It's no secret that I think Delta runs the best domestic airline operation in the United States. They have incomprehensibly good on-time and completion statistics compared to the competition, and their mainline jets are clean and comfortable. It's a great airline.
However — and this may not be totally surprising — they don't love giving away money.
Delta's voluntary denied boarding compensation is more restrictive than their competitors'
When you volunteer to give up your seat on a flight that's overbooked, airlines will offer voluntary denied boarding compensation, which usually takes the form of a voucher valid for use only on the airline you were originally scheduled to fly on (rather than the cash you'd be entitled to for being denied boarding involuntarily).
Both United and American allow such vouchers to be redeemed for any passenger. It's true that American doesn't make redeeming vouchers easy (you have to present your voucher in-person at an American ticket counter or mail it to a post office box in Florida), and it's true that flying United is a special kind of hell, but the vouchers are, in fact, relatively easy to redeem (in American's case, as long as you have a stamp handy!).
For a few years now, Delta's electronic credit vouchers have only been redeemable in situations where the "bumped" passenger is one of the passengers on the new reservation. According to the terms and conditions of the voucher I received back in August:
"5. REDEMPTION/TRANSFERABILITY: VOUCHER IS NON-TRANSFERABLE UNLESS ASSIGNED TO SOMONE TRAVELING WITH THE ORIGINAL VOUCHER OWNER ON THE SAME RESERVATION AT THE TIME THE VOUCHER IS BEING REDEEMED."
My experience redeeming an electronic credit voucher
When I lucked into a $1,300 voluntary denied boarding voucher back in August, I knew the restrictions on transferability and assumed that I would redeem the voucher for my own flight to Europe next summer, while redeeming Flexpoints or Skymiles for my partner's ticket.
Then life got in the way. And by "life," I mean my partner listened to the original cast recording of Hamilton and said, "Hey, let's go to New York."
Fortunately, we have two daily nonstop flights to New York City, so this was not a heavy lift. Even better, those nonstop flights were just $206 roundtrip! In fact, those flights are so cheap that it became hard to decide how to pay for them. They're far too cheap for a Flexpoints redemption. Ordinarily I'd redeem Ultimate Rewards points at 1.25 cents each, but all my current Ultimate Rewards earning is reserved for a few upcoming transfers.
That's when I remembered: I have $1,300 in Delta credit!
Electronic credit vouchers can't be redeemed for multiple passengers online
When redeeming an electronic credit voucher for a single-passenger itinerary, it is either greater than or less than the cost of the flight you're redeeming it for. In other words, you either owe money, or will be issued a residual credit voucher.
When redeeming a voucher for two passengers, things aren't so simple. Here's what it looks like when I try to redeem my residual balance for a similar itinerary:
What you're seeing is the that my $862.60 voucher is only being applied against my own fare. The second passenger's $341.20 fare has to be charged to a credit or debit card.
When I asked Delta's normally-helpful @DeltaAssist Twitter team what to do, they told me the only way to redeem my voucher was to call in:
Delta tried to charge me for two direct ticketing fees — then lied to me and charged me one anyway
Call in I did, and eventually got on the line with a reservations agent who understood exactly what I wanted to do.
But instead of the $412.40 my tickets had priced out to online, he quoted me a whole $50 more. When I asked about the discrepancy, he explained that since I was making my reservation over the phone, there was a $25 per-ticket direct ticketing fee.
I told him that since the tickets couldn't be booked online, I expected him to waive the direct ticketing fee. He agreed, and came back again telling me that my total was $437.40 — again, $25 higher than the tickets had priced out online.
This time he explained that while he could waive my direct ticketing fee, he couldn't waive the second passenger's direct ticketing fee.
At this point my readers can imagine that I was more than a little frustrated. So I explained again that the only reason I was calling in the first place is that the ticket I wanted to book couldn't be booked online (you'd have to be crazy to book a ticket over the phone if you could help it!).
My agent went back to his supervisor again, then came back and told me that my residual travel voucher would be $887.60 — $1,300 less the correct $412.40 my tickets priced out at online.
I immediately logged into my account and saw this:
The residual voucher had been reissued less the $25 direct ticketing fee the agent assured me had been waived.
I immediately contact the @DeltaAssist Twitter team — again — and they submitted a refund request on my behalf.
This is the kind of miserable nickel-and-diming that it would be nice to believe Delta was capable of rising above. How many people have to call in to redeem these vouchers and don't think to ask how the phone agent arrives at the final price?
At the end of the day, when you accept voluntary denied boarding compensation for taking a later flight, you are doing a favor for the airline that is able to get their flight out full and on time. It would be nice if the airline was able to appreciate that and make it as painless as possible to redeem those vouchers for any eligible itineraries.