United's Executive Customer Service Saves Your Honeymoon

Nathaniel is a Milage Plus member with United who has been saving his miles in the hopes of cashing them in for two tickets to Ireland for his honeymoon. When he finally got enough miles, he called United to book his reward seats and got a nice “talking to” by their customer service rep for not booking far enough in advance.

For those of you who don’t often book reward travel, it’s not easy. There are a limited number of seats made available for those booking free economy tickets with frequent flier miles. You’re much more likely to get a seat if you use your miles for an upgrade…. but that’s another topic. This post is about Nathaniel. Read his email inside.

Nathaniel writes:

You guys just saved my honeymoon!

I’m getting married in July, and shortly after, my fianc

e and I have been planning on spending a week in Ireland for our honeymoon.

I fly to Shanghai for my work fairly frequently, so I’ve been signed up for United’s Mileage Plus plan. My work pays for the tickets, but I get the miles, so it works out pretty nicely. I figured out that by the time of my honeymoon, I would have enough miles to get each of us a free (economy) ticket to ireland. I also got a united visa card, to rack up even more points.

I spent a lot of time looking over the cryptic Mileage Plus website, reading all the rules and restrictions. They said that you could order tickets up to 300-something days in advance, and no closer than 24 hours before the flight. So I kept checking flight availability while I saved up miles, assuming that if I could still see seats for the flight available, I’d be able to get those seats with my miles.

I finally saved up the 100,000 miles I needed for two seats, and called up United to book the flight.

I was surprised to hear that all flights were booked for july, august, and September. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and she (very rudely) told me that I should have booked 9-10 months before. (Even after I told her that I had JUST gotten the 100,000 miles, she interrupted me and said “Well, how long have you known about this trip. Maybe you should have thought about this sooner?” in a very condescending tone.)

I said some choice words to her at this point (Which I know I shouldn’t have done, and I know I should have gotten her name) and hung up.

After I calmed down, I called customer service back, and got a much nicer agent who once again explained that there wasn’t anything I could do.

I understand that these agents didn’t have the power to change anything, though the first one could have been nicer about talking to me, especially since this was my honeymoon trip!

So, no where else to turn, I went to consumerist, and typed in United in the search box. And, amazingly, you guys posted the email for United’s VP of customer service, Graham Atkinson!

I sent Mr. Atkinson a very nice email, and explained my situation. The next day, I got a call from Robert Yomoda, a very nice agent in Chicago, who told me that he was forwarded my email, and wanted to see how he could help out.

I explained my situation, and told him when we were hoping to fly, and how flexible we were with dates and locations. He told me that he would start searching for flights, and would call me the next day.

Sure enough, he called me on saturday, and told me that he found us a flight! It was complicated, but it works. The flight out goes from SFO to Frankfurt to Dublin. That’s not so bad. The return flight goes from Dublin to London to Ottowa, overnight stay in Ottawa, to Toronto, to SFO.

So, I told him that we like adventures, and that we’d go for it.

Long story short, I used your executive contact information, and got the flight I needed!

Thank you, Consumerist, for saving my honeymoon!

-Nathaniel

Yay! Constant readers will remember Mr. Atkinson. We accidentally posted his cell phone number. (We didn’t know it was his cell phone number! We swear! We’re not that mean!) Anyway, he seems like the guy to email if something goes awry with United. Have fun in Ireland!—MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Drewski2112)

RELATED: Get United Airlines Executive Customer Service

Comments

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  1. Toof_75_75 says:

    Awesome! Go Consumerist, go Mr. Atkinson! Good work all around!

  2. gvonk says:

    Jesus, three layovers for a total of four legs to get home? That gives new meaning to the phrase “The honeymoon is over.”

  3. tonkyhonk says:

    What does it say about United that you must escalate to their Executive Customer Service to get a trip booked? The routing they offered Nathaniel is complicated. To me, that says it was available all along and could have been found of the original customer service staff had been helpful enough.

  4. lore says:

    @gvonk: Don’t forget, each leg counts as a segment. He’ll soon be racking up miles to keep his 1K status! Look at the bright side.

  5. JustAGuy2 says:

    @lore: Except that you don’t earn miles when flying on a free ticket.

  6. lore says:

    @JustAGuy2: DUH! Forgot that he was using a free ticket. :-) Good call.

  7. ladycrumpet says:

    Yay for an airline going the extra mile – if only that happened more often! I’m not surprised though about flights being booked up so quickly – summer is a peak time for that kind of travel.

  8. FatLynn says:

    This may be one of the whiniest posts I have ever seen on the consumerist. No, the woman shouldn’t have used “a condescending tone”, but that is the only think UA did wrong, here. I can’t believe that the executive customer service bothered with this guy.

  9. nucleotide says:

    @lore: I don’t think you rack up miles or segments on award travel flights.

  10. Buran says:

    @FatLynn: He booked within the availability window, according to United’s own site, United’s rep was a total jerk to him, there were seats listed as available, and the guy had a perfectly good reason for booking when he did.

    They did the right thing, and that first rep should be either reprimanded or fired.

    It’s about time an airline did something right!

    That doesn’t mean I’m about to stop using Southwest, though. Especially not after their “screw the bill of rights” shenanigans.

  11. forrester says:

    Good work on getting the trip booked but I smell some lost luggage claims on the way home!

  12. FatLynn says:

    @Buran: The fact that there are seats available on a flight does NOT mean that there are available Mileage Plus Award seats available on a flight. I’m sorry that he did not understand that, but that is hardly UA’s fault. He could search on their website for award seats, and it would show him what flights were available for purchase with miles.

    If I go online today and see a flight in December that has seats for $200, and then try to book it in December, does the airline owe me that $200 price? No. The fact that seats are available does not mean that United has to sell them to me on my terms, or even on terms that they were offering in the past for that same flight.

  13. FrankTheTank says:

    Yeah, with all these credit cards and partnerships, frequent flier miles have become useless unless you want to fly on Wednesday morning and return on Tuesday night on a flight from a city’s hub.

    I mean, I’m glad that it worked out for this guy, but I don’t think I would have looked down on United for ignoring a guy who didn’t bother to learn about how difficult it is to get frequent flier based tickets (especially economy).

    Good for him, it’s nice that United did this for a guys honeymoon, but I’d consider more of a gift from United than “fulfilling their service requirement”.

  14. crnk says:

    OP/reader made the mistake of ASSUMING that seats for sale=redemption available seats. That would be

    @FatLynn: you’re totally correct on everything you said.

    Sorry, no sympathy about not getting reward seats or that the only routing available was long and tedious. Check early and often next time, and be patient with it. Also, try partners, since that almost always helps open up options.

  15. robrob says:

    yeah, this guy is a total noob frequent flyer and a pretty gross misuse of exec-customer service..


    So I kept checking flight availability while I saved up miles, assuming that if I could still see seats for the flight available, I’d be able to get those seats with my miles.

    a huge, and way incorrect, assumption.

  16. amejr999 says:

    This is absurd. You expect seats to be available for a reward ticket this close to the departure?

  17. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @amejr999:

    Not always true… I flew Southwest on a Rapid Rewards ticket yesterday that I booked on Monday. So it works out pretty nicely on at least one (good) airline.

  18. natemartin says:

    Hey, I’m the guy who wrote the email.

    I completely admit that I’m a noob when it comes to booking frequenty flyer miles.

    However, as far as I know, there’s no where on their website that states that there is a seperate pool of tickets for awards travel. You can’t check the online “book award flights” tool, because flights to ireland go through partner airlines. With partner airlines, you can only book by calling united.

    I now know that the next time I want to book award travel, I’ll book it in advance, as soon as the tickets are available, and if this was any flight except my honeymoon flight, I wouldn’t have tried the executive contact. But in this case, it was my only option left.

    I’ve got no problem with their policy about availablity of award travel, I just think it should be much more clear on their site for people like me who have never used it before.

  19. FatLynn says:

    On their site, they clearly delineate between standard rewards and saver rewards. Standard rewards can be used for any available seats. Saver awards can not. You mention 100,000 miles for two tickets to Europe, which tells me you were in the saver rewards category.

    I don’t think that any reasonable person would see that that standard fares cost 100,000 miles per ticket, and assume that you can get them for 50,000 miles per ticket without some kind of a catch.

  20. natemartin says:

    @FatLynn:
    No, I was trying to get a saver award. Here’s what it says about saver awards:

    “Booking restrictions: Awards must be booked 24 hours in advance of travel. Advance booking of two hours is required if the award is wholly on United.”

  21. FatLynn says:

    @natemartin: Um, that’s what I said, you were trying to get a saver award.

    It honestly did not occur to you that there may be some restrictions on the awards that cost half of standard awards? It says right on the page that “Capacity-control restrictions apply”.

  22. tonkyhonk says:

    @amejr999: Seats were available this close to departure as is obvious from Nathaniel’s success. The original CS reps he spoke with were lazy.

  23. ingridc says:

    @FatLynn: Cut the guy some slack. He already admitted that he was a frequent flier miles noob and that he’ll know better next time. I definitely think that he could have done better research prior to booking, and should have called a CSR to clarify the TOS even before he had accumulated all of his award mileage. But there’s no need for the “Any reasonable person” and “It honestly did not occur to you” comments. It clearly “honestly” did not occur to him. “Capacity-control restrictions” clarify VERY little if you’re unfamiliar with frequent-flier booking terminology.

  24. acambras says:

    @ingridc:

    Thank you — very well put. I wanted to write a similar comment, but mine was more along the lines of the less-eloquent, “Jeez, can we stop some of the hatin’ on Nate here?”

  25. FatLynn says:

    @ingridc: You’re right, having to take the itinerary he described is probably punishment enough.

    I am not trying to personally attack Nate, but I think this situation was an abuse of the Executive Customer Service line, and if enough people abuse it, it will not be there when someone *actually* gets screwed by the airline and wants to get it fixed.

  26. cabinaero says:

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t have much sympathy… capacity control on award tickets and upgrades is pretty much common sense and is spelled out explicitly both on United.com as well as in the Mileage Plus T&C (you did read the T&C, right? And United’s Contract of Carriage where you can learn that no shirt, no shoes = no service and that there is a $75 for checking antlers.) I’m always surprised at how flippantly people treat air travel. You’re making a multi-hundred dollar if not multi-thousand dollar purchase: RESEARCH IT FER CYRIN’ OUT LOUD.

    United really went the extra mile for you. Get yourself some good karma and send a quick email to pam*DOT*coslet*AT*united*DOT*com explaining the situation. Ms. Coslet is Customer Relations manager at United. Any comments on UA employees (good or bad) will get filtered down to the correct department and into the employee’s personnel file. These do get read and do get passed onto the individual employee.

    Also, some advice for your upcoming trip:
    * If you are a United Premier Executive or higher, you also have Star Alliance Gold status. When flying internationally, this grants you and a guest complimentary access to any United Red Carpet Club or Star Alliance partner lounge with a ‘Star Alliance Gold’ placard next to the door. If you want to get into a Star Alliance partner lounge, you need to have your Mileage Plus card.

    You should be given two drink chits in the RCC at your international gateway — SFO on the outbound and LHR (I think) on your return. Sometimes you need to be a bit insistent about these but, fortunately, SFO is very good about following procedure.

    If anything bad happens to your flights (and with such a convoluted routing, it can), the RCC agents are going to be better at sorting it out than the ‘outside’ customer service reps. Shorter lines at the RCC means the reps have more time to investigate.

    * You are allowed one and ONLY ONE carry-on per traveller when flying through LHR. A briefcase, laptop bag, rucksack, purse, etc is counted as a carry-on. If you have a laptop and a roll aboard, be prepared to check the roll aboard. This rule is actively and *strictly* enforced. It does not matter if you are only transiting LHR: you get ONE carry-on.

    Also, wear good walking shoes through LHR. Be prepared to do A LOT of walking.

    * If you are going to continue flying to PVG for business, come over to FlyerTalk.com and join us on the UA board. We will welcome you with milk, pillows, and ramekins of hot nuts. We can school you on all things UA.

  27. natemartin says:

    @cabinaero:

    Thanks for the advice! I’ve already sent an email back to Mr. Atkinson thanking him profusely, and telling him how helpful Robert was. Should I send an email to Ms Coslet as well? I absolutely know that United went the extra mile for me, and I want them to know how much I appreciate it, and how helpful they were.

    I wish I had gotten the name of the agent that was rude to me, but I was so upset at that point that I just hung up.

    Thanks for the advice on LHR as well. United told me about the one carryon restriction. I’ll have my laptop, my wife will have her purse, everything else should be able to be checked.

    I’ll check out flyertalk.com since I’ll definately be travelling to PVG many more times.

    Thanks!

  28. cabinaero says:

    @natemartin: No problem; you’ve got the right attitude and anything I can do to help out another UA flyer is good by me. United isn’t as bad as many on Consumerist make it out to be — it’s just that you need to be well informed and very proactive consumer or you’ll run into problems. Even lurking on FlyerTalk helps immensely with that (it’s a board populated by crazies who will fly to Singapore — just for the hell of it. Or spend about 45 minutes in London just to earn miles — that would be me.) Just chalk this initial mulligan up to naïveté and be glad that you got 1K/UGS level service.

    Definitely send an email to Ms. Coslet. Be sure to include the agent’s name, your M+ account number, and your reservation locator so her staff can find the correct employee. I don’t know if they can see who’s *touched* your profile, but I’d definitely mention your bad experience and give the date and approximate time. Even if they can’t nail it down a given employee, the complaint will go into a general pool of “stuff we need to work on”.

    Good luck on the DUB-trip and congrats! Hope to see you on FT.

  29. cabinaero says:

    BTW, after joining FlyerTalk, you’ll kick yourself for booking this as award travel. You should’ve put the fiancee on an award ticket and made your honeymoon into a mileage run.

  30. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    From customer service, I expect above and beyond the call of duty at a MINIMUM. If they’re not willing to go the extra mile for the customer, they shouldn’t have that job anyways.

  31. Kalik says:

    Well, pretty much what everyone else said about how it is a bit naive to think that you can book award tickets so little in advance. But you learn from your mistakes so hopefully next time it will be smoother!

    I’m so paranoid that I’ve booked my award ticket in March for my December/January holiday flights!

  32. Buran says:

    @FatLynn: Read it again: “So I kept checking flight availability while I saved up miles, assuming that if I could still see seats for the flight available, I’d be able to get those seats with my miles.”

    In other words: checking the “can I use my miles?” tool. Southwest (my airline of choice) has one.

  33. FatLynn says:

    @Buran: No, he never says that he was checking for awards seats, just that he was checking for seats. The two are not the same.

  34. Her Grace says:

    He also said that because Ireland uses partner airlines, he couldn’t check to see if the award seats were available and was assuming empty seats meant there must be a few.

    We are not all so savvy in the ways of the airlines. Thankfully, we’re not all such bitches, either.

  35. Theseus says:

    Just had to pop on to say that I’ve worked with Graham a few times (sold him consulting services) and he is a incredibly decent and smart guy.

    No surprise that he played the hero in this story!

  36. FatLynn says:

    @Her Grace: It’s not a matter of being savvy about airlines, it’s a matter of common sense.

    Say you want to buy a DVD player. You go to a store and see two different DVD players made by the same company, but one is $30 and one is $60. At first glance, the boxes look the same. Would you assume the exact same item is inside?

    Okay, now assume you go to United’s website and see that some award tickets to Europe are 50,000 miles, and others are 100,000 miles. Would you assume they have the same terms and conditions?

    United did a very nice thing, and I am glad the OP managed to work out his honeymoon trip. However, IMO, these executive service lines should only be used for situations where the company actually has screwed the customer (and we know that happens often enough). That was not the case in this situation.