Is an “award” ticket a real airline ticket — or something else?
It’s not just me asking; so is Greg Ho, an elite-level United Airlines customer (he’s a 1K, if you must know) who recently discovered a missing flight segment.
He needed our help recovering it.
Ho’s route was a combination of United and Ethiopian Airlines from Portland, Ore., to Seychelles. Both airlines are codeshare partners via the Star Alliance, meaning they share routes, flights and have reciprocal frequent flier benefits.
“All is well until last week when I discovered our last segment — from Addis Ababa to Seychelles — was missing from my United.com itineraries,” he says. “Apparently, Ethiopian canceled their flight and I was not notified by either airline.”
If this were a “real” ticket, United would have to find a replacement flight or offer a full refund. But, since Ho paid for it with miles, are his rights any different? The Transportation Department suggests award tickets should be treated as if they were actual tickets, with all the rights and privileges thereto pertaining. Review its helpful Fly Rights brochure, which deals, for example, with denied boarding compensation and award tickets.
But that’s not what happened to Ho.
“I tried to call their elite desk and contacted their corporate and they are all telling me my only option is to cancel the trip or visit somewhere else,” he says.
Ho understands that flights get canceled, but he’s looking for a solution.
“I realize it is Ethiopian Airline’s fault for canceling their flight, but since my ticket is booked on United.com using the miles that I earned from them, I have to think they would step up and get me to my destination even if this means they need to seek other alliances to get us there to fulfill their obligation,” he says.
That sounded reasonable to us. While usually we will not get involved with award point disputes, this one was different in several ways. Travel was booked in advance, and the consumer was never notified of the change.
I reached out to my contact at United, and to my surprise, he sent a message back to me almost immediately to let me know he would look into it.
Problem solved? Not quite.
Fast forward two weeks. I received another message from Ho letting me know that no one at United ever contacted him. So I followed up again with my United contact, and once again I got a response saying that he will look into it. But as of today, another two weeks have passed, and Ho has still heard nothing from United.
At this point, I’m not sure what else we can do for Ho. With his travel date quickly approaching, and still has no way to reach his destination, and United ignoring his requests — and apparently, ours — what’s our next move?
William Leeper is a fire safety equipment inspector who has been with Elliott.org since 2012. He actively mediates consumer cases and manages internal workflows. William lives with his wife and daughters in rural Western Arkansas.