Wow: United Making Refunds Harder To Get Because Of Coronavirus

United is already taking significant steps to reduce spending in the face of coronavirus. They’ve instituted a hiring freeze, they’re delaying raises for non-union employees, and they’re reducing their flight schedules.

While other airlines are finding ways to be more customer-friendly – Alaska is offering bonus elite qualifying miles, Alaska and American are cleaning their planes more – United is actually making it harder than before coronavirus to get a refund for tickets.

If your flight is cancelled, an airline has to refund your ticket. But if they change the schedule, and they’re going to operate at a different time than when you bought your ticket?

  • United’s policy was that a schedule change of 2 hours or more made you eligible for a refund.

  • United’s new policy is that a schedule change has to be 25 hours or more to make you eligible for a refund. United doesn’t even have to fly on the same day as what they sold you.

United actually says they are making things more difficult on customers because of changes to their schedule they are making to respond to coronavirus.

Word of this new policy is thanks to the sibylline Brian Sumers:

The change is reflected in Jetstream and appears to apply even to tickets purchased prior to the change.

Sumers attributes United’s unwillingness to give you your money back even when they don’t give you what you purchased to an extreme desire to conserve cash in the face of a massive dropoff in bookings out of fear of coronavirus. I’d bet United will see a lot of chargebacks and perhaps Department of Transportation complaints over this policy change that says that if their schedule change (for their convenience) means you can’t make it to your meeting, you’re just out of luck.

You’ve just been Kirby’ed.

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, 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. In other news, AA just provided me a full refund for a purchase I made back in January but needed to cancel for Covid-19 cancelling my conference.

    I have to say, plus one for them. Eff United.

  2. Seems like a pretty basic violation of basic contract lae to enforce a new policy ex post facto.

  3. Congrats on naming this correctly…Kirby’ed.

    Let’s see what the ultimate “line on a spreadsheet” means in this case

  4. Wow…this could screw me when I fly to Chicago in less than two weeks though it seems unlikely given the frequency of flights between SFO and ORD.

  5. I was just thinking about defecting from AA as an Exec Plat to United, I thought they were improving. This is great example of why I should not and now will not fly United. Shame on United for being so shady.

  6. This is screwing me for flight home from Denver skip trip. Originally on 10 pm Sunday evening flight, which they cancelled, and now on a 5 pm flight because that’s the latest flight leaving for me. I’d have to leave ski hill at noon to make the flight, losing a quarter of ski time. Only other alternative is eating the cost of a hotel and flying out next morning…

  7. DCJoe wrote “Seems like a pretty basic violation of basic contract lae to enforce a new policy ex post facto.”

    I agree. They’ll see me in small claims court if you attempt to this with any of the tickets I purchased prior to them making the change.

  8. You would have to be crazy to book a ticket on United with a policy like that. I cannot imagine folks who make corporate travel policies will allow employee bookings on United with this policy in effect. United is Kirby’ing themselves.

  9. But Oscar just sent me a letter saying that United considers me to be family. LOL

  10. It’s who they are and have always been no surprises here
    They have been horrible since post 911 and getting worse every year since then
    They send me free elite status and I still don’t fly them
    Loved them in the 90s

  11. Sibylline, oh why can’t you be true? You done started backing doing those things you used to do.

  12. United to customers: “You must pay us $200 to make any change to your flight, but we are free to make any change we want within 25 hours of your purchased flight date”.

  13. John said:
    “I was just thinking about defecting from AA as an Exec Plat to United….”

    I read that and starting thinking about defecating on both.`

  14. @Andrew:

    I got the same email from Oscar twice. Once noting my Premier status and one that didn’t.

    Thinking about United’s “take care of the customer” slogan…


  15. I hope AA doesn’t. And if they do it’s only for tickets bought now. And not retroactive. Or exemption for elites.

  16. @ Gary — Just closed my 7-year old Chase United Mileage Plus account. They’ll probably need to offer 150,000 miles by the time I can apply again. 😉

  17. Why would anyone be surprised at United actions? I’m sure not. Last year I purchased tickets for a vacation and at the last minute my friend was not able to come. United nor that scam travel insurance did not refund my 436.00 I’m still out of.

  18. @ Kim — And why do you believe that you are due a refund under your circumstances? Your friend not being able to travel is generally not a reason for a refund from the airline or from travel insurance. That would generally require a refundable ticket.

  19. Why does anyone still fly on United? I stopped flying them years ago / before they started knocking the teeth out of their passengers. I can’t tell you how many times they lost my baggage, lied to me, and so much more. The final straw was when they canceled my flight “due to the weather” and yet they had TEN other flights to the SAME destination that date, including flights that left just one hour on either side of mine – ALL of which left as scheduled. (Perhaps their pilots were drunk?)

    I hat to wait more the 24 hours to finally get another flight, which was not non-stop like my original flight was – they stuck me in the back of the plane – instead of the upgraded seat I had paid for, and worst of all – my daughter was now stranded because she had taken another United flight that was supposed to arrive a full day after I got home but because United canceled my flight due to their drunk pilots (or whatever was the the real reason they canceled my flight). My daughter ended up arriving EIGHT HOURS before I finally got home. After screaming at United to help her (she had no money and nothing to eat), they finally agreed to get food for her but she had to go to go to their “customer service” (that’s an oxymoron with United) desk for a voucher. When she arrived at their desk as instructed, United’s monsters CHEWED OUT MY DAUGHTER and demanded to know why she was so special that she could bother them with such a request! They REFUSED to give her the voucher!

    After complaining to United (BTW, I had to spend an extra night in a hotel – at my experience), United offered me a whopping $25 for their APPALLING behavior towards my daughter and me.

    It’ll be a COLD DAY IN HELL before I fly United’s Hostile Skies again – I’ll walk before I fly on them. The sooner they go out of business, the better. BTW, I now usually fly Southwest – they’re fantastic! I just received an e-mail from them regarding an upcoming trip, which informed me of their great cancellation policy and the extra precautions they’re taking in response to the corona virus. Let’s hope United dies a painful death from the virus!

  20. Booked a flight on 2/12. United cancels the flight, and reschedules me much earlier in the day. I call for a refund and say I can’t depart that early. They say they didn’t cancel the flight…they merely changed the flight time, flight number and aircraft and THEN said there’s a “new rule” that unless it’s after 25 hours they won’t refund it. My travel department is going nuclear on this. Another great move, United (you excel at pissing people off).

  21. @DisgustedWithUnited

    Because my company requires it. But, that may be changing as I know they’re getting fed up. Fingers crossed.

  22. UA screwed me over years ago, and I’ve probably been on one of their planes under 5 times in the last 20 years. This puts a nail in the coffin.

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