How I Lost 90,000 United Miles

Marissa says she booked a flight in 2008 before canceling and using the credit to try to buy another flight. But United said she’d waited too long to re-book the flight, so her sunk cost and frequent flyer miles are gone.

She writes:

I have been through a customer service maze for the last few weeks and I just received an email from United Refunds Department that has my blood boiling.

I re-booked a ticket that I originally booked in 2008, to travel for February 24. When I called to confirm my seats, I was told by the United rep that the ticket was no longer valid AND that they could not refund the miles to my account because it had been more than 2 years. If I had known during rebooking that this would happen, I would have happily refunded the miles to my account.

Instead, I am left without a ticket and without my 90,000. Whoever I talk to or email does not actually take into account the fact that I had successfully (or so I thought) rebooked the ticket and was not made aware of this policy. United effectively has stolen my 90,000 miles from me.

Have you ever canceled a flight and lost your credit and miles because you waited too long to buy a new flight? What do you think Marissa can do to get her money and miles back?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Hi_Hello says:

    isn’t there a print somewhere the say it last for 90 days or one year or something. I remember getting a voucher that said it was good up to a year.

    • nbs2 says:

      One year.

      It’s spelled out pretty clearly. I am a little bothered that they let her make the reservation, though. That certainly serves as a bit of a mitigating factor – the system should have caught that before allowing her to complete her booking (or the phone operator should have caught it if done over the phone (or the TA if done at the airport)).

      • common_sense84 says:

        I’d have to side with the OP. The system treated her voucher as valid to begin with.

        And invalidating a voucher that could have easily been converted back into points that don’t expire is pretty scammy.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      I wouldn’t expect to be able to rebook a ticket two years later. And because of that, United shouldn’t have let her try.

      Having said that, her question is awkwardly worded and seems to be omitting some information. Did she rebook in 2008, to fly in 2011? Or did she get a voucher and decide she wanted to cash it in three years later? No voucher I’ve ever seen went out beyond 180 days, but I’ve only been issued vouchers because of weather/mechanical problems, not because of something I initiated. Maybe that’s different.

  2. PupJet says:

    Huh? You booked a ticket 2 years+ in advance?

  3. FatLynn says:

    So she moved the date on a ticket (which you can do with an award ticket), they let her do it at the time, and then when the flight approached, they said the ticket doesn’t exist?

    I’m pretty sure that you can only move a date up to 364 days, but if they let her do it and issued proof of an e-ticket, I’d get someone like the AG involved.

    • FatLynn says:

      Wait, I take that back, I want more info.

      I’m wondering if she pushed her flight out 364 days, and then pushed it out a second time. The agent thought it was not a problem to do it, and then later the computer caught the loophole.

    • nbs2 says:

      It sounds like she:

      1) booked non-refundable award ticket in 2008, unknown date
      2) cancelled 2008 booking, placing award ticket in United limbo
      3) some time in 2010 booked travel for Feb 24, 2011 using limboed award ticket
      4) called to confirm ticket (reason not given), advised that award ticket was not valid (had expired) and that award ticket could not be rescued from limbo (had expired)

      If I recall correctly, being an avowed United-hater and CO loyalist, UA does not charge a fee for putting the award ticket in limbo, but does charge a fee for the refund/rescue of the award ticket from said purgatory.

  4. polishhillbilly says:

    I lost around 50K miles, but I gave up on flying totally in 2003.

  5. Higher750 says:

    I seriously doubt that in 2008 the ticket was rebooked for a flight in 2011.

    What likely happened is that the ticket was canceled back in 2008 and then “re-booked” recently. Which means that the original miles went back into the account and if they sat with no activity between then and now, they’d have expired.

    It sucks that miles expire, but if they sit for more than 18 months (I believe that is the United policy) without any activity on the account, they do expire.

  6. nbs2 says:

    I’ve addressed what I think happened as replies to other comments, but didn’t answer Phil’s questions.

    1) No. I read the terms.
    2) Nothing, except hope that UAL goes above and beyond. Which they won’t, because UAL is the debil.
    3) Is anybody really going to say that Marissa was in the right? It seems kind of cruel to post this for the crowd to gawk at. It’s hard not to blame the OP when a story like this slips through the filter.

  7. stevenpdx says:

    Holy lack of details, Batman. If you want your readers to be able to follow a story, make it clear what’s happening and give details.

  8. Portlandia says:

    This should read:

    “How I Let 90,000 Miles Expire”

    There rules are very clear on United, you can rebook award flights within 1 year at no cost OR pay $150 to cancel the flight and you get your miles back in your mileage plus account. You should have chosen that option if you weren’t going to travel again.

  9. sirwired says:

    Hmmm… I don’t think we have the whole story here. That old ticket/miles should have expired YEARS ago… I can’t figure out why United EVER allowed the rebooking. (Note to OP: the time to re-deposit the miles would have been some reasonable interval after the original cancellation, not years later.)

    I think the real issue (if the facts are correct, and contrary to what the OP thinks) is that they allowed the rebooking (which they shouldn’t have) instead of informing her months ago that the miles were long-gone.

  10. Woodside Park Bob says:

    Why should miles expire? Why should customers find United’s policy to be acceptable?

    United could be customer friendly if it wanted to be. A customer friendly United would not adopt policies which cause their customers to lose miles. The underlying problem here is that United, like most other airlines, doesn’t value its customers.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      “Frequent” flyer programs are just that – rewards programs for being a frequent (and presumably profitable) customer. The airlines have decided that you must have activity in your account once every X moneys, or else it expires.

    • gparlett says:

      “Why should miles expire? Why should customers find United’s policy to be acceptable?” Because it’s an industry standard, it’s how all airlines work. We might as well ask “Why should coupons expire?”

      • nybiker says:

        When the programs first started, the miles did not expire. In the race to the bottom, now they do. I am certainly not a frequent flier of the kind that makes an airline oodles of money, but it costs virtually nothing to hold onto the miles. It’s not like a storage room full of miles that’s taking physical space. Anyway, I do not like the idea of expiring miles, but I am aware of the rules and if & when I should become a really frequent flier then I will pick the airline that treats me right. Who knows, maybe by then the rules will have changed and there will be an airline that doesn’t force me to do something just to keep some miles.

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          Keeping the miles from expiring is so trivial, that anybody who doesn’t bother clearly doesn’t care in the slightest. Buy something through the United shopping site. Spend $5-10, and they’re renewed for another 18 months.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      Because they’re frequent flyer miles, not eventual flyer miles.

  11. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    Ummm… I don’t think that’s what a “sunk cost” is. But nice trying.

  12. bill793 says:

    Typcl Phl str….

  13. qbubbles says:

    What is this I dont even…

  14. pastthemission says:

    I canceled a flight once and was told very specifically I had to rebook within a year or would lose the money. Maybe she didn’t read the fine print on the website?

  15. gparlett says:

    I don’t know that this is actually relevant to the issue, but who books a flight 2 years in advance? I didn’t think that airlines even printed schedules that far in advance, and I’ve never known my travel plans that far in advance…

  16. elysse says:

    That’s Numberwang!

  17. jariten says:


    Why was this posted.

    United is very clear: 1 year to rebook. Cancellation fee if you choose not to. A limit of ~1.5 years to use your mileage plus activity.

    This is like if someone were pissed off that they couldn’t get a 1984 limited edition GI Joe today after buying a bunch of 80s actions figures on ebay and sending in the boxes to some non-existent address… come on guys…

  18. jimmyhl says:

    Most comments side with the airline on this but I see it this way: They did rebook the flight using the OP’s miles and the OP did spend whatever it took to rack the 90,000 miles. It would cost the airline nothing to put the OP on the flight. At the very least she should get a refund. Why should the airline keep the money without providing the flight?

  19. PNW GIRL says:

    Why in hell would she EVER think that the world revolves around her!!!

    She friggn’ waited 2 years!!!

    C’mon now!

    Why are people so stupid to think they are entitle to what ever the hell they want!!!

    I actually side with the airlines for once

  20. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Man, that’s a real bosenhoofel.

  21. benh999 says:

    Too bad. I’ve had to cancel flights and had my vouchers expire before I would have needed them. Sorry to be an asshole, but part of being a frequent flyer is flying frequently with an airline.

  22. OnePumpChump says:

    She can get her revenge by taking a few more flights, and spilling 100 milliliters of milk on each one, drop by drop.

  23. lotussix says:

    i work for a travel company (hotel) that has a rewards program and our computer systems allow guests to make award bookings even if they don’t have the number of reward points in their account.

    here is why…. there are only a limited amount of nights allocated for award space. when a guest wants to book a room for 6 months in advance, we will hold the space for the guest under the award allocation and sorta sit on our thumbs and wait for the guest to accrue the amount of points necessary for the stay. if the guest does not have the points a month before their scheduled arrival date, we will send them an e-mail to advise them of this. if they book within a month of arrival and don’t have the points, we will let them know either at the time of booking via telephone or within 2-3 days if the guest books online.

    it’s a double edged sword. if we didn’t allow this then people would complain that the award space was available when they checked the first time but isn’t when they had the points to book it. on the other hand, since we do this, people think that just because the reservation went through that they have a room booked using awards.

    i think the latter of the two scenarios happened to the OP.