EECB Scores $100 Direct Hit On United Airlines

It took a little negotiating but reader Noah was able to get United Airlines to honor the agreement that their CSR made, despite the fact that it was a violation of some kind of deeply sacred policy.

Here’s Noah’s letter:

I had read your articles on United Airlines for a while now, but always thought “that couldn’t happen to me”. In fact I’ve had positive United experiences over the years. Nevertheless, this current situation has me recanting any nice thing I’ve said about them. Here’s the quick version:

1. Girlfriend and I are trying to make Thanksgiving holiday travel plans. I have a pair of vouchers for United, a $100 and $200, from a previous airline error where United stood up and took responsibility. We wanted to apply both of these vouchers for the single ticket, from Seattle to D.C.

2. The United website bizarrely does not let you enter voucher codes. You get a message telling you to call their reservations department and read numbers to them. As we’ll soon see, this is not a foolproof system.

3. I call the reservations department and speak to a nice fellow. I tell him the information on the flight I want and tell him I have two vouchers I’d like to apply. He says that two vouchers cannot be used on a single ticket. Fair enough, but I ask for an exception in this case. It never hurts to ask, and sure enough the gentleman puts me on hold for a few minutes, then comes back and says he can allow both vouchers to be used for the ticket. The process involves physically mailing the vouchers in(scary!), but they’re not doing me any good in my apartment. I give him the credit card info to be charged, which he says will occur at the price quoted when United receives both vouchers. Both are mailed in.

4. A week later the credit card was charged, $100 higher than the price originally quoted. It was obvious only a single voucher was used. Annoyed but not overly so, I call customer service and explain the billing error.

5. No luck. Each person, supervisor or otherwise, goes through the same dance. They were very sorry for the misinformation I was given, the offending reservation agent will be swiftly disciplined, under no circumstances can two vouchers be used, and the credit card will not be credited the difference. Disturbingly, each department I speak with(reservations and customer relations) says the other department has the authority to make the change, but it comes to the same effect as no one does. I suggested that if policy prevents two vouchers from being used at once, they cancel the flight and issue a single $300 voucher. To this a supervisor lightly laughed, said the ticket was “confirmed”, and could not be canceled or altered in any way without incurring heavy fees.

6. Undeterred, I fired off an EECB to four high ranked United executives. I talked about “rare missteps” and “working together”, because after all, I had liked United and I presumed they liked me. The response came back not from any executive but from customer relations, again apologizing that the original rep had given me the wrong price, again saying he would be disciplined, again saying vouchers could not be combined, and (again) saying I was screwed.

7. I write a cathartic letter to the Consumerist.

I know some people would give up at this point, but my girlfriend and I are not wealthy people. $100 is not chump change to us. Also problematic is United having no accountability for outright lying to me about the price of an airline ticket. Confusion I can understand when two vouchers come in nominally against policy, but that does not give them the right to simply charge a credit card for more than the price quoted and hope no one says a thing. A call for clarification would have taken 60 seconds, and after no one would be in this mess.

Strangely for this kind of situation, United has admitted fault every single time I’ve interacted with an employee on this issue. They simply don’t think their fault extends to, you know, doing something about it. Why in the world would I care that the ticketing agent is going to be disciplined, and why are you telling me about your company’s internal employee policies anyway? I want the price we agreed to when I gave you two vouchers and a credit card. Take some responsibility for your agent’s mistake. At the time anyway, he represented United Airlines, and was relied upon as such. Sigh.

Noah didn’t give up after sending this letter to us. He kept corresponding with United until eventually they offered to refund his $100.

Noah says:

After receiving [another] letter and sending my response, I received a call today from an assistant to the VP of United. She again apologized for the employee’s error and offered to refund $100 to the credit card, to match the price originally quoted. She did claim it was against policy, but “I had put in so much work” that it seemed fair. Well, whether it was the EECB or name-dropping consumerist.com, United eventually stepped up and did the right thing. Thanks for being such a good ace in the hole.

Congratulations, Noah!

For more information about launching your own EECB, click here.

(Photo: Travelin’ Librarian )

Comments

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  1. Grats to Noah on getting his United straightened out. I also have had nothing but good experiences with United (aside from the occasional delay that you can expect from ANY airline). However I stopped traveling monthly over a year ago, and so have not had the advantage of recent experiences to color my thinking.

    Also Noah … I read about the first 8th of your letter … Paragraphs PLEASE! ;)

  2. Ah looks like the article suffered a reformat since my last comment … I shall now finish the full article, and thank the editor ;)

  3. Jevia says:

    Yeah, sometimes if you bitch enough, an airline will come through and make “an exception.” I got one once with Lufthansa, so they have a plus in my book.

    My only gripe with vouchers is that some airlines (cough *American* cough) make you pay to use them because you can only redeem them over the telephone, where they charge you an extra $30 for a ‘telephone reservation.’ Even though the voucher I used for American was worth more than the ticket, they wouldn’t just subtract the $30 from the voucher.

  4. JediJohn82 says:

    Once again, persistence pays off!

  5. madfrog says:

    Good for you! After all that hard work, you deserve it!

  6. moore850 says:

    I love how it’s “against policy” to honor a price agreed upon… that’s just plain fraud, right?

  7. SkokieGuy says:

    I wonder if since Noah agreed and authorized a specific amount to be charged to his credit card, if United’s action (charging a higher amount) is credit card fraud?

    And how sad that the credit to make United’s charges match what United promised is being done because of all of “Noah’s hard work” and not because United made a mistake.

  8. oneandone says:

    I’m impressed by the persistance – wish I could do the same. I’ll keep this in mind next time I’m tempted to just walk away from frustrating customer service runarounds.

    Vouchers are a huge pain – a friend of mine was told to physically go to a Delta ticket agent at the airport to redeem his. There was no other way to do it – and this was just 3 years ago. It was a $500 voucher, so he thought it was worth it, but I always suspected it was an intentional obstacle to redeeming it.

  9. sruss13 says:

    Interesting that this policy is so sacred – I just used two vouchers on one ticket with United. Although the CSR told me I could only use one, I pushed the issue because the vouchers were issued as compensation for a previous incident. I was told I would be issued $300, which ended up coming in two vouchers. The CSR easily relented, and when I went to the airport to purchase the ticket, no one batted an eye when I used both vouchers. (I was annoyed, however, that I had to pay the fee to reserve the ticket over the phone and drive to the airport to pay for it.)

  10. econobiker says:

    @oneandone:

    I am guessing that the Delta ticket airport on-site redeeming and United’s insistance on mailing the voucher in are probably to encourage the same type of “breakage” as the rebate industry always seeks.

    It is amazing that he got it credited based on United’s past issues that have lead to the creation of Untied.com which is a consumer site against United. Reading the horror stories on that site show the contrast in how well Noah made out…

  11. nicemarmot617 says:

    To the OP:

    United does not like you or care about you in any way, shape or form. You are merely a meat sack filling one of their seats. I should know. I used to live in a Midwestern town and my only airport choices were Northworst and United. United managed to make it very clear that they do not care about anything but their CEO’s bonuses.