Partner award redemptions provide tremendous value and flexibility to those booking award travel.  They often allow redemption at lower mileage levels than by booking on the operating carrier.  For example, British Airways charges just 7,500 miles for short-haul economy flights within the United States on American.  That same flight sets you back 12,500 if booked using American AAdvantage miles.  However, there is a potential pitfall.  As I recently found out, “weather waivers” can be difficult to utilize when storms strike.

The Deal

First, some background on what got me here.  Last October, Delta briefly opened up a ton of saver award space on transcontinental Delta One.  While Delta normally charges 45,000 SkyMiles each way for this space, partner Virgin Atlantic charges half that.  Even better, thanks to a promotion, you could transfer Amex Membership Rewards at a 30% discount.  That meant just 18,000 MR points for a transcon flight in Delta One.  Given that Delta almost never releases saver space, this was a great deal.  Since New York to Los Angeles (or vice versa) is easy to do over a weekend, I jumped on it.

Ultimately, I ended up booking the following route:

Delta One Trip Plan

I booked the Dallas – New York and Los Angeles – Dallas legs on Southwest, thanks to some funny money I earned from #MAXFail back in October.  The first Friday/Saturday in March seemed like a good time, before busy season but after the worst of winter.  Before you ask, yes, I fully understood  the risks of separate tickets.  But with an overnight in New York on Friday, and a 3.5-hour layover in Los Angeles, this seemed reasonably safe.  Mother Nature decided to have some fun in the end, though.

Mayhem in the Form of an Early March Nor’easter

I follow weather pretty closely, and I nervously noticed the possibility of a Northeast storm in the weather models about 10 days out.  Sure enough, by early last week, a Nor’easter looked like a sure bet.  All domestic airlines issued weather waivers by Wednesday, including travel to and from all New York airports.  This included travel for both Friday and Saturday.  With a “weather waiver”, airlines waive the change fee and fare difference for a limited period.  In this case, you could postpone travel until March 6th.  (The highly limited utility of these waivers is an issue,  though one beyond the scope of this post.)

Great, maybe I can just switch my plans from Friday/Saturday to Sunday/Monday, right?  Well, not so fast…

Delta Starts by (Correctly) Passing the Buck

Delta 767-400 at JFK

I knew a Delta reservation on Virgin Atlantic ticket stock might cause issues.  I’m hardly an expert on these matters. But Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly summarizes it nicely with a similar situation:

The situation: one of my employees was traveling from Newark to Los Angeles on United Airlines. His flight was delayed. The ticket was issued by Aeroplan (Air Canada).

Under these circumstances, United is on the hook to rebook him even though Air Canada issued the ticket. In checking in for the flight, United had taken control of the ticket and become responsible for getting him to his final destination.

In my case, I interpreted this to mean that Virgin Atlantic remained responsible, since I had neither a delay or cancellation at that point.  And since it was only Thursday, I hadn’t checked in, either.  The problem was that Virgin Atlantic made no mention of travel waivers to the Northeast.  So I decided to take a chance and call Delta first.  As I expected, no can do.  But the agent did say if the fight canceled, Delta could help.

Virgin Atlantic Passes It Right Back

Virgin Atlantic Plane at LAX

My next stop: the Virgin Atlantic call center.  And I promptly ran into a brick wall.  The agent claimed he could do nothing, because Delta showed no award space on any flight during the waiver period.  Perhaps the answer would have differed if VA also had a waiver in place?  In any case, he assured me that yes, Delta can definitely help me regardless of who issued the ticket.  I knew that was wrong, but as Matthew noted, arguing with an agent never gets you anywhere.  I had work to do, but decided to try one last thing before trying my luck with a different agent.

Delta’s Twitter Team – Punting it Back Again

I’ve had some luck with Twitter, most notably getting my SPG Amex bonus issue resolved.  So I decided to send @Delta a direct message, begging for help since I kept getting punted from one airline to another.  An agent answered promptly and reached out to a supervisor.  But ultimately, the answer remained the same.

Sriram, I was advised that we don’t have control of the ticket and you have to go through Virgin Atlantic. If they are giving you a hard time when you call ask to speak to​ a supervisor. The supervisor should​ be able to assist.

Nice.  Three punts, and still nothing accomplished.  I did some digging, and found out that none of my flights came in from the Northeast.  My Southwest flight to LaGuardia came in from Houston.  Meanwhile, my incoming Delta plane hailed from Barcelona, with a scheduled arrival at Noon Friday.  This seemed like a setup for an extended delay getting in to New York, rather than a cancellation.  So I (perhaps foolishly) decided to just take my chances.  I had a hockey game to get to, after all.  No time for HUCA with that coming up.

Dallas Stars vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Somehow, Everything Actually Worked Out

I’ll start off with what I should have done the next morning.  I should have checked in for my Delta flight, then called to change using the weather waiver.  Southwest also had a waiver for my LaGuardia flight, and I could just change the LA – Dallas flight for a nominal fare difference.  But, I forgot that checking in gave Delta control of the ticket.  I thought I had to wait for a significant delay or cancellation, and mine still showed on time.  So I sweated it out.  If Southwest didn’t get me to New York, I might be SOL.

I received a cancellation notice for my LaGuardia fight around 11 am.  The only viable option for Friday involved switching to a Newark flight, via St. Louis, arriving around 10:30 pm (a roughly 4-hour delay).  I took it.  By some miracle, the St. Louis – Newark flight actually left on time.  (Even if it didn’t, I could just turn around and go home on the 9 pm flight – the main reason I liked St. Louis as a connecting point.)  And though 2 out of 4 New York – Los Angeles flights on Delta canceled on Saturday, mine was one of two that went.  I actually succeeded in flying Delta One for 18,000 points!

Delta One 767-400 Seat

Final Thoughts

I offer this as both a cautionary tale, and some advice to do better than I did if you find yourself in a similar situation.  Partner awards can be great, as they can save your significant miles or points.  Usually, they go off without a hitch.  But if you end up in a situation where the operating carrier is in a weather waiver situation, getting the ticketing carrier to honor it might be tough.  At the same time, remember that once you check in, you should have more options.  As I understand it, that gives the operating carrier control, and they may be able to accommodate you at that point.  I should have tried that, rather than taking a chance that ultimately worked out.

This article was originally published on Travel Codex. Read it at Weather Waivers: The Bane of Partner Mileage Awards.

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