Don’t Take Advantage Of United’s New Flexible Cancellation Offer

The dynamic duo of Scott Kirby and Andrew Nocella have illegally refused refunds to customers whose flights were cancelled or significantly re-scheduled.

United today announced that customers can have fees waived for changes to travel through end of the year provided they make their change or cancellation by April 30.

United announced today that customers can make changes to, or cancel, any travel they have booked through the end of the year without fees if they act between now and April 30.

Many customers’ previous plans for travel, including summer vacations, conferences and events have changed or are uncertain due to the COVID-19 outbreak. To help with the uncertainty around their future travel, customers who wish to change their dates of travel can do so without paying a change fee. Customers who wish to cancel their travel can request an Electronic Travel Certificate (ETC) for the full value of their ticket. United recently extended the expiration dates for all ETCs to 24 months from their date of issue.

This new level of flexibility is in addition to United’s existing policy allowing anyone booking travel between March 3 – April 30 for future dates to change their tickets at no cost over the next 12 months.

With United’s shared purpose of connecting people and uniting the world we will be ready to welcome back travelers when they feel comfortable returning to the friendly skies.

Shall we unpack this, though?

  • Allowing fee free changes for travel that’s already been booked for the fall is generous. There’s relatively little travel that’s already been booked for the fall though, with most domestic tickets not purchased until within 90 days of travel.

  • In fact this only benefits people who booked travel prior to March 3 for far in the future dates, because anyone that booked a ticket since then already has United’s commitment of a fee-free change through end of the year. The number of people truly benefiting is small.

  • Requiring changes to be made by April 30 hardly “help[s] with the uncertainty around..future travel” because, despite federal guidelines that only so far stretch through April 30, much of the country will remain under ‘shelter in place’ orders until at least the end of May. That doesn’t begin to factor the chance of a second wave of the virus in the fall, after a likely lull in July and August.

  • They note that “Customers who wish to cancel their travel can request an Electronic Travel Certificate” and that’s true – customers can request this – but United does not note that customers whose itineraries are cancelled or significantly changed can also request a cash refund.

    In fact the Department of Transportation is requiring that United contact everyone with a cancelled flight that was only offered a voucher to ensure they know about their right to a refund.

Given the volume of cancellations and schedule changes that United will undergo – to shrink their operation based on demand, because of travel restrictions around the world – it likely makes more sense to wait past April 30 for far future travel, to see whether schedule changes and cancellations make the passenger eligible for a refund.

And then if United balks at the refund one is entitled to, to initiate both a credit card dispute (for promised services not delivered) and a Department of Transportation complaint.

Besides, there’s plenty of reason to expect that the April 30 deadline will be extended considering the virus may not have even peaked in some part of the country by then.

United should be issuing a public apology for breaking the law, and demanding an interest-free loan from customers even after gaining passage of bailout legislation. If they want to hold onto customer money they need to make an offer that customers will voluntarily accept, of future travel that’s greater than the face value of cancelled tickets.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. United is arguing that I’m not qualified for a refund since my flight wasn’t cancelled.

    My original flight was canceled and I was rebooked on a flight 2.5 hours later. Does this count as a cancellation?

  2. It doesn’t require changes to be made by April 30, just that the ticket is booked by then. Changes can be made over the following twelve months

  3. Does the United offer allow for multiple changes over the life of the PNR? Conversely, I think with AA and Southwest, they stipulate only 1 fee free change?

  4. Not booking a revenue United flight this year … not even booking a points flight with them this year. 2021 isn’t looking good either. I’m not just walking away from this brand, I am running, and I’m taking all of my friends and family with me. Are you KIDDING me?
    The nickel-dime approach to changes, etc, etc, after all of the hubris of the past few years is pure irony. Today, even, they’re getting sued for not meeting their contractual obligations….obligations that the DOT REMINDED them of just a few days ago.

    One day, a book will be written about how to not only destroy a brand, but to put a stink on it … a stink that lasts a decade.

    Where did all those piles of cash from seat, baggage, and upgrade fees go?!!?!??!? Oh wait …

    It’s truly unfortunate that so many of the hard working, sincere, quality front line staff have to deal with this management team. Their customer service and deeds are not lost on me, but ‘the man’ isn’t getting any of my $$$ or points until there’s some serious changes in that leadership team.

    Hello, SWA.

  5. Hi Gary. I have a flight booked for August and I noticed the price is now $100 cheaper than what I paid. When I go on!, I could cancel and get an electronic certificate for the amount I paid. What would prevent me from canceling my flights (4 people total), take the certificate and then rebook the same flight for the cheaper price? From the rules and regulations, it appears the residual value of the certificate remains and can be used for another ticket. Am I correct here? If yes, wouldn’t that be a loophole ala Southwest that allows me to rebook any ticket at a lower price?

  6. To all the suckers who buy into free date change. Get ready to pay for fare difference!

  7. This may come as a surprise to many of you (it certainly did to me), but many airlines around the world, including Europe, where strict (for the airlines) rules and legislations regarding refunds are already in place since years, are simply flat out denying passengers their right right for a refund! Even worse, in light of such practices and claims, the German government has agreed to legalize the vouchers offered by the airlines instead of refunds! Laws that are broken, sorry, I mean changed overnight, by the same authorities that put them in place!

  8. Hey, don’t worry about the 100k employees United is trying to sustain…just worry about your trip, that you can’t take right now anyway.

  9. Hey snarky Brian, a lot of people want their rightfully owed refund so they can pay living expenses right now.

  10. I don’t understand all the angst toward United. I think the media, as usual, brainwashes people who don’t actually live the life. I’ve been a very frequent United flyer for years and my only complaint is their wifi, for which you can easily get an automated refund without fail.

    I cancelled a non-refundable flight in March and got a full refund back to my credit card. I cancelled another non-refundable flight last week and got a travel voucher good for one year after the booking date. For frequent flyers, right now is an awesome time to gobble up cheap flights. If you change your mind about them later, then just cancel and use the voucher within a year of booking. If the price drops later, then cancel, rebook with the voucher, and use the remainder of the voucher with a year of booking the original flight.

  11. United refused to refund my daughter’s return flight to college after her spring break when school was switched to online. Said I didn’t qualify because it was an economy ticket. I have had so many issues with them unfortunately they are one of the only airlines that flies to the town where she goes to school.
    I got ripped off by their miles credit card, ripped off when my daughter had extra suitcases ( 2 extra to the tune of almost $400.00) and now this. I hate them.

  12. My husband and I are scheduled to fly to Honolulu Hawaii on April 29, 2020 and return on May 6, 2020. As of yet the flight has not been canceled but you cannot fly into Hawaii. All passengers are put into a mandatory 14 day quarantine. The hotel that we were to stay in has closed. Without us even asking, they refunded us the deposit on the rooms that we booked. So because no one can fly into Hawaii and most of the hotels are closed, what does United expect us to do? Does this qualify us for a refund? Our tickets were booked back in January. I do not want a travel voucher because I won’t give United my business if I don’t have to.

  13. I bought a ticket from ORD to BDL in late Feb for June 3 travel and return June 16. I am wondering if I can get a refund now due to cancelling my trip.

  14. Are they going to email customers who were given the credit and a deadline for using the credits, option for a refund?

  15. @Tino – speak for yourself. Personally I just booked a business class award flight for Nov 3-10 to Germany on American for 84,000 AAdvantage miles which is a steal. 787 non-stop from DFW so likely with first class domestic connection to DFW. Sure there is a chance travel won’t be loosened up by then or that there will be a 2nd wave but frankly the price was too good to pass up (at least for me). Understand I have well over a million AAdvantage miles and typically you get better value just buying international tickets than using up to 240,000 miles! In this case a $4000+ ticket for 84,000 miles is approaching 5 cent a mile which is incredible value.

    Worst case I can’t take the flight and have to pay the $200 fee to redeposit the miles. Not a big deal (at least to me) and a risk I’m willing to take to lock in this award.

  16. “That doesn’t begin to factor the chance of a second wave of the virus in the fall, after a likely lull in July and August.”

    I think it is irresponsible to suggest a “likely lull” in July and August. It is not possible to accurately predict future rises and falls in case numbers, and even experts are not in agreement.

    It is clear from the comments that many people don’t understand how the refund policies work (i.e. if the event you’re traveling to attend is postponed or your destination implements an arrival quarantine, but your flight still happens, you aren’t eligible for a refund); this statement may influence people’s decision to plan travel during those months, potentially leaving even more customers in a bad situation.

  17. I lost a lot for penalties for 4 passengers when I cancel It was a high school graduation trip for my 3 grandchildren.
    I too was going to Hawaii Why would you go if quarantine for our entire vacation?
    How can I make United return my money?

  18. Ugh Gary poor form. Don’t bad mouth United. They literally saved us from being stuck in Australia when all of Qantas shut down. Every other airline is terrified of covid and no one’s getting any dining service and they’re working with bare bones staffing. Thanks United for being flexible and reliable even during global pandemonium.

  19. I have 2 tickets for July of 2020 for travel to Portugal
    are you saying that they will now refund me if I ask for it before April 30th?
    They have not cancelled the flight yet.

  20. I have a flight from Dayton Ohio to Billings Montana thru Denver then from Billings to Phoenix then back to Dayton Ohio. Leaving Dayton on 19 May returning on 3 June. I have not heard from United about cancellation. Do I qualify for a refund

  21. Thank you for this helpful information. I booked a nonrefundable ticket in February on United for travel in July, and paid for the travel insurance. Because my wife and I are part of the high risk population we will not be traveling any in the next twelve months. My question is: United will not refund my tickets. If I were to request an Electronic Transfer Certificate (ETC), will I have more than 12 months to use it?

  22. Hello, I booked a trip with United Vacations 1/16/2020 and used a United Airlines credit card.
    My total charge was 1617.33
    I cancelled the trip on 4/1/2020. I was told today 6/3/2020 that I would only get a refund for 817.33.
    I am being charged 200 cancellation fee for each ticket. I explained I cancelled due to COVID- Flight was from Newark to Orlando ( Universal Studios)
    The rep told me, it didnt matter, I couldnt speak to a supervisor and I still wouldnt get the partial refund until end of July.
    Who can I contact?????

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