Reward miles redeemed for first-class travel, but unexpectedly downgraded by airline

Reward miles redeemed for first-class travel, but unexpectedly downgraded by airline

PLEASANTON, Calif. (KGO) — Most of us can only afford to dream of flying first class to an exciting international destination. A Pleasanton man thought he had turned that dream into reality using his reward miles — until an airline told him otherwise.

This is a trip Mark Stallion has been looking forward to for a while.

“We’re going to go to Australia, visit some family I have living there,” he told 7 On Your Side.

The Pleasanton man enjoys flying with Virgin Atlantic and has aggressively been accumulating reward points. “I got a Virgin Atlantic credit card back in 2007. Basically use this card for everything that I can,” Stallion said.

Eventually, he said he accumulated over 500,000 miles.

“For the most part, I saved 80 percent of the miles to do this,” he explained.

Stallion used to work in the travel industry and said he knew only a small number of business class seats are released for award travel. He also said those seats are usually released 330 days before a travel date.

The day the seats were released, he booked business first-class seats for the outbound flight with one of Virgin Atlantic’s airline partners, Delta.

17 days later, he booked the return flight — also on Delta.

Five months later, he learned he had been downgraded to premium economy.

“I was pretty upset. It was definitely a blow. I was saving these miles specifically,” said Stallion.

Stallion said his need for first-class seats is as much a medical necessity as it is about comfort. He points to the area on his back where he has extreme pain due to a compressed vertebra.

“It’s a compressed feeling. It almost feels as though the discs are rubbing together,” said Stallion.

He said the Delta representative blamed the downgrade on changes to their booking system.

For four months, he contacted Virgin almost every week, hoping to get his seats back.

Virgin talked with Delta, which agreed to put him in first class on the return flight only.

That’s when Stallion called 7 On Your Side; we contacted Delta, which rebooked him back to first class.

Delta told us Stallion’s experience was a one-off.

Stallion’s flight had been moved to a plane with fewer first-class seats.

A spokesperson told us Stallion was “inadvertently downgraded by the system before we reissued his ticket back to where he was booked.”

Stallion had a wonderful time in Australia and is grateful for the help.

“Sometimes we’re seen as the little guy and you can get pushed around, and it’s good to have someone in your corner,” he said.

Stallion pretty much exhausted all his reward points for this trip — some 550,000 miles.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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