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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Hey, this “award” ticket has a missing leg!

Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com
Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com
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.
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Maybe they should blame your next flight delay on space aliens

Fred Rotgers’ recent flight from San Juan to Newark was canceled because of the weather. At least, that’s what United Airlines claims.

Rotgers doesn’t believe it.

“The weather at both the origin and destination was just fine from the time of cancellation until two days later,” he says. “United called this a pre-emptive cancellation.”

Question is, what was United pre-empting? Like many passengers, Rotgers suspects it had other reasons for canceling the flight. Maybe it was having plane trouble or maybe they failed to sell enough seats on the plane.
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It’s the end of the airline industry as we know it

Airlines don’t exist.

I came to that somewhat Magrittesque conclusion after hearing from Julie Eisenberg, a loyal United Airlines customer who last year spent $1,700 per ticket to fly her partner and herself from Washington to Sydney.

For just $600 more, plus 30,000 miles, United promised her a chance to upgrade into a slightly roomier seat. But the ticket agent she spoke with failed to mention that there were no guarantees and that the money and miles would be deducted from her account then and there, many months before her flight.

“The only way I can get the miles and money back is to cancel my upgrade request,” she says. “They will have possession of the money and the miles from the date I booked, on May 10, 2013.”
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Missing miles on a United Airlines codeshare flight

Tom Bilek/Shutterstock
Tom Bilek/Shutterstock
Glennellen Pace and her husband are missing thousands of frequent flier miles after a trip to Australia and New Zealand. Is there any way to find them?

Question: My husband and I traveled to New Zealand and Australia this past fall. Our airline tickets, which were booked through a travel agent, were purchased through United Airlines.

United, as is often the case, put us on partner airlines for portions of the journey. The airline made two changes to our flights before we left, and in the process they removed our frequent flier numbers from our reservations. We were advised to get these reinstated when we checked in. We tried to do this, but the agent finally told us he was unable to get the computer to take the numbers, so we could take care of it upon our return.

Upon our return, I contacted the United frequent flier phone number to get our miles credited. I ended up spending literally hours with this. Sparing you the details of that time spent, United ended up crediting us for both of our flights between Portland and San Francisco, and between Sydney and San Francisco, but has refused our miles from San Francisco to Auckland (6,531 miles each) and from Christchurch to Sydney (1,322 miles each). They told me, “Air New Zealand says there are no frequent flier miles in your fare class.”
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Why won’t United Airlines honor its fare guarantee?

Digital Media Pro / Shutterstock.com
Digital Media Pro / Shutterstock.com
Chuck Barnes tries to invoke United Airlines’ low fare guarantee. But it doesn’t quite work the way he hoped it would. Is he out of luck?

Question: I made a reservation on United’s website from Tampa to San Francisco for a total price of $180. After completing the reservation I looked up the same itinerary on Orbitz. Much to my surprise, it was $10 less than the price I had just paid on United.com.

United offers a low-fare guarantee. I read the low fare guarantee page to confirm that it covered my fare discrepancy and then I called the United reservations number. The agent I spoke with was polite, but insisted that I had to find the lower fare online at United.com only — Orbitz did not qualify.
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What are airline ticket credits really worth?

Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com
Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com
Bethany Tully might have been forgiven for her confusion. After canceling an upcoming flight from San Francisco to Boston under unhappy circumstances, she discovered that her ticket credit on United Airlines was worth about half what she expected — an increasingly common complaint among air travelers.

Earlier this year, Tully, a chef based in San Francisco, had booked three tickets on Hotwire.com to visit a close friend. “Tragedy struck just before the trip,” she says. “He committed suicide.”

A Hotwire representative assured the grief-stricken customer that she didn’t need to worry. “I was told that I could cancel the tickets and Hotwire would issue a full credit to be used within 12 months,” says Tully. “But I have tried numerous times to use the credits — one being for his funeral service — with no luck.”
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Missed their honeymoon, but whose fault is it?

shutterstock_130173155From time to time, a case crosses my desk that leaves me a little cross-eyed. Melissa Davenport’s does all that, and more.

Let’s get a few things out of the way: There’s a lot about this honeymoon-gone-wrong story that we don’t know. I’m relying on you to help me figure which missing pieces we need to collect – and ultimately, if this case is even fixable.

But based on what Davenport says happened to her daughter Amanda and her new husband, Dan, I think it’s remarkable that they’re still married.

The couple had been planning their honeymoon for a while. But life got in the way of their big vacation. The first winter after they were married, they couldn’t get away because they were still in college; the second winter, Amanda was serving in Afghanistan.

“So you can imagine the anticipation and excitement when it was finally time for them to go,” says Davenport’s mom.
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Let’s unmerge a few airlines

The Justice Department’s settlement agreement with American Airlines and US Airways, which will finally allow the carriers to merge, is taking the airline industry in the wrong direction, say many travelers.

The government, you’ll recall, sued to stop the latest mega-airline from being created this summer, citing competitive concerns. It only green-lit the deal after the airlines promised to surrender gates and landing permissions at several busy airports.

But it’s not what some passengers wanted. Instead, they hoped regulators would go the other way, blocking a wrongheaded merger and maybe undoing a few previous mergers, too.

That’s right, they want to unmerge a few airlines.
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What is an airline credit really worth?

Yu Lan/Shutterstock
Yu Lan/Shutterstock
It happened to Louise Andrew twice last month. She made reservations on the United Airlines Web site, tried to cancel them within 24 hours for a full refund, and was told that the airline would be happy to issue a ticket credit instead.

“Both times, I was initially told that my purchase value would be applied to a future ticket,” says Andrew, an attorney from Redmond, Wash.

That didn’t make sense to her. United promises a no-questions-asked refund on most tickets as long as the request is made within a day of the reservation. And since 2011, the Department of Transportation has required airline reservations to be cancellable without penalty for at least 24 hours after the booking is made, unless the ticket is purchased one week or less before a flight’s departure date.
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