United Won’t Honor the 4 Mile Award Tickets to/through Hong Kong

I had posted originally that I didn’t think United would honor this, that it was a long shot, and that for all of the armchair lawyering about tickets being issued and DOT regulations that it at least wasn’t obvious to me that it was a slam dunk.

And indeed, it wasn’t. United’s official word is that people can either pay the proper mileage price of the awards or cancel without penalty.

Hi Everyone, over the weekend, we discovered a united.com programming error that allowed customers to obtain Mileage Plus travel awards to and from Hong Kong for as little as four miles roundtrip per person, substantially below published levels, which we disclose to customers. We have since corrected the error and will be in contact with customers who have tickets issued at the incorrect award amounts. Customers will be given the choice to redeem at the correct mileage amount or re-deposit their award with all fees waived. We regret any inconvenience this has caused you, and appreciate your understanding.

Shannon Kelly
Director, Customer Insights
United Airlines

I have to imagine they’ll handle things a bit differently with the handful of folks that are already mid-trip, a few people actually booked yesterday and began flying yesterday and today.

It was a fun ride. I wonder how many of these tickets were issued. I was ‘in’ in case United decided to effectively give me free first class flights to Asia. But I don’t really feel I deserved those tickets. And by making their decision the day after the booking problems I do think they’ve acted timely enough. (Though some will argue that they should be personally contacted by midnight the following day for a fee-free cancel, since that’s what they would have to do if they had made a mistake on a United ticket…)

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. Well, I’m not surprised either. As I’ve posted, I thought this was at least a $10 million liability to them. That’s not something they’d be inclined to “eat.”

    I’ll let the hotter heads fight this one out. I’m not going to argue that I “deserve” a 4 mile biz class award ticket to Hong Kong because some programmer make a stupid mistake.

  2. Drats! My great hopes of sticking it to UA foiled yet again! 😀 Like I said yesterday, nothing lost, nothing gained. Fun to be a part of the excitement for the 30+ hours this dream existed. Thanks again for sharing the link, Gary, and thanks to your reader who broke the news to you. We’ll have to drown our sorrows in SQ F 😉

  3. If United wanted to do something nice for PR purposes and beneficial, they could donate the seats to charity, but the people who booked cannot reasonably think they should get any more than a refund.

  4. The only issue I have with the United statement is “over the weekend, we discovered a united.com programming error”. It should read “over the weekend, YOU discovered a united.com programming error”.

  5. @Rapid Travel Chai, why are you such a downer?

    #1 backdoor business with United?
    #2 didn’t get on the deal?

    We will see if they file an 8-K in the next week, and see how much $$ they are booking for this. There will be some litigation estimates and it will be material.

  6. This is the right thing for united to do and the reason i didnt bother to book. Just like if u went to the atm and there was 100,000 in the account instead of $10,000. A reminder to not be too greedy.

  7. Well, fun while it lasted. Didn’t think it would happen either but was also ‘in it’ on the off-chance United would be nice.

    What I found interesting was that they didn’t offer some form of compensation straightaway (‘we’re so sorry to have inconvenienced you, please have this e-voucher for 5k miles that can be used against your next redemption). It’s a simple and ‘cheap’ practise to appease the large majority who were in it, just in case they may get something. For those who have depleted accounts, that would cost them nothing since it’s not enough to redeem anything, or even encouraged activity on their UA FFP to accumulate enough miles to use the compensation. At least that’s what I would have done.

  8. @Archie: They didn’t inconvenience anyone. Do you think there was a single person who didn’t understand that they were taking advantage of a glaring mistake to essentially get a small chance of a big payoff? To the extent anyone was inconvenienced, they inconvenienced themselves.

  9. Of course they didn’t. It’s just nice ‘corporatese’ for ‘Look, we know you just wanted to stick it to us. Please take this and don’t put us to the cost and REAL inconvenience of fighting a DOT case or class action lawsuit’.

  10. Umm, I’m already in HKG. What do I do? My return isn’t for a week. I wonder if they’ll insist I pay the miles for the round trip and not just the return.

  11. I was in on this and wanted to see them honored. But, not being a lawyer I could not come up with a single rational argument in favor of United honoring them.

  12. My ticket still is showing confirmed, with the receipt and $162 charged to my credit card. The flyertalk thread about this subject shut down a few minutes ago while I was reading it! I wonder if this
    is their official statement!

  13. Perhaps i’m overinterpreting, but I have to wonder if the following sentence was very carefully worded in light of the DOT rules – “Customers will be given the choice to redeem at the correct mileage amount or re-deposit their award with all fees waived”. It gives 2 options w/out saying whether there is another unmentioned option behind door #3. What is missing is an outright claim that they will not honor the tickets as booked, and I wonder if that is a very carefully crafted message. What will happen to those who do not choose one of those two options mentioned?

  14. @Matt B,

    if you don’t choose door #1 or #2, you will get a free trip to HKG.

    George Costanza: “If she can’t find me, she can’t break up with me.”

  15. When I read that I have the option to redeem at “the correct mileage amount” I’m assuming they mean I authorize them to debit the correct amount of miles from my account that my ticket states – 4 miles.

    That is indeed the “correct mileage amount” that’s stated on my ticket.

  16. I’ll wait for UA to contact me and then see what (if anything) they offer… perhaps I could make a suggestion? (Y class, anyone?)

  17. @LarryInNYC: By showing inaccurate and misleading information on their web site, they inconvenienced EVERYONE. Especially the people who actually wanted to book a normal award to travel to HK and other affected routes over the weekend.

    I certainly don’t think they need to give any compensation, but its clearly their mistake and they should at least apologize more sincerely and formally, not just a ‘oops’ post on Milepoint.

  18. I figured it would not be honored by United, so it was not worth the headache or bother to even try to book.

  19. How long does it take them to redeposit your miles? I canceled the reservation about 10 hours after making it, so way before the 24hour deadline. A day later and my miles still aren’t back in my account. Should I be worried?

  20. It always blows my mind how many people have such an intense sense of entitlement. If you knew that the fare wasn’t legit (any reasonable person would have noticed the difference between the six-figure segment quotes and the final tally, plus the fact they didn’t have nearly enough miles in their account) and you didn’t rely on the offer to your detriment as a result, please explain how you have a legal basis for fighting United? When they return your money and your handful of miles, you’re whole, are you not?

  21. Not surprised but of course disappointed. United and United.com is a train wreck….just one more data point.

  22. But what are they doing with the, I assume very few, people who actually started flying before the “glitch” was discovered?

  23. What are they doing with the, I assume very few, people who actually started flying before this “glitch” was discovered? Are they honoring the tickets for the return leg or putting those passengers in the back next to the bathrooms in a non fully reclining seat as punishment!

  24. the one weekend I stay off the flyertalk and blogging boards,,, a deal like this appears… Kudos to the brilliant brilliant flyers that left on Sunday or Early Monday. They would definitely be able to seek legal compensation if United had the nerve to cancel their returns. My hats off to those half way through their epic journey right now 🙂

  25. Hi just wonder if anyone has a ticket flying out tomorrow/today Tuesday? Since this message isn’t official, any of you thinking of flying out still? But if we have miles in account, wouldn’t those miles deducted afterward even we did not receive any notice before our booked flight leaves? Any thought on this? Thanks very much

  26. lance- I hope those people are sweating in the Hong Kong heat and humidity. Further, I hope UA puts them in coach on the return leg or denies them boarding until they pay!

  27. How come when we make mistakes, they cost us a bar minimum of $150 to change, plus difference in fare? But when United does it, it’s a “glitch”.

    I’m not saying they should honor the tickets. I just got a great deal of pleasure seeing them get taken on this deal after how much they screw us.

  28. @Steve – United gives customers a reasonable amount of time (a day) to make a free change when they make an *accidental* error. Don’t you think customers should give United a reasonable amount of time to make a free correction for customers who *knowingly* made purchases with billing errors? Barely a day after the event they’ve already notified everyone via the channels that largely disseminated the mistake that they will be contacting everyone personally and offering full refunds to make you whole. Seems fair to me that they be given at least a little more time to untie all the knots.

  29. I think the easiest solution to this whole ordeal is for United to cancel the tickets free of charge since it was a mistake on their end, and then for everyone who got in on the deal, United should provide them with a couple “get out of jail free” cards. So they next time we make a “computer programing glitch”, instead of getting hit with $150 in change fees, United would just let it slide. Problem solved!

  30. I get it too, it was a mistake, but none the less their mistake, not our, we didn’t rig the system, nor broke any law, so do you think that their way of admitting of an “error” is the right one?
    do you think that a “Corporation” like United should “talk” to their customers thought a post on a “forum”, and saying “Hi Everyone”. ?

    And I agree with @bmguan, they have our emails, they could (still haven’t in my case) talk to us directly, you “appreciate [our] understanding” they say but I’ll appreciate if they, at least say sorry, in my business if I make a mistake the first words coming out of my mouth are “I’m sorry”.
    I don’t know, to me it comes don’t your “values” as a person, and in many ways in this country corporations are consider humans.

    And @ John, those people in HK right now, “technically” they paid, it’s a fine line, to where even if both parties realize the error, it’s not the customer responsibility to act as the company’s watch dog.
    Those customers went thought the right channels, they booked the flight, they asked “how much for that ticket?”
    “4 miles”
    “really? ok… here they are.”
    “thanks for choosing United have a nice flight”

  31. Hi Gary, I booked a ticket for this 4-mile ride. However, since my account has ample miles, UA deducts the correct amount from my account while still issuing me the invoice with 4 miles. Since this trip is suppose to be departed this coming Saturday, should I contact UA directly to ask for all the amount redeposited and have a full refund of all related costs or I should not to travel and wait for UA to contact me? Thank you.

  32. @Alan I wouldn’t be in a hurry but no reason not to contact them i suppose. It’s interesting though that they haven’t reached out to folks and indeed some travel is immiment and some underway. No reason why they would expect everyone to even know the status of these tickets. If you had booked for 4 miles I would say definitely don’t contact them. But since they deducted full imles it will be harder to get miles back if you travel…

  33. For those of you that are being good sports and not whining about the correction – good for you. For those of you that expect something for nothing and are tying up customer service (while others with legitimate gripes get delayed further) – shame on you. You are the types of morally bankrupt ethically challenged babies that would keep a found wallet.

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