United Won’t Refund Customers With International Schedule Changes FOR A YEAR

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.

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. Intrepid Tours is doing something similarly slimy. They are cancelling all tours through April 30th however they are only offering a credit not refunds, even though they stated in the original contract that if THEY cancelled a tour you would get a full refund. Given what a huge tour company they are for individuals and groups this impacts a lot of people.

  2. Gary,

    Can credit card chargebacks/refuting the charge help people get their money back sooner?

  3. These voucher holders will be unsecured creditors when UAL files for bankruptcy.

  4. @ Gary — “When the chips are down true character is revealed.” Well said, and why I won’t be doing business with these people ever again.

  5. @Common man – maybe, they should work at least for recent purchases – generally card companies are willing to go back 12-18 months but don’t have to go back nearly that far (just a couple of statement cycles) and in the 10th circuit don’t have to refund anything you’ve already paid off.

  6. This is theft, pure and simple. If you cannot deliver a product for which you were paid then you cannot hold on to the money for a year! Your customers are not your bank and they are not your source of liquidity.

  7. Gary-

    Could you link to an explanation of the 10th circuit limitation you mentioned?


  8. If you cancel and award ticket, will they charge you to restore the miles to your frequent flyer account? And also refund the taxes that were paid by credit card?

  9. To paraphrase Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen, “Luxury!”

    We’re infuriated by FL (Icelandair), We decided to cancel our JFK-KEF-BRU flight departing Friday the 13th, 24 hours after President Trump’s announcement. It was a one-week trip we had bought in place of a HU flight to PVG which Hainan eventually refunded fully.

    After several hours of unsuccessful efforts via phone, Twitter, and Facebook, we finally learned that FL’s policy was limited to allowing us to change travel dates once (on the spot), to fly and return by Aug 31 (since amended to Dec 31 but apparently not retroactively) with the same origin and destination, and to require us to pay any difference in fare.

    We certainly had no idea at that precise moment in time (and still don’t) what the situation will be by mid-August, and whether we’d be allowed into Belgium and/or quarantined on our return to the US. We’re also in the higher-risk age group, and decided to follow the State Department’s level 3 “reconsider travel” warning.

    In our case, having purchased Saga Class tickets on a sale for about $1,000 each, we quickly ascertained we’d have to pay another $1,500 each, more expensive than flatbeds on competitors. I have no idea whether those fares have been inflated but it appears to us to be throwing good money after bad.

    In summary, FL is refunding us 1/3 of our taxes and fees, about 10% of the total fare paid.

    I would have no complaint if they offered a simple flight credit, which we might not even have used.

    Their Facebook page is loaded with similar complaints. I’ve lost any sympathy I would ordinarily have for FL. While they probably will take a big hit, they have virtually exploited the situation to take our money.

  10. This really makes it tough for me to know how to feel. On the one hand, I hope they are still around to give me the cash. On the other hand, I would be willing to take the loss as long as United went out of business. This reflects my anger at the airlines who have continually contributed to the travel nightmare it has become. A fee for checking a bag, carrying a bag, sitting in a seat you picked, trying to get all of your stuff to a sporting event, etc. What I really don’t understand is how their accounting is going to handle this while recognizing that everything at an airline is based upon one year. So when you buy your ticket, it gets booked as unearned income at United, meaning that it cannot be recognized as income. When you fly the ticket, it goes from unearned to earned and the ticket is finished. Now the money will have to be categorized as some financial obligation other than income with some arbitrary value until it is cashed in, lost, forgotten, who knows. To me, while it is unearned, it should be considered as escrow and readily available to return to the rightful owner. I further hope United’s legal expenses for the lawsuits to get our money back exceed the value of the tickets to further show the idiocy of United management.

  11. If I transferred Chase points into United to buy an award seat, I assume there’s no way to get the points back to Chase, right?

  12. I do not know how much $ United has, they just may not have enough to refund all these tickets and remain in operation while very few people buy new tickets. If this is the case they may not have any other option.

  13. Gary – thanks for that information; how much do they need to operate for x months without much new revenue?

  14. We’re all in this together, right?

    And they’re asking for a bailout on top of this?


  15. Does anyone know if they’re allowed to enforce rule changes retroactively? I bought tickets from United in Feb. and it seems like they would be bound to the contract at that time which would fully refund from a 2hr change?

  16. When I called the 1K line to cancel my vacation to Grand Cayman I had to wait on hold wich never happens and when I finally got to an agent he said that in his 7 hour shift he had not booked a flight or helped a traveler with anything but cancellations.

    No company can keep up with planes that have to keep moving locations to keep the routes open, with seats that are open. I for one am willing to cut them some slack for trying to stay alive during COVID-19.

    Look travel is hard and being on the road 200+ days year I can tell you that United trys harder than the other airlines.

  17. My gut was right about United. I vowed to never fly United again last year. For one, the way the bathroom walls and shelves were taped together made me worry about the lack of care they give to their planes. I do not know about the reason son for the tape so I decided to not be a hater for that.What was neglectful was when I had to sit half my body in my aisle because it was a tiny plane and the guy next to me was an easy 400 pds. I called for the stewardess and she ignored me. I stopped her when she was walking down the aisle and she said she could do nothing. I thought of how that poor little dog was forced in the bin overhead and died and had to wonder if it was the same flight attendant. That was a miserable flight for me…..never again United.


  18. Things like this are why I stopped flying on United or any American flagged carrier. Usually a better deal, service and reliability on non American carriers

  19. Honestly, personally can’t complain, had non refundable ticket for May EWR TO LHR and I decided not to travel. Did not expect much sympathy but they have given me credit for 1 years, so no complaints here.

  20. You all are a bunch of whiney babies. We are in a worldwide crisis that is ever evolving. Daily. Things are changing DAILY with EVERY sector of business. Give it a chance, it will all work out. United will do what is right by their customers. They always do.

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