttle?

    1. Jeff: The parking lots in the center of the terminals run $25 or maybe even $30 a day, which I think is absolutely nuts. Those lots do not require a shuttle, but the “economy” LAX lot C does. At that point you’re better off with a private lot (IMHO). I live 2 minutes from LGB, I just wish there were more options to fly out of it.

  11. I have yet to do a mile redemption. Will soon. This is very valuable advise. I did have a paid flight get canceled before and the desk clerk said I needed to wait 24 hours for another flight. That was it, sleep on the floor in the airport. When I called to complain on the phone they happily rebooked me on another carrier, no charge. It was 1 hour later. I just don’t get why the airport agents are so mean spirited. It’s sad.

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