Did United Airlines overcompensate this passenger?

Warren Goldswain/Shutterstock

Gary Wiener’s question comes along only once in a blue moon. Did United Airlines overcompensate him after a recent flight delay?

It’s a man-bites-dog kind of story.

When his recent United flight was canceled, the airline emailed him a “customer appreciation” offer, in addition to paying for his overnight stay.

“When I clicked on the link, I was given three choices for compensation,” he remembers. Among them was a 17,500 mile credit, which to him seemed pretty generous.

“17,500 miles is most of the way to a free award ticket,” he says.

(Ahem, you didn’t just say “free,” did you?)

So Wiener asked for the miles. A few days later, United deposited 10,000 miles in his account.

Wiener sent United an email: “The offer was for 17,500 miles. I would not have accepted an offer for only 10,000 miles. Please post the full amount to my account.”

To which a United representative replied: “In review of your flight, I have determined the goodwill extended to you is consistent with that provided to other customers with similar MileagePlus status.” In other words, the more elite you are, the more your compensation would be.

Maybe so, but the offer was 17,500 — and he had it in writing.

Wiener replied to United, accusing it of fraud.

“Responses like yours are precisely why United has achieved the distinction of having the worst customer service of any U.S.-based airline,” he wrote.

And he called me for help.

One of our resolutions specialists responded to him, offering him the executive contacts at United Airlines. He appealed his case directly to them.

Shortly after, we heard back from him:

My emails to all the executive contacts at United (thanks for making those available!) did the trick.

Although I have not received any correspondence from United, another 17,500 has been posted to my MileagePlus account in addition to the 10,000 miles they posted previously.

So, short of United arbitrarily shutting down my account (which, knowing them, is not entirely out of the question), this matter has been settled to my satisfaction.

Ah, but that raises the question of whether United overdid it.

We followed protocol on this case. We asked Wiener for a paper trail of his emails between him and United. When that was unsuccessful, we offered him the executive contacts — the next level of appeal. Had that not worked, then I would have directly contacted United on his behalf.

(And yes, it’s true that I don’t typically get involved in missing miles cases, but this was a little different. Wiener was promised something that wasn’t delivered. It could be widgets, for all I care — a promise is a promise.)

Backpedalling on the offer is bad form for United. But is sending too many miles to Wiener the best response? United’s actions are odd. Why not explain the reason for the initial 10,000 mile deposit, instead of just sending them without comment; and why deposit the second 17,500 miles, again without a word?

To me, this says more about the low value United places on its own miles when it just tosses them around like confetti at parade, without saying a thing. Then again, maybe it just wanted him to go away.

Odder still, Wiener tried to call United to find out what happened with his account after the 17,500-mile credit. “A United reservations agent actually told me that company policy dictates that customers may not speak by phone with the Customer Care department,” he says.


It is strange from my perspective, too. It’s highly unusual to get an overcompensation case, let alone with a company like United.

Did United Airlines overcompensate Gary Wiener?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • BillCCC

    It looks like someone made a mistake and deposited the original offer without taking back the 10,000 miles. Just leave it be.

  • Helio

    The same to me.

  • John Baker

    Did they overcompensate him? Yes, because they gave him more miles than originally offered. Does it matter? Not really. UA, like most airlines, use miles and vouchers in lieu of monetary compensation because their customer base holds them in high value but they have a low cost to the company. Ultimately, its some where around $50 (at $0.005 per mile) in cost to the company. It might cost them more to come get the miles.

    You’ll see a lot of companies do this … Disney hands out (or used to) free fasspasses like candy when something goes wrong. Why? It costs Disney nothing but their guests hold them in high value and feel great.

    Edit: Fixed fat-finger on the cost per mile…

  • Zarkov505

    “A United reservations agent actually told me that company policy dictates that customers may not speak by phone with the Customer Care department.” As the guy said, “Responses like (this) are precisely why United has achieved the distinction of having the worst customer service of any U.S.-based airline.”

  • frostysnowman


  • Kairho

    Actually more like $0.005 but we understand the greater point.

  • Michael Minor

    I voted yes, but with this comment: So what?

  • Len Oxman

    consider the extra 10,000 miles as compensation for the BS that he had to go through to get what they promised in the first place. redeem the miles ASAP!

  • Chris Johnson

    Take the miles and run. Book a vacation with them before United can take them back! Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.

  • Naoma Foreman

    Sounds to me like he was “overcompensated” so he would NOT COMPLAIN ANY MORE.

  • MarkKelling

    ” company policy dictates that customers may not speak by phone with the Customer Care department,”

    Of course it doesn’t allow it. Just like Mr Elliott constantly reminds us that a written correspondence trail is best for the customer, why wouldn’t the same apply to the company? Having everything in writing prevents a lot of misunderstandings.

  • MarkKelling

    I do not feel the OP was overcompensated. He did not receive what he was originally promised and was given more to cover the original promise plus his inconvenience. Sounds good to me.

    I do think that UA could have been better at explaining what they were doing. Their original response was just not right. While we don’t know the level to which the OP was inconvenienced by the original flight cancellation (did he get a seat on the next flight, did he have to wait a full day for the next flight, did he miss an important event, did he miss a connection, did he miss the entire trip?) since UA promised 17 500 miles that is what he should have originally received. If someone at UA messed up and gave him the wrong amount, too bad try and get it right next time. It’s not like it was real money.

  • JenniferFinger

    I’d be willing to bet United will withdraw the extra 10,000 miles from Wiener’s account anyway.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No not really. The customer is the complaining party, not the company. The company is the one with the power to deposit and withdraw the miles as it sees fit. Plus the company has the ability to notate the account to create a record, albeit imperfect. The situation between the company and the customer are not comparable in the least. That’s why we have consumer protection laws, not company protection laws. That’s also why most company permit customers to talk directly to customer service reps.

  • TonyA_says

    Ha what? The only one UA over-compensates is Jeff Smisek :-)
    Can we get a vote please?

  • Daddydo

    Just another person in today’s work force not paying a bit of attention. Take it and be happy if you ever get to redeem that little of milage on a route that you desire.

  • HM in VA

    To be fair to United, I haven’t found a single legacy airline recently that allows you to speak directly to Customer Service. Instead, they all just give you a runaround…I was advised once by United’s Twitter folks (who are actually pretty good) to ask Customer Service to call me, and that worked, once I had gotten an email response from an actual person.
    I also once tried contacting United’s “Customer Service” by going through Copa Airlines’ US Customer Service number which has a Minnesota phone number. The woman who answered the phone spoke neither English, Spanish, or any other language I could determine beyond general greetings. Needless to say, that was a dud attempt.

  • John Keahey

    Enjoy. And let it be. Too much over-analyzing going on here.

  • Travelnut

    My last United flight was cancelled, requiring me to stand in line for over two hours and fly out at 6:30 the next morning (on another airline). If 3/4 of their staff hadn’t been away for their evening meal I could have gotten home that night. Besides hotel and meal vouchers, I got diddly squat. I demand my 10,000 miles! I do think that miles are a super cheap way to shut up complaining pax; they will never miss the additional 10K miles and it would cost more to retrieve them.

  • Carchar

    He received a “’customer appreciation’ offer, in addition to paying for his overnight stay.” So we know he was at delayed at least overnight.

  • MarkKelling

    I see that now. I should know better than to type before coffee. :-)

  • emanon256

    I can’t agree more!!! I am cracking up!

  • Poley King

    Southwest and Alaska do have customer service departments you can talk to. But pointed out many times before its best to get it in writing anyways

  • Dutchess

    Why didn’t you get on the phone instead of/while waiting in line? Last time this happened to me on UAL, I was in the third row and the plane was called back to the gate and only managed to get about 6 people in front of me at the gate desk. I got on my phone as we were deplaning and had my new tickets before the second or third person in line was taken care of.

  • Travelnut

    My phone had about 10% charge by the time they got around to telling us the flight had been cancelled. Up to then I thought we were leaving on time at 6:00. I did still have enough juice to find out there was a flight on AA they could have gotten me on but no more UA flights that day. After that the phone died. As I found out about the AA flight they had TWO gate agents working and there were about 20 people ahead of me. So ticked.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Sure. But this is an opportunity for a consumer to do the right thing and make a point and bring about karma. Write to the executive and inform them of the error and thank them for fixing the issue. If United takes back the miles, so be it, but the executive will see for the first time a customer not only writing to bellyache to get something.

    Can gestures of goodwill go both ways?

    FYI, on nearly every positive flight I go on, I write a thank you email to the customer service department with the flight number and day and crew member name to give them credit. If someone is doing good work, how much effort does it take to acknowledge it?

  • Rick Nolte

    Considering he contacted top brass and got no form of communcation from them, it is easy to see where the poor customer service originates. Exactly why I never fly United.

  • AndTheHorseYouRodeUpOn

    Of course you are right…….Please people, be aware that CO dba UA is the culprit……their only answer to things is to respond negatively…..”no, we don’t do that”…..”no, you can’t do that”…..”no, it can’t be done”. Bad as UAL was prior to the merger, they were just on the verge of noticeable improvement. Then CO took over and all bets were off.
    1. Bring back FASTAIR and dump SHARES (21st century versus 1968 Eastern Airlines) so that CS agents can work fast and easy while they use common sense.
    2. Move all CO management out of the picture along with CO sympathizers and fearful followers of Smisick from the UA side. Just solicit someone who is not a lawyer and can run an airline !!
    3. Problems solved.

  • AndTheHorseYouRodeUpOn

    Compared to the number of passengers AND EMPLOYEES CO dba UA has aggravated, I hardly think they “compensated” him too much. There is no compensation in United’s book.

  • bayareascott

    75% of staff on meal break at the same time? Not buying that exaggeration. I agree that having a long wait because a flight unexpectedly cancels is a big pain in the ass. Also, airport customer service agents have no ability to hand out miles. They are there to assist with the flight issue, not to hand out “compensation.”

  • Nica

    The airline honored its agreement, but they forgot to take the original 10,000. I think after he went through this channel to get the miles he felt he was owed (since he had their offer in writing), he should do the right thing and tell United about the extra 10,000 miles.

  • Travelnut

    No exaggeration, my friend. I wish I’d taken a picture, just for you. Except my phone died. Cheers.

  • bayareascott

    A picture of all of them eating lunch?

  • BMG4ME

    I disagree. He complained when they stole 7500 miles from him so I am sure he won’t steal 10000 miles from them.