United Airlines Sued For Charging Higher Prices To Older People

A year ago United Airlines offered a 10% discount to 18-22 year olds who booked through the United mobile app. At the time I put this as “older people pay more” while many readers didn’t feel this was a fair characterization. Now a court will decide.

The suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, alleges violations of California anti-discrimination law and seeks class-action status on behalf of customers excluded from the promotion because of their age.

The promotion offered a discount on flights within the U.S. and between the U.S. and either Canada or Meixco booked by June 30, 2020 for travel through December 31, 2020. The plaintiffs claimed to have qualified as MileagePlus members booking travel through the app, but were denied the discount based on age, and seeks $5 million and an injunction against future age discrimination by the airline.

In response to the claim under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, a United spokesperson offered,

It is a shame that a few individuals take issue with an offer that is intended to make travel more accessible to more people. We believe this lawsuit is completely baseless and will defend ourselves vigorously.

Now, there are two things to remember here.

  1. You can sue for anything though if the federal case it too absurd the attorney filing suit risks a rule 11 letter and potential costs themselves (rather than costs merely being imposed on the client).

    A woman recently sued in Delaware claiming that President Trump is “misleading people, deceiving them to sin, and dooming them to hell” and that once people are in hell the plaintiff will be unable “to love them for eternity” as her religion requires, thus denying her free exercise of religion.

  2. You can actually win for anything in California. I’ve had to fill out insurance applications at work that ask as a standalone question, “do you have any employees based in California?” Growing up with my family in the car business there, a mechanic once cheated on his wife and fully committed to his denial – in spite of picking up an STD – claiming he’d gotten it from a spider bite while working on a car. It didn’t matter that’s not how it works. This being California, he managed to go on workers comp for the alleged spider bite, and with the assistance of the government kept his marriage together.

    Though I was surprised to see California ballot propositions for affirmative action, to raise property taxes on businesses, and impose rent control all lose, along with the elimination of cash bail and new data privacy regulations. Meanwhile the Uber/Lyft independent contractor proposition and new property tax reductions won (the latter allowing people with multimillion dollar homes to keep their low tax base when they move and pass it on to heirs, so much for taxing the rich). So California may be reaching its statist limits.

One Mile at a Time points out that Tinder lost a suit in California over a discount for under-30s. Younger people may be less willing to pay, and lower prices may stimulate business. After all, price discrimination is exactly what airlines try to engage in with low basic economy fares, and indeed those are attracting younger travelers (also less risk averse during the pandemic). But explicitly targeting younger customers with discounts may be different than having a disparate effect with discounts available to everyone. Lucky at One Mile at a Time sees youth discounts as akin to senior discounts.

If you think the class action is on face unreasonable, then you may believe that California’s possibly well-intentioned laws go too far – whether the suit is ultimately successful in leveraging a settlement from United or not.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. I’m sure a lawyer will have a good answer for me, I’m not seeing how this is any different than offering a kids price or a senior citizen discount?

  2. Maybe I will just start asking for senior discounts everywhere I go and then throw my hands up and scream “DISCRIMINATION!” when asked for proof of age.

    Whoever is filing this lawsuit feels like that loser guy who went around suing every bar that offered “ladies nights” for discriminating against men. Get a life.

  3. The only precedents that immediate come to mind for this kind of discount are kids discounts, senior discounts, car insurance pricing, health insurance pricing, life insurance pricing, student discounts, college discounts, and birthday discounts. Younger people on average make less money so pricing will attract them, and on average they bring less weight and require less assistance. These type of offers discriminate against no adult, because every adult is 18 once. Its really no different than complaining about a free birthday meal offer because its not your birthday that day and claiming thats age discrimination. You had a birthday too.

  4. This suit has little if any standing. United may elect to pay something to avoid spending money on a trial and agree not to offer this again but, as others have stated, this is nothing different than offering discounts to students (many places do and airlines used to offer reduced fares), senior discounts, discounts to veterans, discounts to locals, etc. It is all about marketing. United didn’t RAISE the price seniors would otherwise pay, they simply reduced prices for a younger group so hard to see how any harm would be proven, let alone whether this was simply allowed as standard business marketing/pricing.

  5. These types of cases have succeeded in CA in the past.

    There is a reason you don’t see bars with “Lady’s Night!” any more in CA. Discriminated against men.

  6. Didn’t know that it was possible to discriminate against men any more. Thought that wokeness would have ended that.

    And FWIW, I can remember getting “youth” discounts for those 21 and under back in my college days. Some were standby (UA for one) and some were confirmed space (TW).

  7. It’s amusing that AARP advertises all the discounts if you are over 50, and join. Likewise, Marriott has a discount for over 62. Seems like many companies have discounts for being “old.” Why not discounts for being “young?”

  8. The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco charges $5 less for Ages 65 & up

    https://about.asianart.org/ticketing/

    As a general matter, most government distortions in the U.S. economy are geared toward providing a cushy retirement for boomers, at the expense of young and working people. When housing prices (pumped up by government financing for out of control Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and implicit government approval of the overstretched monoline insurers) corrected from absurd levels to merely expensive levels in 2007-2008, putting home ownership and the possibility of opening a store or cafe (for example) within reach of younger people, it was considered a national catastrophe because it threatened the pumped up millionaire retirement plans of the boomers and the government then came together in a bipartisan way to fix the problem and put the boomers back on track.

  9. What a coincidence! I was just looking at this beautiful apartment with a great price for a 2 bedroom. I’m a single mom and it would be great to live in a clean and safe place for that price. then, I realized it was just for seniors. I feel so discriminated because of my age now.

  10. For a discussion of age based discrimination in California, do a search for Candelore v. Tinder, Inc. (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 1138.

    Synopsis

    Background: Consumers brought action against operator of smartphone-based dating application, alleging violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act and Unfair Competition Law (UCL) arising out of application’s age-based pricing system, which charged consumers over the age of 30 years more than younger users for access to application’s advanced features. The Superior Court, Los Angeles County, No. BC583162, William F. Highberger, J., sustained operator’s demurrer. Consumers appealed.

    Holdings: The Court of Appeal, Currey, J., held that:

    1 allegations stated claim for age discrimination in violation of Unruh Act, and
    2 allegations stated further claims for UCL violations.

    Reversed.

  11. I vaguely thought the laws around this topic protect those in situations where they are charged more than market (for lack of a better term). However, if a specific group is given a discount (less than market rate), it is not considered discrimination. I’m not a lawyer but I thought this was the basic reason behind why discounts are permissible.

  12. calif has too many crazy props most of which harm all people…it is interesting that the CHAN-Zuckerburg family foundation dumped $$$65 million into calif to push for the higher Real Estate Taxes making people think it will not affect them ….nuts

  13. I am eligible for a “Seniors Discount” and have been for quite some time. Will I take it when offered? Yes. Would I rather not be the age required to get it . . . Absolutely! It took me many years (about 40) to understand why Jack Benny always said he was 39.

  14. Senior discounts are different from youth discounts because most age discrimination laws prohibit discriminating against old people; they do not prohibit discriminating in favor of old people. So, yes, this lawsuit may succeed but I don’t know enough about California law to have an opinion whether the lawsuit is likely to succeed. I do have an opinion that the law sometimes leads to bad or stupid results

  15. I guess a lot of folks are justifying this by saying it’s not an overcharging of one age group, but it’s a discount for one age group.

    But replacing age with race, and this quickly becomes very uncomfortable. Say a black owned business openly advertising about lower price if you’re African American and regular price for everyone else.

    We already have affirmative actions that should also be abolished while we’re at it…

  16. FYI you flipped the last property tax reduction. It actually makes it harder for someone to pass the property to an heir and keep the tax basis under prop 19.

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