United Promises There's No Fee, Then Takes $150 Out Of Your Account

We all know that just because a rep on the phone promises you something, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true. But in Alan’s case, two different United reps both confirmed, repeatedly—he asked several times before completing the purchase and again before canceling—that he could cancel his tickets within 24 hours of purchase without paying a fee. A week after he canceled, he was hit with a $150 non-refundable fee that one United rep admitted was a new policy that wasn’t in writing—but United still refused to reverse it.

Unlike so many of our airline stories, Alan finally managed to get his $150 back, but only after he escalated it to Dennis Cary, the Chief Customer Officer at United. Alan writes,

[Denis Cary] emailed me back saying someone would contact me. The next day, someone called me back and offered to refund the fee. Oddly enough, they indicated that no fee should have been applied (as the original agent indicated).

I applaud United for doing the right thing in the end, but its seems ridiculous it took such escalation. Hopefully, people can learn from my mistake, and just email Dennis Cary directly.

Here’s the email Alan sent to Cary. Maybe if you run into a similar problem with United’s reps in the future, you can follow his advice and achieve some resolution.

From: Alan
To: Cary, Dennis
Subject: United Airlines Dispute – A Loyal but highly unsatisfied customer

Hello Dennis,

I write to you contemplating my next steps in my quest for fairness in a dispute with United Airlines.

Since taking my post as a consultant 3 years ago, I have spent many of my days flying on planes, several with United (Premier Member XXXXX). I have largely been satisfied as a United customer, frequenting the airline with my project team when the route so takes us. After amassing miles on United, I decided to take a personal trip with your airline to Toronto in January 2009.

I was excited to use my miles to take my significant other to my home town of Toronto. I was flirting with several different potential travel dates, and as such, was very cognizant of the need for a ticketing option which was refundable. On January 8th 2009, I called United Airlines Mileage Plus (I was intending to use United Airline Miles) to inquire about booking 2 tickets. Given my concern about cancellation, I peppered the agent with questions about potential fees – I am a frequent flier, thus (somewhat) aware of what to ask. The agent told me in black and white, that I would be charged no fees if I cancelled my ticket(s) within 24 hours. I then again, explained to the agent I may cancel the ticket, and then reconfirmed that there would be no fees in that event. I booked the ticket using Rewards miles on January 8th 2008 in the morning

According to two United representatives, there was to be no fee when I cancelled my ticket.

Ticket confirmation number: XXX Ticket number(s): XXXXX,XXXXX

I called back on January 8th in the evening, and cancelled the ticket, and was told (by a different agent) there would be no fees. On January 15th (in the morning) I checked my Debit card statement, and noticed a $150 charge from United. I called United immediately, and spoke to several agents. The 3rd agent I spoke to told me the fee was a ‘non refundable processing fee’ but offered to provide an Airline Voucher for the amount (150). I stated this was unacceptable, as United had assessed this fee without my consent. I was then directed to the Customer Relations department, as I was told that they could potentially provide a refund. In Customer Relations I spoke to Navneet Kaur, and then her supervisor Vandana Sharma. Vandana was very pleasant, and was largely in agreement that it appeared United had mislead me. After placing me on hold several times to ‘exhaust her options’, Vandana told me there was nothing to be done. The fee was ‘non refundable’ and ‘valid’ and that United was ‘not on my booking phone call’ and thus could not verify what the booking agent did or did not do. I continued to explain to the Vandana that a United representative has essentially lied to me, and United had then taken my money under false pretenses. Vanada acquiesced that it appeared United was not standing behind its agents, and betraying a loyal customer. I was then told, by Vanada “We are at an impasse. United will not refund the fee”

United Case Number: XXXXX

After dealing with this difficult and emotional situation, I was unsure of my next course of action. I then filed a fraud dispute with Citibank. With Citi Rep Debbie (ID: XXXXX) on the phone (Feb 18th 2009), I called United to further inquire about the charge. The United rep who answered the phone was nothing short of hostile. Debbie then began in a line of questions to aid in my cause dealing with a fraudulent charge. Debbie first asked if the initiative was new, the agent stated the charge was a new initiative at United. Debbie then inquired as to whether customers had been notified of the change, and the United rep said “No” – Debbie asked whether the change was in writing, the United Rep said “No”

According to a United representative the fee charged to United customers is not in writing, and customers were not notified of the potential fee (even after I asked several questions to several reps before booking my tickets).

Unfortunately, despite my filling with Citibank , Mastercard International has not taken up my cause. Regardless of Mastercards mishandling of this issue, I am well aware that fraud has occurred. United agents have without question lied to me and taken funds without my consent. I except that some (if not all these calls) are documented and could be used as evidence to support my claim. Moreover, I have a Citibank representative (Debbie) who was on the phone with me when a United representative informed us of the unfair and unacceptable business practices relating to my claim.

The callousness of United in dealing with my claim has been not only disappointing, but disturbing. As a management consultant, (not to mention a general consumer) I am well aware of the proper value of ethical business practices. I can hardly comprehend that several United agents have lied to me, and that United is unwilling to stand behind their employees.

Truthfully, I would not expect any business to purport that lying to its customers is OK – I hope this situation can be rectified.

If you are not able to help resolve this issue, I suspect I will explore legal action and every other avenue I can to add visibility to this egregiousness.

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter, I await your response.


(Photo: piston9)

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