Why Has United Airlines Taken A Month To Not Process My Ticket Vouchers?

Back in July 2011, Consumerist reader Mary and her husband were awarded a total of $800 worth of ticket vouchers from United after they were bumped from a flight. Problem is, now that she’s trying to actually use those vouchers, no one at United seems to have any idea what to do with them.

The ordeal has actually been going on since mid-March, when Mary made several attempts to contact United’s reservation line, only to be stuck on hold for more than an hour each time.

She eventually got through to a human being — following a 75-minute wait — on March 27, who took the reservation and told Mary to mail in the vouchers. Once they were received and processed, she’d be credited the $800.

“I put both my name and my husband’s name as well as the confirmation number on EACH voucher. I put them in the mail THAT DAY,” writes Mary. The United rep said the airline would e-mail her when the vouchers had been processed. But after a week of not hearing anything from United, she called the airline to see where things stood.

“They had no record of the previous phone call, and supposedly no credit card information either,” she writes. “The representative then put a reservation on hold through my Mileage Plus account. I was told that the reservation would last until April11. They said I should receive an email and it should be ticketed before then, but that if not, I would have to call back and ask for an extension.”

You probably already guessed that nothing happened by April 11, so Mary called once more to file an extension and was told that yes, the vouchers were still being processed. This time, United said all would be resolved by April 15.

It wasn’t.

“Again no voucher and no processing of the ticket,” says Mary. “I was also told that my credit card information is not on file and when they tried to re-enter my card information it tells them that it is not valid. I know my account balance and I know that I have more
than enough funds available (even though the representative repeatedly asked me if I was sure I had enough funds available). I was told that again that my reservation would be put on hold until the vouchers are received. This time I was told that it would be on hold until the date of the trip.”

Finally, on April 24, someone at United confirmed to Mary that the vouchers had been received on April 18 — more than three weeks after they were mailed. But that didn’t mean the issue was resolved.

“Again I was told that no credit card information is on file,” she writes. “I again gave my credit card information and was told that my flight would be processed by a different department that day.”

That was almost a week ago. Mary says she called United earlier today, waited an hour on the phone only to be told that her tickets had still not been issued.

We are attempting to get a comment from United about why in the world it would take so long to process these vouchers. In the unlikely event the airline responds, we will update the story.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cat says:

    This looks like a job for Chris Elliot!

    • Mephron says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing.

      Or at least use his list of posted contacts to yell at people at Untied, I mean United.

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

    I wouldn’t mail $800 of anything without paying for tracking and delivery confirmation.

    • ARP says:

      I agree with you. But, it’s not that they haven’t received them, it’s that they can’t figure out how to process them.

  3. jenolen2161 says:

    Chris Elliott just had an article about United’s *wonderful* handling of merging its computer systems with Continental’s. http://www.elliott.org/blog/could-united-airlines-chaotic-computer-cutover-have-been-avoided/

  4. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    Because fuck you, that’s why.

  5. phira says:

    I was also bumped from a United flight back in July 2011 and got $400 in vouchers for it. I was NOT happy, since this was the third time I had flown United in 2011, and the third time that my flight(s) had been messed up. I was pretty upset, since I had paid for that third flight partially with a voucher from the last time United had messed up.

    When I got the vouchers, I asked if I had to use them or if someone else could use them, and I was told that the tickets couch be purchased in anyone’s name. So I happily mailed the vouchers to a friend of mine, since I had no plans to fly United again. My friend was unable to book a flight with them, though, since the tickets could be purchased in anyone’s name, but had to be purchased BY the person who’s name was on the voucher. Not only that, but it didn’t even look like I could book the tickets for her online; I would have to go to a travel agent.

    So we threw out the vouchers. I’m never flying United again.

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      If you were bumped involuntarily, you should have insisted on cash. Federal regulations require cash payments (checks also count as cash) for involuntary bumps. The amount depends on the distance and the length of time you’re delayed from your original arrival time.

      If you volunteer for a bump, the airlines can pay (and prefer to pay) in vouchers. These are generally non-transferable. Of course, you don’t get the full terms and conditions until you get the vouchers. Usually, by that time, the flight is closed and there’s no way you’re getting on. That puts the T&Cs on shaky legal ground because the acceptance of the consideration is contingent upon acceptance of the T&Cs, which are (usually) not available until after the passenger can decline to accept. But good luck fighting that one. :P

  6. bluline says:

    United clearly has no intention of honoring the vouchers. They are stonewalling Mary in the hope that she will eventually give up and go away. The next contact with United should be from a lawyer, but that might cost more than the vouchers are worth.

    • Difdi says:

      Depends. Some lawyers only charge a small fee to send out a nastygram on law firm letterhead. The recipient of the vaguely threatening legalese doesn’t know the lawyer is not actually on retainer or hired to pursue a lawsuit, and few companies would take the risk over something they’re guaranteed to lose (such as refusing to honor a ticket voucher).

      I’ve talked to a few local lawyers before, and fees for such a letter ranged from $20 to $100.

  7. crazydavythe1st says:

    At least she has confirmation from them that they got the vouchers.The only way I’ve ever had United successfully process a paper voucher is to go buy a ticket in person.

    Then the agent treats you as if you’re a relic from the 1950s and undoubtedly will give you lines like “it would be cheaper to do this over the phone if you know how to do that” but if you get through all of that it works.

    Incidentally, I met Jeff Smisek once at a United Club at O’Hare. Nice guy, but he’s a little too far separated from the likes of those travelling in cattle class to understand that his airline is not the “spitting image of customer service” that he thinks it is.

    • ARP says:

      I’m sure he understands that, but he doesn’t care. US based airlines’ primary focus is on frequent travelers (Platinum and above), business travelers, and long haul flights. If you’re not in that category, they don’t really have to care about you. Their thinking is that you’re not going to spend enough money with them to treat you right. It’s just like the banks- unless you’re loaded, you’re worthless, future business be-damned.

      • Round-Eye §ñ‰∫∫„ÅØ„Ç≥„É≥„Çπ„Éû„É™„ÉÉ„Çπ„Éà„ÅåÂ•Ω„Åç„Åß„Åô„ÄÇ says:

        And you would be correct. Most of the people complaining about shitty service are those whose mantra is unfailingly “I fly with whoever has the cheapest fares”. Well, if you’re not a frequent-enough traveller to have loyalty to a particular brand, of course that brand is not going to care about your pathetic needs. The people who buy refundable, full-fare, or discounted-long-haul fares are the ones that keep the airlines going.

        Personally, I’m so sick of people bitching about how [insert domestic carrier here] is just awful/terrible/hates their customers/blahblahblah. And, of course, they claim, “I’m never flying so-and-so ever again. I’m taking my hard-earned money elsewhere the next time I search Kayak for the absolutely cheapest flight possible.” Good! Do it! Then you won’t be on my flight being a whiny bitch.

        /rant – Sorry about that…frequent traveller/Premier member here who’s never had a problem with any airline.

  8. ARP says:

    All of the airlines (at least Delta, AA, and now United) do this. I have no clue why they can’t issue/maintain electronic vouchers. You have all of that’s person’s information needed for the ticket. They’re officially not transferable, so why not maintain this information, so they can book a flight over the phone or online? The overhead is minimal. I know they’re trying to discourage them from being used by creating a 1960’s system of booking, but regular customers also get vouchers and they’re not happy with the experience either. You might even get repeat customers (gasp) if you make the process less painful.

  9. Dave B. says:

    It seems that my excessive desire to never leave the ground and not fly actually saves me quite a bit of hassle. No TSA, no FF miles, no vouchers, no screaming kids on a plane, no psycho pilots, no missing flights due to evacuated terminals, I feel better about myself.

  10. Jevia says:

    Have you double checked your credit card to make sure that the credit card company didn’t deny the charge? I recently tried to buy an airline ticket that was over $1,000 and my credit card company automatically denied it because they feared fraud. And the company froze any further use of the card. I didn’t know this until I called the credit card company up afterwards (after having to pay for the ticket directly out of my debit account) to ask why they denied the charge.

  11. AllanG54 says:

    I guess Dave Carroll really didn’t change United’s culture after all. They break vouchers as well.

  12. Greg says:

    When I read this, I thought I was reading my own life story for the past 2 months…it was almost verbatim. Had vouchers, found reservation online, waited on hold for an hour, got a hold on the reservation with a ticketing agent on the phone. Mailed the vouchers in next day with delivery confirmation, but the confirmation stopped updating once it got to Texas.

    Called a few more times over the next month since my d.c. wasn’t doing anything and my credit card hadn’t been charged for the difference, each time waiting on hold for an hour or more, and each time saying that they were “in the queue” and “being processed”. Finally, just two days ago, received ticketing confirmation. Thankfully, the reservation originally held matched the information in the email I received, because by that point I had no confidence.

  13. It's So Cold in the D says:

    To make it clear, United and Continental (one in the same now) are the two (one) worst airline(s) to fly. I frequently fly to Eastern Europe and make sure my first leg of the journey is Lufthansa. The attendants are awful. The planes are disgusting.

    The last time I flew Continental I voluntary bumped myself off the flight. The voucher and provision vouchers were given to me AT THE GATE. I was put up at a local hotel for the night. And ensured that my bags weren’t sent out. The next morning, I was bumped from standby twice from earlier flights (okay no big deal). Haven’t heard anything about my bag.

    Get to Amsterdam and guess what… my bag is sitting in the middle of the baggage claim area. And it would’ve been there for over 24 hours. And this was right after that bomber going to Detroit flew through Amsterdam.

    I had no trouble selling the voucher on Craigslist. Made $700 off of it. Considering I didn’t pay for the original flight, I overall came out a winner but man their service is god awful.

  14. cinnamongym says:

    I have had a few vouchers from United, and to redeem them I have always had to go to the airport to purchase my ticket. They also can’t be used on codeshare flights. It’s kind of a pain to have to drive to the airport each time, but it’s worth it to save $400.

  15. oldwiz65 says:

    I am confused; why do people actually expect airlines to redeem vouchers? I thought the vouchers were only fake “gifts” to get rid of people.

  16. galaxirose says:

    I had this exact problem. Naturally you can’t use vouchers to book online — who would ever think to do that! I was on the phone with United 3 separate times for 2 to 2.5 hours each to try and get the tickets booked, and the subsequent problems resolved.

    The original ticket vouchers I mailed somehow never arrived at United. I had a suspicion this might happen so I made photocopies prior to mailing which they were so kind as to accept. But the entire ordeal took more than a month to sort out, with deadlines, extensions and the lot.

    Such. A. Terrible. System.

  17. Weekilter says:

    Unfortunately (for Continental customers) Untied (yes, that’s the correct spelling) bought Continental and in the process of combining the data of Continental and Untied everything got f&!/%#’d up royally. Things aren’t likely to get much better for at least a few months til Untied fixes their bad merging of data from acquiring Continental.

  18. TurdFerguson says:

    As a longtime Continental customer I can honestly say I am in COMPLETE amazement how one company can tank so fast. Within a month after the merger I had already scored a $300 and a $150 voucher in travel credit. I am not really a patient man but I have been doing my best to be understanding in hope that it finally gets “worked-out.” A couple weeks ago I attempted to use my $150 voucher for a flight. The online booking system stated the voucher was invalid so I called in. I was thrilled to get someone in 5 mins. Then I waited for an hour with that one CSR to have the $25 phone fee waved and my voucher put toward another flight. Then I was billed to full fair of the flight (using my United CC, no less). I call back and again get someone in 5 mins, but this time it takes 2 hours on hold to get a $150 reimbursement to my CC. The CSR agent eventually tells me she will call-back when everything is finally credited back. Surprisingly… she actually does. She says it might take a couple days to show-up… on problem its been over a week and no credit.
    Seriously.. I know Continental folks who opted for early retirement anticipating a fiasco. They might have taken a financial hit, but they look like geniuses now!