Sometimes, you can eyeball a case and know almost immediately: This guy doesn’t have a snowball’s chance.
But then you read to the end and you think: then again, maybe he does.
Xavier Nolasco’s experience with trying to persuade United Airlines to honor its fine-print-laden low-fare guarantee is one of them.
The guarantee, as you probably already know, looks too good to be true:
When it comes to finding the lowest United fare online, we guarantee you will find it on united.com.
In fact, if you find a fare for the same flight, itinerary and cabin at a price that is lower than the fare offered on united.com by $10 or more, we’ll make up the difference and give you a $100 USD Electronic Travel Certificate.
And not only will you find the lowest fare at united.com, but you’ll never pay a service fee for booking online.
And you know what they say? If it looks too good to be true …
No one knows that better than Nolasco. He’d booked two tickets to Hawaii for $730 each, cashing in 52,000 reward points on his Chase Sapphire Rewards card and a total of $821 cash. A few days later, the tickets could be purchased for a total of $608.
He called Chase, which told him to contact United. But when he contacted United, it told him to get in touch with Chase.
“I’m getting the runaround,” he says.
Here’s the thing. He probably doesn’t have a case. Check out the details of United’s offer. Look at the last line: “This offer does not apply to airfares on another website that have been reduced as a result of promotional discounts, such as dollars off coupons, loyalty program discounts or fly ‘free’ offers.”
(Thanks for putting “free” in quotes, guys.)
Our editors got into quite a debate over this story after I wrote it. The loyalty program experts who vet my posts say that United’s interpretation (and mine) is wrong, and that he deserves to have the guarantee honored.
So here’s where I think Nolasco might have a case. When he tried to get this resolved, he should have been told politely, but firmly, that the rules are clearly spelled out.
Instead, when he called, the conversation quickly devolved into an argument, he says.
“When I tried to offer them a code as further proof that this was a valid offer, she hung up on me,” he says. “At this point, after several frustrating attempts, I believe more compensation should be included on top of the credit.”
Well, maybe not. But still.
Nolasco appealed to a supervisor, hoping for a better resolution. But his written request was met with yet another form denial:
I have reviewed your request and reservation. I understand you feel this
is unfair that you are not able to take advantage of the lower fare.
However, this is the terms and conditions of the low fare guarantee. I ask you please review this information which is available for our customers online, www.united.com,
Based on the terms of this agreement, this offer is valid for customers who purchase travel through united.com. Offer valid only on flights operated by United Airlines and United Express. United Vacations® and united.com specials purchases do not qualify for this offer. This promotion is not available to customers who book reward travel via
united.com site or other distribution channels.
Mr. Nolasco, we apologize for the inconvenience to you, however, based on my review of your request, I have to respectfully decline the adjustment.
I disagreed with the way it allegedly handled the request, at least by phone. You don’t hang up on a customer. But I thought this was an “iffy” case, at best.
I was just about to put this up to a vote, as I do every Monday, when I hear from Nolasco with good news. He’d received the following email from United:
I believe their (sic) is some confusion over the lower fare and fare downgrade. Fare downgrade is the difference refunded in travel certificate for future use minus the $50 service fee. This also has to be completed within the 30 day period.
I would like to reach a resolution with you as I understand from what you have mentioned the fare went down to $608.
What I will do for your is issue you a travel certificate for $125 per person without going through the Customer Refunds Services, as this has to be submitted to them for the fare downgrade. I also did not assess the $50 service fee.
Case closed? Yes, but the debate will continue. Are these fare guarantees just too darned difficult to do anything with?