United Makes Their Schedule Change Policy Less Terrible (But Still Deplorable)

Last weekend United quietly rolled out a change. Instead of offering customers a refund when they changed the schedule a customer bought by 2 hours or more, they would no longer provide refunds unless the schedule change was at least 25 hours. At first I thought this was a typo, adding a five after the 2.

This meant that United could move someone to a flight the day before or the day after and customers would be stuck. What’s more this applied to previously purchased tickets even when United had published the 2 hour policy on its website. (United said that their contract of carriage allowed them to make the change, but that just means their contract conflicted with published policy that customers relied upon.)

There was a huge backlash against the move to conserve cash. What United did was probably illegal. But even if they lost DOT complaints they’d be holding the money while those proceeded and most customers wouldn’t push that far.

Initially United adjusted the policy to say that they’d consider refunds for customers with significant schedule changes on a case-by-case basis. That required calling, and in some cases waiting hours on hold, only to find out whether or not United would offer the refund. That imposed a cost to get the refund along with an uncertainty that may have made even trying to ask not worthwhile.

This didn’t stop the criticism. Now United has backed off a bit further, imposing a six hour rule.

When schedule changes occur, more than 90 percent of our customers are being automatically re-booked on a flight that leaves within two hours of their originally scheduled flight. Any customer whose travel is disrupted by more than 6 hours because of our schedule changes will be eligible for a refund. The relatively small percentage of customers who are delayed by 2 to 6 hours are eligible to cancel and retain the value of their ticket for future use. In the case of special circumstances, customers can work with the United Contact Centers to find a resolution.

This is still:

  • A worse policy than competitors, making United a less desirable airline to buy tickets on

  • A change in policy for already-issued tickets.

The way I’m viewing this is as United focused entirely on the short term at the expense of customers. In the long run they will need their customers but appear to be acting on the old Keynes maxim about the long run.

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. United using off shore calling centers for the Premier lines. Nice to get agents who say Yes to everything and do nothing.
    After hours waiting and dropped calls, everything was set according to the Philippines, or was it?

    Thanks for nothing.
    Consumers have long memories when mistreated.

  2. @ I received a full refund from Air Canada today for a 4-hour schedule change. Waited on hold 3 hours. I now know every Air Canada advertisement by heart.

  3. I had 100 reasons to not fly United
    I didn’t need another
    Did I say they break guitars and kill pets?

  4. For any customer whose international travel is disrupted by more than six hours because of schedule changes resulting from government restrictions, they will retain a travel credit equal to the value of their ticket. That credit can be used towards any flight, to any destination, for 12 months from the time of purchase. If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they will receive a cash refund at the end of that 12 month period.

  5. “For any customer whose international travel is disrupted by more than six hours because of schedule changes resulting from government restrictions, they will retain a travel credit equal to the value of their ticket. That credit can be used towards any flight, to any destination, for 12 months from the time of purchase. If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they will receive a cash refund at the end of that 12 month period.”

    Are you sure about the cash refund? I haven’t seen that promise in the United website. And what about award tickets booked using frequent flyer miles?

  6. Confirmed: “That credit can be used towards any flight, to any destination, for 12 months from the time of purchase. If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they may request a refund to their original form-of-payment at the end of that 12-month period.”

  7. Sure it’s a horrible policy but who seriously uses this as a reason to buy American or Delta over United?

  8. My Royal Air Maroc flight was cancelled and I was moved a flight 24 hours later which was impossible for me. They would only give me a voucher. Thankfully I had trip insurance!

  9. MP member and UA loyal for over 30 years, semi left them during the $misek dark days but slowly came back.

    I get why they are hoarding cash, but they are making it damn difficult to want to support them.

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