United Has a New Compensation Program to Give You Vouchers If You’re Treated Badly… Or If You’re Just Nice

It’s easy to forget that prior to their merger with Continental Airlines, United really was a broken carrier. Instead of investing in their product, they would give out passenger compensation liberally.

Flying international first class? It was important to test your seat to see if it would go into bed mode and back before the doors closed. If your seat was broken you would be switched into a seat occupied by an employee. If you waited until after departure to discover your broken seat, you were out of luck.

United knew their planes were in disrepair, and flight attendants were armed with cards they could hand out for easy compensation. These were known as ‘Skykits’ and later “Please Accept Our Apology cards.”

One of the radio button choices when redeeming the cards was even broken reading light. Everyone used to hope for a broken reading light on their flights, because the compensation was generous: a 100,000 mile flyer on a trascon or international flight would get a $250 travel voucher.

Of course, some folks took advantage of this:

  • I remember one jerk who bragged about bringing a screwdriver with him to mess with the inflight entertainment on the plane as an excuse to get compensation.

  • And, since United’s IT wasn’t very good, many folks on Flyertalk used to use the certificates more than once either (at various points) through simultaneous transactions or with the help of United.com support.

If you didn’t get a skykit inflight but had a complaint you could email United through their website. Sometimes if you were even emailing in to compliment them, the outsourced agents replying to emails were so used to cutting and pasting compensation that you might wind up with a “Please Accept Our Apology” for having provided good service.

Until mid-2011 there was no limit on the compensation you could receive. In May 2011 the airline imposed a limit of six times every six months. It’s insane that any passenger would be compensated so frequently — underscoring both how often United fell short and how overly generous their compensation scheme was.

Now Brian Sumers reports that United has a new compensation program that started yesterday.

United Airlines this week began allowing airport workers to give goodwill travel certificates for as much as $125 to passengers who receive poor service.

United agents have free reign to decide how to dole out the electronic certificates…

These are available, for instance, when an employee is rude to a customer (another employee can make up for it), a passenger who waits at the airport for a delayed bag instead of having United deliver it to them, and as a thank you to a customer who gives up their seat to help a family.

As in the past, premium customers and top elites get more compensation than others.

  • Premium passengers and 1K and Global Services members can get up to $125
  • Platinum and Gold elites get $50 to $100.
  • Other passengers can get up to $50.

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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  1. A post about United’s liberal compensation policy of yesteryear and no mention of Lucky and his past activities? haha c’mon Gary, you’re slipping. 😉

  2. In the last 3 weeks an AA station supervisor told me that the maximum they could give out was $100 vouchers at the airport, and as an Exec Plat, that is what they gave me, essentially without getting in to too much detail for a situation with miscommunication and rude employees.

    Does anyone know at AA or UA for that mattter:

    1. Are their computer systems hard coded so that the max comp is $100 or $125? Before yesterday, could UA airport agents not issue vouchers even by gaming the computer?

    2. Can an agent fudge the computer system by say issuing 2 vouchers or coding the issue as say a VDB to get the customer more compensation?

    3. Or are these not hard coded in to the computer system, but just guidelines that the employees are asked or told to follow? I.e. a UA or AA employee can readily say issue a $300 voucher if thats what they type in?

    4. I’m not sure if you have any airport agent sources, but maybe you can find out if agents feel pressured in the event the carrier has a way to track how much comp any given agent gives out easily? So if I’m an agent and I’ve given out 3 $100 vouchers on my shift, will I feel pressured not to give out too much when the 4th pax comes up with their issue? I wonder also if they can track by FF# how much comp someone has gotten?

    5. I find it interesting that the airlines give out less compensation when you are stressed and seriously disserviced then they do for VDB when you are just playing a game. They freely hand out $300 to $1,000 for VDB, no problem or questions asked, but for service issues they are more stingy. Service issues are more stresfful and impactful on pax then VDB.

    6. I think my best was a $200 or $300 voucher on DL given on the spot by a red coat due to a rude gate agent, and the red coat didn’t seem to have any trouble issuing it with very little typing.

  3. @Graham:

    “And, since United’s IT wasn’t very good, many folks on Flyertalk used to use the certificates more than once either (at various points) through simultaneous transactions ”

    He just didn’t call Lucky out by name…

  4. This was a VERY COMMON thing that many frequent flyers did, and I cannot speak to what any one person did or didn’t do specifically. Not interested in the rumor or innuendo on this…

  5. Lighten up Gary, sheesh. lol I’m just referring to Ben’s own article in Rolling Stone that mentioned the amount of times he gamed UA’s compensation system. We know everyone took advantage of it.

  6. We had a MAD-EWR flight cancellation a couple days ago and were put on a flight on the next day. United put us in an airport hotel and paid for all the meals. On our flight back the FA told us about the compensation website where we can get 15k miles OR $300 united flight voucher by entering the affected flight number and passenger name. Of course that doesn’t compensate for the lost vacation day but I thought it was a nice gesture from united.

  7. I was able to use the United travel voucher system a handful of times from late 2009 until May 2011. I flew EWR-ORD about once every 6 weeks and at least 6 of those flights were either late, or cancelled. Every time I was delayed or cancelled I contacted them on the site and received a voucher. Sometimes it was $75, but usually was $150. They didn’t know for sure I would continue to fly them so they figured give me some incentive to keep me flying them. While the wait times for a response were ridiculous, sometime waiting a few WEEKS to get a response, the compensation was worth it to keep my on UA planes. During that time period flights could be had for between $138-$250 R/T. A voucher made that even more attractive. It make a long distance relationship easier by allowing me to fly more.

  8. I asked lucky once that he should share his affiliate commissions with me if he wants me to use his affiliate links to sign up for card. He said it was against the contract. Interesting to watch an unethical person quote ethics when it suits them. 🙂

  9. Great reporting and good to see UA set up a process. However it isn’t clear from the post if the $100 limit applies only to “poor service” or more broadly to every type of service issue. It would appear grossly inadequate to cover some of the more egregious issues particularly for premium TATL and TPAC flights.

    I find interesting the rationalization “everyone did it” because I don’t personally know anyone who abused the system. More likely I suspect it’s just a few grifters who strangely enjoy bragging about how they gamed the system to anonymous online friends (not too dissimilar from the “apporama” crowd)

    Personally I recall only a handful of complaints in the past 5 years, mostly involving real equipment issues on lengthy flights, i.e. malfunctioning IFE to Australia on a paid C ticket, and the comp seemed reasonable ($150-200 IIRC). In the past year I received $100 for malfunctioning IFE and $50 for issues with meals in F, both of which seemed about right.

  10. I wasn’t much of a UA flyer “back in the day” (I was a loyal CO traveler), but I remember taking my family to Japan on UA on some ridiculous sub-$400 airfare. In both directions, we had some minor problems back in coach — I think it was with the inflight entertainment system — and the flight attendant readily gave us compensation vouchers. We earned about as much in compensation as we paid for the flights! It seemed absolutely nuts. I’m therefore not surprised that there were plenty of frequent UA flyers, um, taking advantage of this generosity.

  11. Boy!! Talk about being out right dishonest and bragging about it to boot.
    I would never, ever take advantage of a situation such as: double, triple or more, use of a voucher.
    No wonder airlines are getting even now by charging for everything. I wouldn’t count on trying that now, airlines monitor their employees’ every computer key stroke surprisingly well, if they feel an employee is being especially “generous”, he or she will be on the unemployment line faster than they say: voucher.

  12. Putting the unethical use of the coupons aside, I’m glad United is bringing back the program. I used to be Global Services, traveling 150K+ in premium cabins and got lots of them – for broken seats, having milk/wine/water poured over me by the flight attendants, water leaking from the overhead bin and all the other signs of broken planes and poor service. Did it make UA any better? No, but it’s a lot easier to forgive the issues. Not because of the value of the coupons, because we are all human and make mistakes. Acknowledging it and making an effort to say “I’m sorry!” and taking responsibility for the issues, is what kept me with UA despite the issues. Honesty and accountability were more important to me than the actual vouchers, half of which ended up expiring anyway.
    When they stopped caring and started complaining about “over-entitled passengers” instead of taking responsibility for the issues, I stopped flying premium cabins on UA…
    Let’s hope they find a way to improve their service going forward…

  13. I haven’t had a non-problematic flight with UA for a while now. Everything from non working IFE, lost baggage, delays, cancellations. I personally prefer the miles because at least they are redeemable on star alliance partners. It’s been a pain finding UA flights I wanted to redeem on since they are more expensive than other carriers, domestic and international alike.

  14. I have a voucher because when I was served lunch on UA 27, June 30,2016 the butter had been heated and when I opened the butter pack, it poured on my new sweater and although I tried, I can not get the spot out. The steward did not reply when I mentioned it but did bring me sparkling water to treat it, to no avail. I then went to the rear galley and reported it to another steward who did not serve mr and he gave me the voucher.steward who gave me the voucher. I had a confirmed seat in row k for my flight but was to.d on boarding that there as no such seat and I was in row 29. My frequent flyer number isLxO40813. I tried to call UA to report this but could not get through. I had traveled to London with a group of gardeners and thanks to me hey all flew UA. We did not get a discount although there were 10 of us.

  15. I can’t get any resolution from united airlines.. They took my carry on from me in Newark and checked it. When I landed in Aruba my bag came out in a plastic bag. No note nothing. My cab driver took the bag off when we arrived at my hotel. My bag was tore apart.. My clothes and shoes were destroyed. My Nitemare started. On my retirny trip I was made to travel with a destroyed bag.. My few clothes and my jewelry bag with contents is missing.. Everyone keeps passing the buck. United airlines ruined my vacation.. And I want it replaced at their expense.. This is ridiculous!!!!

  16. I have a issue living from LAX to Mexico City fight # 274 departs suppose at 10: 59 on 08/01/2017 delayed first 1 hours because technical issues, later another hour 1/2, until they decide send us in different plane at 4: 30 pm, waiting 5 hours plus time in arrived to check , so, was scare and that wait back yesterday was almost the same, they were text me for delayed. but in this to=me was only 45 minutes late departs, flight back was yesterday 08/07/2017 # 293.

    thank you

  17. this was my experience with united airlines, on august 10 th 2017 , i was taking a fight to monterey for 3 days to get away . left lax at 7:50 suppose to arrive at 9:15 .the pilot could not land because of fog . flew to san jose and landed in a tiny plane . sat in the plane for a hour half . finally took off and landed about 12:30 pilot said this is normal ,really what a joke, go home 3 days later . to check my bank account the next day to see they charged me $ 4260.00 for 1 piece of luggage .that was suppose to be $25.00 , call 3 or 4 on hold forever hung up on . horrible customer service , go to my bank to dispute it. one of the worst experiences of my life .they charged me for 30 pireces of luggage. . trans#01626024202773 conf #m8ycll .what can you do for my stress and time .

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