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.
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.
(Photo: Travelin’ Librarian )