I didn’t get upgraded, but United won’t return my $1,100

By | May 18th, 2017

Susan Nordstrom Lopez prepaid for two seat upgrades on a United Airlines flight to London. The upgrade didn’t come through, and neither did her refund. Can our advocates help her obtain her refund from United Airlines?

Question: Six months ago, my husband and I flew on United Airlines to London. We were on the waiting list for upgrades to business class. We prepaid the $1,100 upgrade fee, but did not receive the upgrade. We also didn’t receive a refund of our prepaid upgrade fee. We’ve prepaid for upgrades on United in the past, and we usually receive a refund on our credit card the same day the upgrade doesn’t go through. But not this time. And, we haven’t received our MileagePlus credit for the same flight. I’ve written many emails to the United Airlines service center, but I still can’t get a refund or the mileage credit. What should I do next?– Susan Nordstrom Lopez, Chicago, Ill.

Answer: When you prepaid the upgrade fee for your flight, you had nothing to lose. You took a no-risk gamble. If you didn’t receive the upgrade, you would get your money back. But, this time, your no-risk gamble turned into a high-risk gamble because you didn’t get your money back, and you couldn’t get anyone at United to help you. And you didn’t receive the MileagePlus credit for the same flight.

Essentially, you paid $1,100 more for two economy seats and didn’t even receive the award miles for the flight.


United’s MileagePlus Upgrade Awards system allows members to use a combination of miles and money to fly in an upgraded seat. The miles are deducted from the member’s account, and the payment is made at the time the upgrade is requested. If an upgraded seat is available when the request is made, the upgrade is confirmed.

Related story:   Could United Airlines' chaotic computer "cutover" have been avoided?

If a seat isn’t available and the member is waitlisted, United still deducts the miles and charges the upgrade fee when the request is made. But, United “will automatically refund any miles, co-pay and taxes you paid if none of your flights are upgraded.”

There was no question about your entitlement to a refund and to the award miles you earned for the flight. You just couldn’t get anyone at United to do anything to correct the situation.

You reached out to our advocates for help. Alternatively, you could have posted your question to our help forums, which are staffed by travel industry experts, and often read by company executives. Our forum advocates may have had helpful suggestions for you. And, you could have tried escalating your complaint beyond the United Airlines service center, by directly contacting company executives for help. We list executive contact information on our website.

Our advocates contacted United Airlines on your behalf. You received a phone call from a United agent telling you that there was a coding error and that you would have a credit in a few days. We’re happy that we were able to help you resolve this problem.



  • sirwired

    After “many e-mails”, personally I would have moved on to a credit card dispute. Certainly it’s usually a lot less time-consuming than trying to escalate to heck and back for a clear error.

  • BubbaJoe123

    True, but they wouldn’t have gotten their miles back in that case.

  • Bill___A

    Although it is great that the Elliott team is there to assist (good job by the way), it is disturbing that such an obvious thing cannot be resolved between the passenger and the airline. United should take note of each and every employee who dealt with this passenger (and didn’t solve the problem), they need some better training because they aren’t performing their jobs and wasted people’s time.

  • MarkKelling

    Not gonna celebrate until that credit actually appears!

  • Lindabator

    if she emailed and never received a response, just WHO do you think dealt with it?

  • Bill___A

    Good point, they should have tried phoning when the emails did not receive a response. There might have been something wrong with how their domain was sending mail, or the words in the email being caught in a filter.

  • Alan Gore

    Because this treatment is the Airline Way. Delay, delay, delay until the complainer goes away. This will go on until there is specific punishment for ignoring a dispute.

  • cscasi

    I seldom wait on the phone for very long when I call United; especially when I am talking to the section that handles the reward miles/award ticketing. I have always gotten good service and they are pretty quick to resolve any issued. However, I can only speak for my experiences.

  • Michael__K

    They are required by their own customer service plan, and by law, to:

    acknowledge written complaints within 30 days of receipt and […] send a substantive written response within 60 days of receiving your written complaint.
    https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/customerfirst.aspx

    If they are not doing this then a DOT complaint is warranted. And if enough passengers complain, then they can expect the DOT to fine them, like the DOT has previously fined Turkish Airlines and Southwest Airlines for their failures to respond to written complaints.

  • joycexyz

    What training???

  • joycexyz

    Not only airlines. The list goes on…

  • jsn55

    Good article, Diane. Obviously there was a glitch somewhere and instead of putting someone on the task of figuring it out, United just dorked around. Glad she was made whole. I hope they coughed up a few thousand miles for her trouble.

  • Lindabator

    they may have never RECEIVED it – which is why if she never got the automated response, she should have picked up the phone

  • Shirley G

    Contact the DOT. You get a response ASAP.

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