UNITED AIRLINES

Is United’s new frequent flier program created for wealthy rocket scientists?

Frequent flier programs have always been complicated and at times seemingly irrational, even for frequent fliers and travel agents.

But United’s new MileagePlus program takes it to a whole new level, since travelers who care about both Elite Status and award tickets now have to consider three different numbers for each trip.

No joke. And two out of three of those numbers are not obvious.
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Do seductive frequent flier programs hurt competition?

If you’ve ever done something for the miles, like Rick Brown has, you probably know the dilemma.

Should you shrug off a higher fare, a less convenient routing or consistently bad service for the promise of a “free” flight?

Brown, who runs a trading company in New York, has done all that — sticking with his preferred carrier, United Airlines, even when the airline struggled. He’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on airfares for himself and his family during his career, “more than on any other airline,” he says.

Research suggests many consumers are similarly seduced, and that the siren song of loyalty programs can lure them into booking a substandard product. The debate is particularly intense now, with United’s’ controversial loyalty program changes taking effect this month. It becomes the latest airline to reward customers based on money spent instead of miles flown.
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Furious at United because she missed her best friend’s funeral

Alicia and Joe Haviland are mad at United Airlines and at me.

They’re furious with United for canceling Alicia’s ticket from Panama City, Panama, to Seattle via Houston and issuing an involuntary refund. As a result, Alicia Haviland missed her best friend’s funeral.

And they’re upset with me because they want me to write about their negative customer service experience and I haven’t — until now.
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Yes, loyalty programs are rigged — but what are you going to do about it?

Remember how easy it used to be to earn frequent flier miles? You’d book a flight on a major airline, go on that trip, and earn miles based on the distance flown — usually one award mile for each flight mile.

It’s not that simple any more.

First, airlines added a class-of-fare bonus so that a purchased first class ticket would earn double miles. Then they started offering their own branded credit cards so you’d earn miles when you purchased your airline ticket on the card, one mile per dollar spent on a ticket on their flights. And then they upped the ante to two miles per airline ticket dollar (their airline, of course) and one mile for every other dollar charged on the card.
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My sister is in the ICU – can United Airlines keep my money?

When Patricia McConkey’s sister ends up in the intensive care unit, she has to cancel her cruise. Royal Carribean offers a full refund, but her airline pockets all of her money. Can it do that?

Question: My husband and I booked a Royal Caribbean cruise for last March. But before we left, my sister was taken to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. I have power of attorney, and the family was called in, and there was some decisions that I had to make.

On March 7th, I called both the cruise line and United Airlines, and asked for a refund. The cruise line refunded our fare (thank you, Royal Caribbean) but I just received an email from United saying it would not do anything for me.

They told me my ticket was non-transferable and non-refundable. I thought they might do something for me, considering that this was a medical emergency. Is there anything else I can do? — Patricia McConkey, Northfield, Ohio

Answer: I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. You could have certainly done without the additional stress of canceling your vacation and then worrying about a refund. It’s a good opportunity for your cruise line and airline to show some compassion.

It was exceptionally generous — and, I should add, highly unusual — for Royal Caribbean to offer a full refund under these circumstances. Normally, if you’re outside the cancellation window and you don’t have any travel insurance, you’re outta luck.
Nice work, Royal Caribbean.

I’m puzzled by United’s response. Normally, an airline would offer a ticket credit if you cancel a flight before leaving, which you did.

In reviewing your paperwork, it seems United was confused by the fact that you were asking for a full refund, and after it rejected the claim, it also tagged you as a “no show” for the flight. In effect, you lost your entire airfare because of it.
United should have said, “No, but you can get a ticket credit” when you asked for a refund. It appears the airline sent you the wrong form response.

In a situation like this, you can appeal to the airline, but you have to know what to ask for. A ticket credit might have allowed you to use the money (minus a change fee and fare differential) on a re-do of your cruise, if you have the time for it. You can find the names of United’s customer-service managers on my site. Its email addresses are formatted as firstname.lastname@united.com.

I contacted United on your behalf. It offered you a full refund.

Should United have refunded Patricia McConkey's fare?

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