Looks like United may not be a lost cause after all

Looks like United may not be a lost cause after all

United is ready for takeoff? / Photo by John Rogers – Flickr Creative Commons
For the better part of the last year, I’ve thought United Airlines was a lost cause. The Continental Airlines merger couldn’t have gone worse, from a customer service perspective, and as much as I liked many of the people now working at the new United, it was difficult to say anything nice about the airline — let alone write anything positive.

But then I heard from Steve Allen, who reads the Travel Troubleshooter in the San Francisco Chronicle. His story gives me hope, and I think it will give you reason to believe that United may have turned a corner in its customer service department.

This summer, Allen booked a ticket on United.com to fly from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in October. But when his wife reviewed the itinerary, she noticed that he’d made a mistake on their travel dates.

“I had booked the return flight for October 25, and it should have been October 27,” he says. “Hotel bookings had already been made until that date.”

When I called United’s customer service number about my error, I was told that in order to make this change I would have to pay a change fee.

I thought that this was reasonable, since it had been my error. However, she then told me that the change fee would be $150 per ticket, which I thought was clearly unreasonable to change a flight three months in the future a few days after the initial booking.

When I expressed incredulity, I was told that this is standard United Airlines policy for any change.

Allen was unhappy, so he visited this site, found the email address for Anne Seeley, the point-person for customer service at United, and sent her an email. He also copied me and mentioned that he would be telling me about the fee.

Now, to be clear, United isn’t the only airline with a $150 change fee. It’s common among legacy carriers. Is it absurd? Yes, from a customer’s perspective it is, no matter how eloquently you explain the airline’s position. (Throwing around terms like “perishable commodity” doesn’t help.)

I totally understand Allen’s perspective. His two tickets to Mexico cost $686, and United wanted him to pay $300 to fix them. It could be worse. I sometimes get complaints about a ticket with negative value, once you factor in the change fee. That’s truly absurd.

Allen explains what happened next:

I had actually not expected much of a response, but to my surprise I recently received a phone call from a representative of Anne Seely’s office.

She first explained to me that if I had caught the error within 24 hours, I could have made the change with no penalty (which I knew, and also knew that they are required by law to do this).

She also said that this $150 per ticket change fee is their clearly stated policy, and that it is “standard across the industry.”

I mentioned that Southwest charges $35, and she said, “Well, Southwest is a whole different animal.”

However, she then totally surprised me and said that as a courtesy to me, they would be refunding the change fees! I have just checked my credit card statement and confirmed that I have actually received the refund.

Was this a random act of kindness, or is it evidence of a “new” new United — yeah, with two “news”? It will take a few more of these for me to declare that United is heading in a new direction. But I’m optimistic.

By the way, if you’re wondering how to negotiate an exception to a company’s policy, I explain it in the video below.

For the last two years, I’ve heard nothing but complaints about United. It’s hard to imagine the Continental merger going any worse, at least from the service perspective. Allen’s story is a glimmer of hope that better days could be ahead for the world’s largest airline.

Nothing would make me happier.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    The optimist in me says hopefully this is a harbinger of better things to come. The cynic in me says this was a one-off to garner (basically free) positive publicity…

  • Raven_Altosk

    I wouldn’t hold my breath. UA is still a cluster you know what here at IAH.

  • TonyA_says

    If the flights are way out in the future and seats are available in the same class, it is hard to see why airlines charge such a high penalty. Anyway, glad to know United is capable of doing something nice. Hope this happens more often.

  • BillCCC

    It’s good to see. Maybe it will start a trend. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1600677363 Vicki Fair Woo

    I had a recent issue with United regarding a seat assignment issue (separating small children from parents AFTER we had checked in and gotten boarding passes) then double booking seats on the aircraft and then rude treatment by gate staff (but fabulous treatment by the flight attendant). I tried repeatedly to submit my complaint (and compliment) online only to get error messages. I emailed Ms. Seely and within 24 hours each member of my family received 3000 miles in their accounts.

  • dixie1989

    When did Southwest start charging a penalty?

  • AAmerican1

    For now I would consider this a random act of leadership. United and the other legacy carriers will turn the corner when they stop referring to Southwest as “a whole different animal”. Southwest not only understands the concept of Value Based Leadership but all of their employees, from the CEO to the ground workers, live it every day.

    Change begins with the company identifying their values and then everyone in the organization working together to maintain those values every single day. When that occurs no one has to go to Chris’s website to obtain the email address of a higher authority because the issue has already been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.

  • cahdot

    it is going to take alot to fix united their customer service needs soooo much work…i flew first class in june (6/12-sfo to den)at a great cost and  it was pathetic  not even water on arrival to the plane and FA that looked very unhappy esp Frank.. 

  • Alan Gore

    Having been a database man before retirement, I can attest that the $150 change fee has no relationship to the actual cost of making a schedule change. For changes close to the flight date, airlines at least have the defense that they are factoring in the probability of flying an empty seat, but this does not apply to changes made months out.

    Southwest makes plenty of money at $35. No wonder the other domestic  airlines have to use fortress hubs and sweetheart legislation to prevent everyone from switching to WN.

  • EasternTraveler

     On a recent United flight from Baltimore to Denver, a ground delay caused us to miss our connecting flight to Jackson, WY.  While the in-flight attendant announced this was not UA’s fault and hence, no assistance would be available from UA, upon landing, we were greeted by a  very friendly agent who handled all the arrangements for overnight accommodations and rebooking. It was handled flawlessly!!

  • Charles B

    United breaks guitars. Apparently they kill dogs, too. http://www.lifewithdogs.tv/2012/09/second-dog-dies-on-united-airlines-flight/

  • Michelle Norton

    I don’t know – I just this week had a problem with United, albeit minor by comparison.  On a flight from Boston to Vegas, layover at SFO.  I never changed planes, however, my luggage did.  It took over 24 hours to get my luggage although I was told it would be on the ‘next flight to Vegas at 9:30 am’.  Not trying to be unreasonable, I asked for my checked bag fee to be refunded.  Still waiting for a response.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=521524230 Jennifer Deutsch

    I’m glad that the airline was able to help in this circumstance but it still should be mentioned that people need to be responsible for reviewing their information before purchasing.  The OP was spending almost $700 and obviously was not careful about what he was buying.  How many times have you told people yourself, Chris, about checking spelling of names, dates, and times before purchasing?  I know people make mistakes but the airlines have been charging these change fees forever and the OP even says himself that he knew about the 24 hour rule.  When you purchase tix on any airline site, you get an email confirmation that you should check immediately.  It also clearly states information about change fees.  I also think the comment about how Southwest charges less was not a very smart one.  They are 2 completely different companies.  If you wanted to go by Southwest’s rules and fee structure, buy flights from them. 

  • Joseph Blasi

    whole different animal that’s frontier airlines

  • emanon256

    The old UA used to make exceptions from time to time, but very rarely, and only with good cause or if it was their fault.  The new UA seems to just say no to anything, even if it is there fault.  This seems lore like luck of the draw, but hopefully they will be a little nicer in the future. Its still a cluster in Denver too.  No one knows what they are doing, so all they do is say NO.  Hopefully after they get customer service fixed, they will focus on on-time performance.  Their scheduling is crap.  My flights are still almost always scheduled to arrive 20 minutes before they depart.  You can’t turn around a mainline 757 in 20 minutes.  So when I am on the 4th segment that day for that plane, being delayed 2 hours has become the new normal.

    In the OPs case, I still stand by my old argument.  You can buy a refundable ticket, or you can by a discoutn ticket full well knowing there is a $150 change fee.  This is displayed on the fare info before you buy.  Always make sure you are bookign eth right dates/airport before you enter your credit card info. $343 a person to Mexico is a heck of a deal, which comes with the fact that there is a change fee.

  • Charlie Funk

    The refund may well have had more to do with who he is than empathy for the situation.  United has opened Pandora’s box for anyone else who mistakenly books the wrong date and fails to notice within the 24 hour grace period.  My advice is not to get all warm and fuzzy about airline change fee refunds becoming even remotely commonplace

  • Victoria Dossey Findley

    Nice to see that people are open & hopeful that United can make a change..  Hope is good…While they are not perfect .. I have seen several good stories lately..

  • IGoEverywhere

    It’s a total crap shoot. Depends wheather the phone is answered by “PEGGY” or in the US. I feel that all of the airlines can correct themselves if they are required to each travel 4 legs of flight as passengers rather than known airline employees. There will be a 40% oops factor that they will be able to experience 1st hand. I’m also afraid that Mr. Alllen did something that the average Joe would not know to do; drop your name. He also made another tactical error, had He gone to a REAL LIVE travel agent, they would have combined the hotel and air and probably have saved 25% and NOT made the error.

  • cjr001

    “she said, “Well, Southwest is a whole different animal.”

    Actually, that’s Frontier. ;)

    I’m not sure whether to take this as a good sign or not. I had my own minor trouble when taking United home a couple of weeks ago from vacation. And while it was resolved, there’s no reason it should have occurred in the first place.

    The change fees, like so many others in the industry, are beyond ridiculous.

  • TonyA_says

    Agree. They have a whole webpage dedicated to No Change Fees.

  • jerryatric

    Until the attitudes of their staff changes, there is no hope.
    After the most horrible experience I wrote about, travelling with an invalid wife, your TSA is a welcome experience. That should say it all!
    Ignorant staff, liers, not even knowing the configuration of our plane.
    Air Canada, & U.S. Air were a real pleasure.
    United NEVER AGAIN & I told them to take their pathetic, useless credit & use it for bathroom tissue.
    There are a great many airlines to choose from, especially in the U.S.

  • S363

    Southwest has NO change fee.  You do have to pay whatever the current fare for the new flight is.  That can even be less than the old fare, and while you don’t get refunded, you retain a credit toward future purchases good for one year from the original date of purchase.  You can even rebook the same flight at a new lower price and get credit for the difference.  I use WN (the Southwest abbreviation, for those who don’t know, probably dating from the Western Airlines era) whenever it works for me.  If enough of us do that it will put pressure on the other airlines to change their change policies.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Just an excellent post. Couldn’t agree more. This person got flat-out nowhere with regular customer service, went to the trouble of contacting an executive, apparently got her on a good day, and things turned out well.  United deserves credit for that, but what of the 99% of people with similar problems that don’t get a hold of an executive who feels like helping?  Yep, they’re still paying $150-per-ticket change fees and being told “that’s our policy.” 

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I caught that, too.  Funny.

  • TonyA_says

    Southwest does not have a change fee but their fares are also structured around advanced purchase. Their lowest web only fares mostly have 14-21days advanced purchase requirements. Somebody please correct me if I am wrong. Anyway, if you change, you will only pay the difference in fares.

    The problem with the other airlines is they are too greedy. They want to make money twice. The difference in fares and the unreasonable change penalties.

    The change penalty fee does not make sense because the fare difference already reflects the market price differential between the two different dates of travel. With automation, the transaction cost is miniscule.

    Of course Southwest ticketless system makes it easier to put back the value of the ticket into one’s account making it easier to process refunds and changes. In the current eticket system, you either have to refund only to the original form of payment, or exchange the value of the ticket to another ticket by reissuing a new ticket. There is no concept of a customer account or fund.

  • Peter Zapalo

     Unless there’s been a very recent change in policy, Southwest charges $0 in change fees… they only charge the fare difference. If the fare goes down, you can rebook on the same flight and get a credit that is good for up to a year. For this exact reason (see also no checked bag fees) I will typically book a Southwest ticket, particularly when it’s more than a couple weeks out, even if it’s a bit more expensive. Case in point: my travel coordinator booked United COS-SEA (r/t) in July (why so early, I can’t tell you) for October travel, and now I have to go from SEA to BWI. As Christopher noted, the ticket has negative value now with the $150 change fee. This change was entirely the fault of my work schedule, so I won’t go begging to United. However, I wish we had booked DEN-SEA on Southwest, which would have saved me $100 at this point.

  • John Keahey

    Don’t count on it.

  • bodega3

    Southwest does have a different model than UA, so she was correct.  The OP is incorrect on the $35 change fee and is probably confusing it with having to pay up for a change based on difference of fares.

    My experience with customer service goes back a few decades and when we had sales offices to call.  The carriers now have been listeing to customers about the lack of customer service, off shore call centers and have been making changes, so this letter to Chris is good to read.  When I call the UA Agency Desk, I now get an agent based in the US.  A much better situation for me and my clients.  Other carriers are being their call centers back to the US, too.

    While I don’t like the change fees, I get why they charge them.  I was just attended a wedding where a family of 8 didn’t show up and the wedding couple still had to pay for those 8 meals @ $70 a piece.  Run a business and you get it.  But at the same time, the carriers no longer pay us for to reissue tickets, as they once did, so it does grate me to collect $200 and not get paid by the carrier for handling their work that they place a value on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/raoulsch Raoul Schuhmacher

    I have flown about 100k miles on United year-to-date and while I have experienced bad things, some in conjuction with the merger integration, some just the usual stuff like delays and not-to-good service, it wasn’t all bad.

    One very recent example: yesterday my niece and her friend were scheduled to fly from SFO to Frankfurt, Germany via IAD. When they arrived at SFO to check in, they were concerned that they would miss their connection at IAD since the incoming flight was late. UA had already re-booked them to the non-stop SFO to FRA flight, and now has two very happy customers, who got home much earlier than expected and with a better than expected experience.

  • rodcald

    Southwest not only has no change fee, but you can cancel entirely and the your full cost of your nonrefundable ticket remains available for future use for one year (though only for the person named on the ticket – a limitation they put in about a year ago). 

  • http://twitter.com/carolinamtns Carol Ditore

    I’m sure I’m in the minority but I do not feel they should have been credited the $300. I’m a corporate agent (for 18 yrs) and I have to charge the penalties (absurd as they may be) or the airlines will charge me. So now am I supposed to go do a lengthy campaign of contacting the airline every time one of my clients is charged a change penalty? First of all, it’s not possible as I don’t have the time, but for the thousands who have to pay this penalty every time they make a change, why should this client get his money back? I truly do not think this is fair.

  • emanon256

    I was thinking that too.  I wish they had more flights, I miss flying them.

  • johnr44

    I think it has too.  Last July I was scheduled to fly from Buenos Aires to Newark to Phoenix.  My flight was delayed 12 hours.  I was flying on an upgraded ticket. United was able to confirm my upgrades on both the EZE to EWR segment and the EWR to PHX.  They were professional and except for the delay everything went perfect.  I was given 17,500 miles for my troubles and was offered a hotel and meal vouchers in BA. I declined both because my in-laws have a condo there and I was able to visit family on my “extra” day there.
    United has my vote for most improved.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I don’t believe it’s too late for any of the legacy airlines to fix themselves.  Any of them CAN fix themselves, the question is WILL they fix themselves?

    I have to wonder if your being CC’d on the e-mail isn’t what got the results, more than anything else.

  • Tracy Timonere

    Southwest doesn’t charge change fees. They charge whatever the difference in fare is between when you booked and when you want to make the change.

  • Michelle C

    No major US airline with be fixing itself.    Any positive change will be done by gov’t mandate.  Which is sad.    It seems their business model relies too heavily on errors, changes, and baggage fees to make a profit.  

    Gonna do a little venting on another note-I  have 3- AA tickets for travel in a month.    Preparing for long delays and cancellations.    

  • TonyA_says

    There is another lesson  that can be learned from this case. Use a trip planner so you make less mistakes.

    Now that most people book airline tickets, hotels, cars, trains, and events from different websites, it’s gets pretty hard to keep track of dates, times and, at times, locations. Sometimes you just want to keep up with the cost of things (travel expenses).

    There’s a free app out there called Tripit. https://www.tripit.com/
    You can use it to plan your trip, You can create an itinerary (with made made up flights, hotels, etc.) and then see how they all fit before you buy them. This way you won’t buy a flight on the wrong date.

    Tripit also allows you to share your travel plan with others. You can start an itinerary and then give it to a travel consultant to “fix” the loose ends.

    Of course you can plan your whole trip on a spreadsheet. But Tripit has more functionality and is a better tool. Maybe Chris can add Tripit as a sponsor to his site.

  • MarkKelling

    Even though UA wants everyone to believe they are one big happy airline, there is still a difference betwen flying on the previous CO planes with the CO crew and the previous UA planes with the old UA crew.  You most likely got the old UA.  I usually find them to be unhappy while the old CO useually less .

  • TonyA_says

    Don’t you charge you own service fee (separate and above what the airline charges) to process changes and cancellations? If so, then your client is paying you to do what’s best for them. If your clients can write Ms. Anne Seeley and can get their change for free BY GOING DIRECTLY TO UNITED, how much additional work did you do? I suppose none.

  • emanon256

    I LOVE TRIPIT!!!!  Sorry for the all caps, but I really do.  I use it all the time and best of all its free! Their website is great!  It even reminds me by e-mail to check in to my flights, and it integrates with an app I have on my phone which I think is better than the Trip It phone app.

  • TonyA_says

    I was just looking at Southwest’s partner Volaris’ fares from Las Vegas to Mexico. Some are as cheap as $99 per direction. Plus Want it All ticket has no change fees! Amazingly cheap.

  • Raj W

    I worked with Anne’s office a while ago on trying to get a mileage ticket my mother booked to be direct instead of via connections as she has MS and the travel time would be a great stress. Anne’s representative called me within a few hours of my email and was able to help me make the change with no fees. an example of great customer service in understanding when/where exceptions to the rules might be justified. I’d like to see United empower its front line employees a bit more but understand that is a complex ask.

  • flutiefan

     for SWA, many markets actually have same-day (no advance purchase) web fares. i see them in LGA all the time.

  • flutiefan


  • flutiefan

     um, Southwest does NOT charge $35 change fee. they charge a fare difference between what your fare was and what the current fare is. if you bought a 14 day advance ticket and you call 15 days ahead and that fare is still available… guess what: NO PRICE DIFFERENCE.

    i think that should’ve been pointed out to the OP. he has an obvious flaw in his own argument.
    oh, and i don’t think this should’ve been credited back to the OP. it’s a nice gesture, but this was entirely his own fault, whether or not he agrees with the change fees.

  • flutiefan

    i wonder if people realize how many Southwest passengers absolutely FLIP OUT when they hear what it will cost them to change a flight (yes, even on standby… only their full-fare, refundable tickets are eligible for standby)???  i worked next to them for years, roomie works there, and i see them every day. they are flat-out shocked and then irate when told the fare difference.
    it makes me wonder if these people ever fly any other airline, and if they realize that the “other guys” charge this $150 administrative fee on top of everything else?

  • http://twitter.com/carolinamtns Carol Ditore

    The point I was trying to get across is that change fees are very rarely ever waived by the airlines. Why do these people not have to pay when everyone else does? Also, I help clients through all processes and I do not charge a fee if they are cancelling. Bottom line is that it does not seem fair to all those who are paying change penalties every day. Now if we are talking about whether or not the change fees are fair… well that is a whole different story! :)

  • velliott22

    While I agree that $150 seems excessive, if you change your contract you have to accept the consequences   I recently changed a flight, which was purchased using aeroplan miles.  To move the filght back approximately 1 hour (from a 7:15 flight to a 8:55 flight) on the same day, it cost me $100.  I evaluated the costs/benefits, and decided to move forward with the change.  I think it is just part of the risk you take when you buy non-refundable flights :)  I have saved more than $100 buying those types of flights.

  • velliott22

    I also love Tripit!  I use the pro version and it texts me to tell me of delays etc.  It seems to know before the airlines!

  • JenniferFinger

    Well, United could fix itself if it’s willing to take the trouble to do what’s necessary to get there.  It doesn’t seem likely based on experience, but…if it ever decides that customer and public relations are important, then it might.

  • sershev

    United is nice. I had an unused ticket and called to exchange it for a new travel. The exchange had to be processed by a supervisor. A representative and myself were on hold for a supervisor for about an hour. At the end they told me they will not charge a change fee for the inconvenience of me being on the phone for so long. I didn’t even ask for it. Another time my outbound flight arrived late about an hour. Before my return flight I wanted to change it to another one. When I called they ask me to pay $75 fee. I mentioned that my outbound flight was delayed and they changed my return flight without extra charge.  And it doesn’t matter if you talk to an old UA call center (overseas) or old CO call center (domestic), they are both nice. 

    Also they give you 24 hours to make change or cancel non-refundable tickets without penalty. Always check your itinerary within 24 hours after booking just in case there is an error.

  • sershev

    I flew from SNA to IAD with a connection in SFO. My flight from SNA was in holding pattern for a couple of hours due to ATC in SFO. By the time we landed I was already rebooked on the next flight because the original connection was missed.

  • SoBeSparky

    Of course, one anecdote is completely insignificant.  Even three or four mean nothing against the avalanche of bad episodes.  Reminds me of what I was told growing up, It is so easy to lose a good reputation and and hard to regain it.

  • TonyA_says

    LOL I am betting the airlines will fix themselves before the government will fix itself (i.e. deficit spending).

  • TonyA_says

    I have to raise two points:
    (1) It does not hurt to ask. “Ask and thou shall receive” …
    Anyone who asks Ms. Seeley is just being more resourceful and not unfair.
    (2) Southwest is a different animal. Well, that sounds like an excuse given by other airlines whenever WN does something better for their customers (i.e. No Change Fees, Bags Fly Free). Southwest has one of the highest pay scales for flight and cabin crews and ramp agents. They do not have outsourced flights to regionals that pay close to minimum wage. Maybe because WN pays their people well is the reason they are better.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Of course we could talk about the story of 2 United flight attendants who were arguing on the Raleigh-Durham to Chicago flight and the pilot had to turn the plane around.
    I keep saying United has the crankiest flight attendants.

  • sershev

    If you book discounted United ticket and want to change to another flight within 24 hours of your original it cost you $75 same day confirmed fee and no fare difference. If you booked a discounted Southwest flight for $100 and you want to change for another flight within 24 hours it may cost you $300-400 in fare difference but you don’t pay change fee. 

  • flutiefan

     actually, they are starting to outsource at the smaller airports that they’re taking over. i hear an earful from Roomie about it all the time.

    and they’re pay scales are only relatively higher because the “other guys” slashed theirs so badly. it wasn’t always this way. there is a lot of internal tension between labor and management there since this AirTran takeover. passengers just don’t see it like they do at other airlines.

  • flutiefan

     that’s true.  but considering SWA has very consumer-friendly policies, i think their passengers get spoiled and don’t realize how good they have it.  if you got a ticket for $300-$400 off the regular refundable fare, i don’t think it’s too much to ask that you stick to that flight or you forfeit the discount. but that’s just me. i totally understand their policy.

  • http://twitter.com/seanriegert Sean M Riegert

    The service and product offered by United will eventually be standardized and improved, though it will take some time. The biggest issue faced in the merger has been the combination of cultures. The unfortunate casualty in this war of attrition has been the customer. I have faith that Jeff and the pre-merger Continental leadership team can build a great airline, as they did with CO under Bethune.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OASMSP2X45YU6WIUSM7PASNHAU Bryan

    I agree with you, Carol.  These is nothing shady about United’s change fee.  It’s disclosed up front and easily avoided if you buy a refundable ticket.  Exceptions to policies should only happen when odd things happen…not simply because someone wasn’t careful when the ticket was purchased.  Save those exceptions for things like unusual weather, sudden illness, or other extraordinary events.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I had one of those negative value tickets on United.  I had to change my return date.  It would have cost me more to change it than to buy a new one-way ticket.  So I chucked the return fare and bought a one way return on Southwest.

  • bayareascott

    Which is often much more than the $150 legacy change fee.  (When you purchase way in advance and want to change at the last minute.)

  • bayareascott

    “Only” the difference in fares?  If you purchase 21+ days in advance on Southwest and want to change on the day of travel, that difference can be hundreds of dollars.

    On a legacy, if the same fare category is available (sometimes yes, sometimes no….depends on how busy that travel day/period is), then you pay the change fee but no fare difference.  

    It is apples and oranges.  Hey great….fly the “no change fee” airline….you only pay the $250-300 fare difference!  Awesome!

  • sofar

    And at SFO. I got there almost three hours early the other day (6 am for an 8:46 flight) and didn’t make it to the gate until group 4 was being called. In fact, every time I’ve flown United in the past five years, something has gone awry.

  • flutiefan

     then stick with the flight you paid $69 for.

  • sershev

    Below are some exceptions from paying penalties extracted from an actual United most discounted fare rules:





  • jpp42

     Um, the legacy carriers charge the fare difference too!  If you changed at the last minute you’ll likely get socked a lot more than $150.  The original poster wasn’t changing at the last minute though, so it seems the fare difference was negligible or nothing for the United tickets.  In a a similar situation at Southwest, the fare difference would have likely been nil as well, so zero change fee.

  • bodega3

    You are charged the fare difference if the same class of service you were originally booked in isn’t available and the new class of service is a higher fare.  You usually also have to keep to the same rules of the fare, such as if the fare only applied to flying on a Mon-Fri and you are now changing to a Sunday, then, yes, you will pay a difference if Sunday was a higher day of travel. 

    As for WN, their fares are based on oneway travel, so the change to the return would depend on what is avaiable on the new date and if the fare is higher, of course there would be an add collect.  As stated before, WN doesn’t have change fees, so you are correct in the zero change fee.

  • Susan Fox

    Just got back from Mongolia via United from Incheon to Eureka/Arcata. The latest issue of Hemispheres starts off with a  piece by the United CEO essentially groveling in apology for the recent problems they’ve been having with on-time arrivals/departures and customer service and promising that they will do whatever it takes to improve matters for their customers. I’ve never seen or read anything quite like it. And we’ll see if he means it.

    FWIW- the UA staffer at my gate at Incheon this past Tuesday happily issued both the boarding passes I needed, checked to see if my bags had, in fact, been checked through to ACV by MIAT (they hadn’t) and made sure that they were.

    I’ve really never had a problem with United myself, but also don’t fly but a few times a year. The five star winner for surly unhelpfulness for me at this point were the people at one of the customer service counters at O’Hare some years ago, when there were rolling delays due to a stormfront and they didn’t give a rat’s ass about helping anyone, much less providing any information.

    My main beef at this point is that, as a condition of the merger, according to a ticket agent I spoke with some months ago, the really nice United website and, for her, the ticket agent interface were replaced with Continental’s 1970s era stone knives and bearskins.

  • http://www.talestoldfromtheroad.com/ Dick Jordan

    Given all of the negative press United has received since its merger with Continental, I was dreading my first post-merger flight on that airline earlier this month, expecting to encounter a “We couldn’t care less” attitude from airport staff and cabin crew.

    Perhaps the operational problems that began March and any unhappiness on the part of United employees have now been resolved. In any event, all of the United employees I dealt with at both San Francisco and Calgary airports were friendly and professional. The cabin and flight crew were apparently Skywest employees since that carrier operates the regional jets sporting United’s livery that serve smaller airports; they were great, too.

    One improvement I’ve found with United’s new Website: It’s easier to search for frequent flier seats since the switch in March. I’m not sure if there are more seats available using “Saver” awards, but at least it is somewhat easier to find the dates/times when such seats can be had. Hopefully the upcoming changes to the airline’s computer system won’t make booking “free” seats more difficult.

    My only post-merger gripe:  It’s no longer possible for non-elite members of United’s frequent flier program to purchase a package that includes Economy Plus seats, Red Carpet lounge access, and fast-tracking through security check points.