This is United’s fourth refunds policy change in just a week. If they change your international flight by 6 hours or more they will give you a credit for the amount of your ticket. If you don’t use the credit within a year then and only then are you eligible for a refund.
As recently as March 6, United offered refunds if they changed your schedule two hours or more. That was fair: minor schedule changes didn’t create the right to a refund on non-refundable tickets, but if the airline wasn’t really delivering on what they promised when they sold you the ticket you’d get your money back.
Then they said – even for tickets already purchased when they published the 2 hour policy – they would not give refunds at all unless the change was 25 hours or more. They claimed they were allowed to do this under their Contract of Carriage, but it contradicted a policy they marketed to customers on their website and was therefore probably illegal. No mind, very few people would complain to the Department of Transportation and while any claim worked its way through the system United would get to hold onto cash. Right now it’s all about United conserving cash even by holding onto money that does not belong to them.
After tremendous backlash United first said they would consider refunds on a case-by-case basis and then revised the policy to make refunds available for schedule changes of 6 hours or more. That was better but still bait-and-switch for customers who bought tickets under the published two hour rule.
Now United has gone and changed the policy again. For international itineraries a 6 hour schedule change only entitles you to a voucher, and that voucher can be refunded for cash after a year. That’s United’s way of holding onto your money even when you’re really entitled to a refund. Perhaps by treating you badly they think you’ll support the government bailout that CEO Oscar Munoz has been in DC asking for, since you need the airline to still be in business (and not to seek to discharge their refund obligations in bankruptcy) a year from now.
Here’s the new policy, via Brett Snyder:
Our goal remains to automatically re-book as many customers as possible within 6 hours of their originally scheduled flight. For any customer whose international travel is disrupted by more than 6 hours because of schedule changes resulting from government restrictions, they will retain a credit equal to the value of their ticket. That credit an be ued 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 refund to their original form of payment at the end of that 12 month period. Importantly, this new way of helping customers manage through changing flight schedules also applies to residents from other countries that effectively can no longer travel to the U.S. because they would face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival as well as customers impacted more broadly by government-mandated travel restrictions or quarantines. In addition this change also maintains our ability to manage our business through this evolving and difficult set of circumstances.
Perhaps most galling of all, United describes this as a “new way of helping customers.” When the chips are down true character is revealed.