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Be sure you know the on-line fare before calling an airline

Hi All,

I just tried to buy tickets from Portland, OR to Madrid, Spain and back as a gift to my 17 year old nephew.

The price online was $1107 but the Delta website wouldn't allow me to complete the purchase, and said that I had to complete the purchase by phone because he was an unaccompanied minor (more about that later).

When I called to buy the tickets, the agent quoted me a price of $1900+. When I said that was the wrong price, she told me that WHEN YOU BUY BY PHONE THE SYSTEM MAKES THEM TRY TO CHARGE YOU A HIGHER PRICE (!) and then sold them to me at the $1106.

I guess the idea is to rip off the customers who are too naive to check prices online.

Moreover, it turned out that 17-year olds are NOT unaccompanied minors. The idea of making me buy over the phone was to give them the opportunity to try to sell me an optional so-called "Unaccompanied Minor Service" for $150 extra each way.


Posted by
864 posts

Addressing the Unaccompanied Minor Service for a 17 year old--per Delta's website, for a person between the ages of 15 and 17 the adult making the reservation must talk to an agent at the time the reservation is made to opt out of the service. Always a good idea to check an airline's website before making anything beyond a "normal" reservation to try to alleviate any surprises. As far as what you quote the agent as saying about pricing--if that was said to me I would have asked for their name and then for their supervisor.

Posted by
7303 posts

Again, this seems to be a misunderstanding.

First, you had to call because the passenger is a minor, and the agent helped you opt out of the unaccompanied minor service, saving you $300. Did you have to deal with liability issues in order to opt out?

Second, "the system makes them try..." appears to be the computer system which automatically calculates a higher fare second-class ticket, one that would allow more flexibility for an unaccompanied minor. The children are usually grouped together near the service areas in bulkhead seats where staff can watch them. Those are a higher class seat. When you opted out of the unaccompanied minor service for a 17-year-old, the computer allowed you to buy the lowest fare ticket available.

Were you charged for making the reservation over the phone, or did they make the reservation for you for free?

My children used to be sent alone to France to see their grandparents, but in those days before the internet, we just called and paid. It was also before any of us had to pay extra for a bulkhead seat near the front. However, the children are accompanied from start to finish, including passport control, baggage claim, and handed over to the relatives only after proper ID is examined. Your 17-year-old would have been so embarrassed grouped with a bunch of little kids. Good uncle!

I have had to use the phone service a few times to complete transactions with Delta and Air France, which use the same reservation operators, and have never had to fend off a ploy. In fact, they have waived the phone fees.

Posted by
278 posts

Delta used to charge a fee of $25 when booking by phone, but the airline announced in April that it was eliminating this fee.

Posted by
20962 posts

It is always interesting to me that when something does not always go your way, it is a rip off. And it always happens to first time posters. Granted it is sneaky and it could be a rip off if they refused to sell the cheaper ticket.

Posted by
9363 posts

I agree, many of the things people say are "rip offs" or "scams" are merely a misunderstanding of the way things work. Yes, it can be confusing and it can look like they are trying to take advantage of you, but if there was no refusal to charge the lower price, they did nothing wrong. You weren't forced to pay the higher price. That's where doing your research before committing comes in handy, so you know what it should cost. I bought a car a year ago, and in advance of that, I researched what kind of trade-in I should get for my current car. The dealer offered me a lower figure than I knew I had seen online, and when I said that, they backed down and gave me more. If I had not done that research, I wouldn't have known that it was an unreasonable offer. But I recognize that as how business is done, not as a "rip off".

Posted by
2786 posts

I booked a R/T flight on KLM from Seattle to London many months ago. Only when I received confirmation e-mails did I find out that I would be flying on Delta. I called KLM and was told that it was a "code sharing" arrangement. I asked if I could fly on a KLM flight but was told they no longer service the SEA-Lon route. I have flown to Europe for 14 of the last 15 years and have always tried to fly on a non-stop European airlines flight. I had signed up for an "Economy Extra" seating on KLM which was transferred to the Delta flight.
We ended up sitting in the front row of the "EE" seating where the entertainment system was in the bulkhead in front of us rather than in a pull-up screen for along side of the seat. When I was seated in my seat with my seat belt fastened I was two feet short of being able to reach the entertainment screen so it was unusable for the ten hour flight. I was flying on a 767 twin isle plane. I will make sure to fly on an European airline next years and avoid Delta. I did question the flight attendant for assistance and was told there was nothing they could do. I did fill out a travel report upon returning to Seattle for both Delta and KLM that was not very positive.

Posted by
487 posts

You have to do your homework when booking airline reservations or any other for that matter. I suspect that the $1107 fare was probably Delta's lowest fare with no refund or change after 24 hours. The +$1900 fare probably allowed for changes in the reservation at no cost; with a 17 year old overseas probably not a bad idea. In these days of travel the consumer needs to understand exactly what they are buying; there have have been times when we have had to change plans and pay both the change fee along with an increase in the fare. I don't see a rip off here.

Posted by
3418 posts

We've flown Delta for many years. Never once have I encountered anything that could be even remotely be considered a "rip off". On one occasion there was a slight mix up regarding extra comfort seats due to an equipment change. But Delta did the right thing and the issue was ideally resolved. We should all carefully consider the entire situation before labeling anything a "rip off".

Posted by
3 posts


Hi All,
Thanks for your comments. Some observations in reply below:

  1. I do consider it a rip-off for a seller to try to charge phone customers higher prices than are available online, particularly when the price difference is undisclosed (I had to tell the Delta agent who quoted the $1900 price about the $1107 price and she then "went into the system" to verify it.). The unfairness is greater when the customer is compelled to buy by phone -- Delta's computer system will not allow you to buy a ticket online for a 17-year-old and requires that you buy by phone. Note that the agent did not say that this differential pricing policy only applied to tickets bought by 17-year-olds for whom UM service had already been declined.... she said it applied to phone sales versus online sales. Whether applicable to all phone customers or only those who elect out of UM service, the effect is the same: Those who are less computer-savvy and are not in a position to detect that they are being overcharged are in effect fleeced. (Admittedly, a strong word, but appropriate in my view.)
  2. Saying (as one responder does) that Delta behaved appropriately because when they were caught they "fessed up", backed down and gave up on their attempt to overcharge is to damn them with faint praise. Surely we expect more of them than that!
  3. I am not a serial complainer. I generally post on Tripadvisor but this comment seemed more suited to the interests of this board. I think this is my first negative travel or food-related comment, and I am heading for 2 million miles on AA alone. I travel more than 90 days a year and post relatively often.
  4. Delta did not "help me to opt out" of UM service, as one responder asserts. To the contrary, Delta would not allow me to opt out of UM service online.
  5. It is true that Delta did not charge for this mandatory use of their phone facilities.... I checked for that before embarking on the conversation. That would really have added insult to injury.


Posted by
7303 posts

Let's put it this way: "Be sure you know the on-line fare before calling an airline" may be a more accurate title than "Don't buy Delta tickets by phone--ripoff alert." Do we know whether the experience would have been the same or different trying to book a ticket for a 17-year-old on American or United? While holding for a representative, we've all heard the little voice say "lower prices may be available on our website." Unjustified as it is, this could be a common practice--not just Delta.

I agree thoroughly that this is unfair to people who aren't computer savvy. Once visiting elderly relatives with no computer and before the era of smartphones, I was bumped from a very sought-after LA-IND direct flight. No computer--I lost. (It was Delta or Northwest.) The next visit, I went to a nearby hotel to check in for this sought-after flight. That's fine for me, but the overall problem for those who don't have computers, or don't know how to use computers to help themselves still exists. If there is a ripoff, it's for them.