United Slightly Relaxes Its New ‘No Refunds When Schedules Change’ Rule

Cranky Flier reports that United has slightly walked back its crazy policy published this weekend not to provide refunds to customers in the event of a schedule change less than 25 hours.

  • United is reducing its international schedule 20% and its domestic schedule 10%
  • That’s going to inconvenience a lot of passengers, who will want refunds
  • So United decided to stop giving refunds in most cases – including (and especially) to customer who already purchased tickets when the old policy was in effect to allow refunds in the event of a schedule change of 2 hours or more.

United is imposing more draconian terms on customers right as customers are shying away from booking travel. United is ‘conserving cash’ by keeping its customers’ cash, even when it fails to deliver the service that it promised. As a result right now there is almost no reason to book travel on United if you can help it.

United Relaxes Is Policy Somewhat To Waive Fees With a Two Hour Schedule Change

After a swift backlash in social media, United will now let customers cancel and retain a travel credit without a change fee in the event United changes flight schedules 2 or more hours. The credit must be used within 15 months of original ticketing date (up from the usual 12 months for a credit). United still won’t give refunds unless the schedule change is at least 25 hours. A two hour schedule change had entitled a customer to a refund before this policy change.

This Isn’t Close To Reasonable

Cranky suggests United was more or less doing us a favor by letting us get refunds when they failed to deliver travel within two hours of what we bought.

United has the right in there to let you use a credit for future travel without paying a change fee. It already had the language, but it just opted to let people get refunds if disrupted by more than two hours in the past. Now it’s shifting its plan to conserve cash.

His argument is ‘it’s in their contract of carriage’ so they were just being more generous. I disagree in the strongest terms. United had a published policy of allowing refunds for two hour schedule changes. Customers relied on that policy when purchasing their tickets. United has changed the policy retroactively for already-purchased tickets.

And not everything in the airline contract of carriage is reasonable. People believe they are buying travel based on the description the airline provides – they are buying travel for a specific departure time, if the airline tells them it’s a non-stop flight that is what they think they are buying (people often decide what airline to buy from based on whether the flight is non-stop or connecting).

Just because airlines have special dispensation under the Airline Deregulation Act to skirt state regulations and even many common law-based suits doesn’t make it just or reasonable.

While the change to United’s draconian policy of letting customers use travel credit in the future without a change fee when schedules change (but not get a refund if the schedule doesn’t change by 25 hours) is better than what they announced published – but did not announce – over the weekend, it’s still underhanded in the extreme.

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. I love how people think someone can change a contract after it’s enacted, you can’t! To those that think they can, if you bought a ticket on March 1st, and then on March 15th United says that anyone who has an active ticket, regardless of when it was purchased, must now handover their first born child to the US Government, are you going to follow it? It’s in the contract now, so you have to, right? I really hate people right now.

  2. I would urge anyone whose originally booked flight experiences a “schedule change” (i.e. they cancel your original flight and move you to the next day) to file a complaint with the DOT to force a refund.

  3. United is acting like it’s having a Going Out of Business sale, acting so desperately. Ironically coming off of a few years of having multi-billion dollar profits (their best in history) IIRC.

    Way to send a confident message…great thing they’ve done a multi-billion dollar share buyback the past couple years.

  4. Disregard Cranky when it comes to being critical of the airlines. He knows where his bread is buttered.

  5. @Gary – Given the focus of this blog I think you’re missing a key component: So how will this policy apply to Award tickets? Obviously, the idea of a travel credit equivalent to cash price paid does not apply to award tickets so what will happen to an award ticket that is impacted by a >2 hour schedule change

  6. United is in SERIOUS trouble. Make no mistake, this isn’t a “let’s stick it to our customers” move (even though it is, in effect), but rather, a *now* cash flow-negative company seeing the writing on the wall and taking steps to preserve liquidity.

    United is the most exposed of the US3 to Asia, continental Europe, overall international and, now, oil-related premium business. It’s almost a perfect storm, right now

  7. @ Gary — I am thankful that I have no tickets with UA at present. Other than to use the rest of our miles when the opportunity arises, I won’t ever be having any.

  8. I wish they would clarify the policy on award tickets. I have some Want to cancel, but I shouldn’t have to pay the redeposit fee if people don’t have cancellation fees with paid tickets. I paid for my award tickets with points as currency.

  9. Four months ago (November 2019) I purchased a United Business Class award involving the first leg on UA and the rest on AC. AC has changed the arrival by 2 hours and 10 minutes (as well as changing the equipment from a 787 to a 767).

    Even before this “25 hour” restriction, would I have been able to get a refund since AC made the schedule change and not UA?

  10. This is an easy one. I will simply dispute any charges in a case like this and let the credit card company take it out of United. The transaction was for a set of flights for a set schedule. Failure to deliver is a breach and the credit card is on the hook. All this accomplished was to get what they could from the ill informed and make United look worse than before.

  11. @UA-NYC

    I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but your description is pretty apt. Reminds me of Kevin Bacon’s last scene in Animal House where he’s freaking out while telling everyone to keep calm.

  12. Oh, puleeseee. United crooks were forced to (temporarily) rescind their continued corporate crooked behavior and effing their customers (not to mention the American taxpayers) after trying to go out of their ways to really eff their customers? Will be a blip on the screen while paying their crooked and incompetent execs/boards tens/hundreds of millions of dollars to be incompetent crooks. Well, of course, until the next time they come begging for more MASSIVE corporate welfare and MASSIVE bailouts on the backs of American taxpayers. There have been only a very few truly unethical and despicable interactions of thousands of amazing big companies with whom I’ve had so many great interactions: United and American are most of the truly andpathetic and crooked and unethical (not to pick on airlines: Southwest and Alaska have been absolutely wonderful!)

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