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.