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Transportation Department Looking Into Delta’s Ticket ‘Glitch’

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – WCCO-TV’s investigation into an airline’s pricing problems got the attention of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Last week, WCCO-TV exposed how some Delta frequent fliers were paying more for plane tickets. The company blamed it on a computer glitch that went on for 19 days and that stopped when we contacted them.

Now, the department is looking into what happened.

Returning from a Delta flight from Dallas, John Bucher displayed the frequent flier card he flashes a few times each week.

“I just thought I was going to be treated fairly,” Bucher said. “I didn’t know there were two standards out there.”

His status makes him one of the airline’s top customers.

“I do about 90 percent of my flying on Delta,” he said.

So when he heard our report last week, he wanted his own records reviewed.

Patrick Smith and his business partner happened to book trips side-by-side. They discovered that logging into their Sky Miles account sometimes meant paying hundreds of dollars more.

Bucher wanted to know if the same thing happened to him. He says he called Delta three times last week, and no one at customer service knew about the computer glitch.

“Being a partner, I would just expect a little higher service and standard,” Bucher said.

In a blog, Delta now says it did not sell the same flight itinerary to different people for different prices. That’s not technically possible. Delta says it was testing a new search function on its website that could only be seen by customers who weren’t logged in, so as not to disrupt the shopping experience for its best customers.

So while the different prices appeared to be for the same trip, frequent fliers who clicked to the next screen would find they were actually getting better return flights. The company says sometimes those trips cost more, sometimes less.

In all of our checks, the frequent flier never got the better deal.

Charlie Leocha contacted the Department of Transportation after our story. He’s the director of Consumer Travel Alliance in Washington, D.C., an advocacy group for travelers.

“Now, all of a sudden, to get the price of travel you have to get out a spreadsheet,” Leocha said. “It’s worse than a mortgage.”

Leocha wants the Transportation Department to review how all airlines display prices, including extra fees. He says that if you could compare trips across the board, the pricing glitch at Delta would have been noticeable right away.

“Then you could actually see what the true cost of travel is — and that’s the problem: we can’t do that today,” Leocha said.

That’s a call for change customers like Bucher will wait for. He is now questioning Delta’s image and the customer status he thought meant so much.

“I’m just hoping they can be more open and straight forward with us in the future,” Bucher said.

Delta told Bucher it will review his transactions. The Department of Transportation investigation into Delta will likely take months. Delta has added contact information to its blog, so you can ask to have your flight’s price reviewed.

To contact the Transportation Department, click here.

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