Have a travel related question? Post it here, and I’ll do my best to answer it as quickly as possible.
While anyone can comment on regular blog post, registration is required in order to post a question in this space. Creating your account is free, and you'll be able to see when your question is answered, as well as like comments from other users. And of course, you'll earn status points for offering helpful answers!
This space is intended to be more of a community as well, so please jump in and share tips!
United charging different fares on the same flight based on billing country
This is something that came to my attention today and I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed or experienced this, or if it can be explained how they can get away with this…
Today I was attempting to book a one way flight from Chicago O’hare to Vancouver on United Airlines for my partner and myself. The price the United Airlines website had quoted me was $422 USD ($552 CAD) total for two seats in economy class booked as a T class fare. Upon attempting to book this the website gave me an error several times so I called the United Premier Line to attempt this booking.
Upon calling, the agent was able to create the reservation I wanted for $422 USD total ( $552 CAD), but once she confirmed that my billing address was in Canada, the price was suddenly $769 CAD total. I was initially told the inflated price was the conversion rate. I politely pointed out that $422 USD does not convert to $769 CAD. It then turned into a story of “there are additional taxes and fees for Canadian billing addresses” which I know is not the case and pointed out, as all taxes and fees are itemized and identical whether you’re booking on with a Canadian or US address. Once the agent talked with her supervisor she came back with an explanation saying that the lower fare class of T was only available to people with a US billing address, and that the lowest fare class available for people with Canadian billing addresses was in K class, for $217 CAD more.
So basically there are cheaper fares on this flight, but I can’t have them because I don’t have a US billing address.
While I called United Airlines assuming this had to be a computer glitch it became clear that if I wanted this ticket I was going to have to pay $217 more for the same seats in economy class, on the same flight, than I would if I had a US billing address. The agent claimed my credit card had to be charged in Canadian dollars since that’s where my billing address is, as per United policy. This seems like an odd policy to me. Last month Malaysia Airlines charged my card in Thai Baht and Turkish airlines charged my card in Turkish Lira. Why does United take the stance they do here?
I’ll give credit to the agent I spoke to on the phone as I recognize she had limited powers in this situation, was patient, and was honestly trying to be helpful.
I’ve encountered airlines charging foreigners more for domestic travel before, but the situations have been drastically different, and typically in developing countries. For example, the last time I encountered this was in Peru, where Peruvians could buy tickets to fly from Lima to Cuzco for about 25% of what tourists had to pay at the time I was booking. In that example it seems completely fair as their currency is massively devalued compared to the US or Canadian dollar, and generally speaking tourists who are flying from from Lima to Machu Picchu can afford to pay a bit more to subsidize locals who need to travel to see family and such, and would never be able to afford tickets as expensive as what tourists are paying.
This situation is nothing like that though. With the Canadian dollar being down over 30% compared to the US dollar for several years now, it’s not like people in the US need their airfare subsidized to be able to take a flight like this. And to that matter, it’s not even an issue of nationality, rather whether or not you have a credit card with a US billing address. I, myself, am an American citizen and a Canadian Permanent Resident, but because I don’t hold any credit cards with a US billing address anymore the only option was to pay $217 more.
Has anyone else experienced United (or Delta/American/Alaska) making cheaper fare classes on “transborder” routes only available to US billing address?
While I’ve not encountered the exact situation you’re referring to, I can address the specific issue of billing credit cards in a certain currency. I work for a multi-national shipping company and can tell you that due to the agreement we have with Canadian credit card processors, any account with a Canadian billing address and paying with credit card must be billed in CAD. It doesn’t matter what country issued the credit card, for us it’s the billing address + credit card combo that determines the currency, at least for Canada. All US accounts must be billed in USD. All Italy accounts must be billed in Euro. For any of these it wouldn’t matter the origin & destination of the item you’re shipping – you’ll be billed in a specific currency for your account. Other countries are much more lenient but those are the agreements we have with those countries.