Why Is United Airlines Tricking Customers Into Paying For Basic Consumer Protections That Are Free?

During the pandemic United Airlines was one of the worst offenders refusing to honor refunds for flights that they cancelled. It’s black-letter law that when an airline doesn’t operate the flight they sold you, that you’re entitled to your money back. United just refused to give the money, presumably reckoning that they’d worry about customers going after them if they survived. They’d keep your money and it wouldn’t matter if Covid-19 forced them out of business.

Some itineraries that they promised refunds for they said customers would have to wait a year. They even redefined the English language to weasel out of refunds, claiming that a flight was only cancelled if they no longer operate a route at all. If United scheduled 8 flights a day on a route, and cut that down to 3, United cancelled 5 flights – but under their definition they didn’t cancel any because they still served the route.

This went on for three months – even having received a government bailout – before agreeing to honor refunds in the face of threats by the Department of Transportation.

So it’s especially raw and galling to see United Airlines selling the option to receive a refund when they cancel a flight during the booking process on their website.

  • A customer is entitled to a refund when United cancels their flight for any reason

  • However United makes it appear that this is not the case when a flight is cancelled due to weather, unless the customer pays extra.

Now, a payout from insurance and a refund from United may be separate things but that’s not how this is marketed. If a customer wants a refund in the event of a weather-related cancellation, United’s website presents that as costing an extra $22.87 in this example.

Perhaps they’re messaging that – given their recent history – you really can’t expect they’ll honor refund requests if things turn south for the carrier, so you do need to insure against their improper behavior if you’re going to buy a ticket from them?

United’s marketing of ancillary insurance seems, to me, to be an ‘unfair and deceptive practice’ that should subject United to liability. Where’s the Department of Transportation? They’re focused on developing rules for exactly how fees must be shown every time you search for airline schedules even though these fees are generally well-disclosed already. But they aren’t currently concerning themselves with actually-deceptive sales practices during the booking path.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Think you are reading this wrong. The reimbursement goes to covering food, transportation etc. up to the flight ticket price, in case a flight is cancelled.

  2. It is also an unfair and deceptive trade pratice with regard to the sale of insurance under state insurance laws.

  3. The AA language that I’ve seen sells trip cancellation insurance which is a standard product, it doesn’t imply that you won’t get a refund if you don’t buy it and AA cancels your flight.

  4. “Why Is United Airlines Tricking Customers Into Paying For Basic Consumer Protections That Are Free?”

    Question asked and answered.

  5. Hey, you know what, you can’t get money if you don’t ask for it nicely. It doesn’t matter that the sucker doesn’t get any added value from it, right? As they say, a sucker is born every minute.

    On a separate note, my son was in Basic training in Chicago when the pandemic hit. I was supposed to fly on Southwest to go to his graduation. The graduation ceremonies was relegated to virtual, then completely cancelled as we sank into the depths of the shutdown.

    I was wondering what to do with my tickets? I was afraid I was going to have to settle for a credit. But I but I knew that if they cancelled, I could get a full refund. So instead of canceling my reservation and getting a flight credit, I waited until pretty much the last minute to take any action. Then I checked and saw that without contacting me they cancelled my return flight and rebooked me on a later flight. Opportunity presents itself for those with patients. I called up to check on my reservation, and when the agent confirmed the later flight I corrected her saying that my return flight was XXX at XXXX. And she said that flight was cancelled. I capitalized on that and said that wouldn’t work for me, it would get me back to late for my schedule. She asked if an earlier flight would work. Nope. I guess I’ll just have to cancel my whole trip. OK, I’ll credit you. Oh no you don’t, I need a refund. And she begrudgingly gave me a refund!

    You have to know how to work the system folks. You have to know your rights. I would never buy this insurance. There are times when insurance makes sense. But I rarely buy it, and when I do, I know exactly why I am buying it and what it will cover. I know insurance companies and airlines all to well. The devil is in the details. Read the fine print and know what the law is.

  6. Time for all ticket purchases to be placed in escrow: when the flight has completed only then does the airline get the money.

  7. what is a woman? No one knows anymore
    What is a vaccine? No one knows anymore
    What does canceled mean? No one knows anymore.

    We are truly living in an upside down bizzaro world

  8. Flying those friendly scammy skies
    But United still breaks guitars and drags passengers off of flights bloodied
    Let the buyer beware

  9. Before I retired I had to travel 100% of the time. I got abandoned by United so many times and had to rent a car and drive that I instructed the company travel agent to never book me on United even if I had to fly to freaking Denver to change planes to get to Florida. I could never check a bag, period, as it would not arrive and I would be stuck buying a week’s worth of clothes to get through that trip. Shortly after that, as ALL of the airlines got worse and worse, TSA got more and more abusive, and the rental car companies started having their customers arrested while driving a rental, I simply talked my boss into letting me drive my personal vehicle. Turned out that, door to door, I could drive from NE Ohio to southern Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Arizona in less time than the total wasted by the airlines and for a fraction of the cost with absolutely zero chance of being stuck in some fleabag hotel in Chicago. At one point a 45 minute flight from Cleveland to Toronto Canada was $1500. And by the way, I’m a very small (5 ft.) female, and even I can’t fit into the lousy seats; I can’t imagine how painful it is for full size men to spend a couple hours immobile in one of those torture devices. I will never fly again; so screw you, airlines; you’ve been screwing all of us for way too long.

  10. In another similar example, United tries to sell United club, elite access, and other premium ancillary services for international business class tickets that already include these products.

  11. I don’t think you understand what the policy covers. The coverage is NOT for weather cancellations… The coverage is for protections/expenses DURING a weather delay/cancellation. It provides up to $100 per day for expenses, baggage coverage up to $500, and an additional benefit for unforeseen interruptions or covered sicknesses. Details of the coverage are clearly available to customers before they buy the coverage. If you want more info, just click the link.

  12. you understanding of the policy are wrong.
    The airline basicaly cancel u der 2 tipes or circunstances
    controlable meaning is their fault,like mechanical,crew,in this case refundables are allowed
    uncontralable like cancelation do it to weather,trafic control in this cases no refund.
    most tkt are non refundable
    and by de way all aa ,dl,and others have the same policies.
    your coments are one of the reasons airlines had bad reputations,and I find out been to true.

  13. It states in the title this is connected with bad weather. If your flight is canceled due to weather, which is a Force Majeure, the passenger has no right to a refund unless they have an insurance thay covers this contingency.

  14. I paid for an economy plus seat due to disability. My seat was about 4 feet away from the toilet on the plane. The entire trip was made very uncomfortable by people in an out and lining up for the use of the toilet. I could reach my hand out and touch the door. I’m very disappointed in this and I do have a return ticket. How do I make sure that I’m not put in the same position again our Schneider

  15. I paid for a first class ticket from Houston TX to Palm Springs CA. I was with 3 friends. We all bought same tickets. I was the only one seated in rear of plane and was refused refund. My 3 friends were all seated in first class. I don’t trust United Airlines,

Comments are closed.