United’s New “Case By Case” Schedule Change Refund Policy

Filed Under: United

Update: United Airlines has updated their schedule change policy again, so see here.

A few days ago I wrote about United Airlines’ new refund policy for schedule changes. The airline has gotten tons of backlash for this, and it looks like United is backtracking on the policy… slightly.

Yes, United Airlines is in a really tough situation…

Let me first of all acknowledge that airlines are of course in a really tough situation. For example, yesterday we learned just how bad the situation at United is, as net domestic bookings are down 70% in recent days, and net bookings to Asia and Europe have fallen 100%.

United is expecting the drop in demand from this situation to be worse than it was after 9/11.

What made United’s new schedule change policy so bad

Taking the above into consideration, I can certainly understand why United is trying to conserve cash. However, there are some policies that cross the line.

With United Airlines’ new schedule change policy, the airline won’t let you refund your ticket unless the airline changes your flight schedule against your will by at least 25 hours. The previous policy was two hours.

It’s outrageous to think that the airline could cancel your flight in advance, rebook you on a flight 24 hours later, and you still wouldn’t be entitled to a refund.

The logic of the policy was pretty clear — United is slashing their schedule, and in the case of some long haul flights, they’re no longer offering daily service. So United wants to be able to rebook you the next day without you being able to get your money back.

United Airlines updates policy to be “case by case”

The latest update on this isn’t that United is fully backtracking, but rather they are in the process of updating their refund policy, “replacing it with a policy that will allow [them] to make case-by-case decisions to better serve [their] customers during these uncertain times.”

I guess that’s better than nothing, but the issue is that:

  • Making a “case-by-case” decision requires calling, and hold times at airlines are generally really long now; they need systems in place with which people can self service online
  • If you’re delayed for 24 hours, you should be getting a refund no questions asked, not on a “case-by-case” basis

In case anyone is wondering how United justified the 25 hour policy, a spokesperson told me:

  • United’s goal is to rebook as many people as possible without interruption
  • As of a couple of days ago, more than 90% of impacted customers are being put on other flights within two hours of their original booking; note that this was before huge upcoming schedule reductions

While that sounds good:

  • Being put on a flight within two hours doesn’t mean you’ll get to your destination within two hours, since in many cases people are being rebooked on less direct routings
  • For those nearly 10% of people who aren’t being put on other flights within two hours, I assume the delays can be significantly greater, and they don’t even have the option of a refund

Bottom line

Airlines are obviously in a tough situation, but United’s policy of not allowing changes when there’s a schedule change of up to 25 hours crosses the line.

I’m happy to see that United is slightly backtracking on this policy, in the sense that it seems they’ll be willing to offer refunds on a “case-by-case” basis. However, for an airline with tens of millions of customers, where phone hold times are consistently long at the moment, that doesn’t seem like a great solution.

It’s better than nothing, though…

Comments
  1. How does a “case by case” seriously work with an airline – who’s making the decisions ? Who and when does someone challenge the decision to a higher authority ? Everyone knows how long it takes to speak with anyone at a carrier and now this ? It’s not going to end well for anybody

  2. Proof that while UA has come a long way from being America’s Soviet Airline, it still fundamentally sees its customers as a nuisance.

  3. Case by case is unfair. They should refund all customers, not pick a select few. This policy is going to be ripe for chargebacks.

  4. This is not at all an improvement. It’s just adding a smokescreen to a bad policy to lessen the blowback.

    Airlines should be decreasing uncertainty for those of us who still want or have to fly, not increasing it with ever-greater opacity.

  5. You continue to state this as fact, but the truth is if United can accommodate you within 25 hours they will try to re-book you. However, there’s no language in the policy that says the passenger has to accept this, and isn’t entitled to a refund. If you don’t like the new flight, you can ask for a refund.

    You do this all the time. You run around and cry the sky is falling based on the other blog posts but don’t take the time to research yourself. Did you call United and ask them about the policy?

  6. @ wpr8e — I have no clue what you’re talking about? The new schedule change policy is United’s new official policy.

  7. Prove it. Show me where it’s stated, other than from a fellow blogger or a conversation with a phone agent.

    You’ve posted about this multiple times, and have yet to show any proof or evidence

  8. This has been truncated and isn’t the whole policy. Customers are still entitled to a refund if requested. It actually says that in the text. Sorry there’s nothing here.

  9. @ wpr8e — Whatever… I’ve confirmed with a United spokesperson that this is a policy. Clearly I just can’t read, because I don’t see what you’re seeing in the text…

    You’re welcome to believe whatever you’d like to, but you’re wrong.

    But seriously, confirmation from a spokesperson and United’s official published policy isn’t enough for you? What would you like to see?

  10. Lucky – wpr8e is a long time UA plant/troll on FlyerTalk – the airline can do no wrong for him. They definitely have some sort of unstated connection to the airline.

    Would ignore their line of “reasoning” here.

  11. @UA-NYC,

    Not really sure what you’re talking about. Just trying to bring facts into the discussion.

    @Lucky, from the text, “while refunds should be offered only when all rebooking options have been explored, YOU are empowered to make the best decision based on individual situations” Pretty clear. I can’t think or many circumstances when any reasonable request wouldn’t be honored.

    Clearly some people have never run a business. This policy is clearly designed to re-accommodate folks automatically because of a schedule change due to the drastic nature of the schedule reductions. If that works for the passenger, then great, everyone wins. If it doesn’t you can ask for a refund and the agents are empowered to grant the request. But three posts in the last week, Lucky is implying that if your schedule change is within 25 hours, that you’re not entitled to a refund. That’s simply not true. United is not making it an automatic refund over 2 hours and trying to preserve their passengers/revenue.

    Worst case you get a travel credit.

    This isn’t rocket science.

  12. @ wpr8e — You’re claiming “United is not making it an automatic refund over 2 hours.” United’s policy was never to automatically provide a refund for a schedule change of two hours. Rather they’d present you with alternatives, but you were also entitled to a refund if the change was more than two hours.

    I’m curious what you actually interpret the policy to be here? If my flight has a schedule change of three hours, am I entitled to a refund? What about four hours? What about 10 hours?

  13. @wpr8e – you know exactly well what I’m talking about. Looked up some of your post history on FT – you consistently attacked posters who criticized CO at the time of the merger, and attacked posters who criticized UA post-merger.

    You are also one of those who suspiciously has been on FT for 10+ years yet puts no identifying info in their profile…hmmm….

  14. @Lucky,

    “@ wpr8e — You’re claiming “United is not making it an automatic refund over 2 hours.” United’s policy was never to automatically provide a refund for a schedule change of two hours. Rather they’d present you with alternatives, but you were also entitled to a refund if the change was more than two hours.”

    Correct. What United is trying to avoid is passengers just cancelling flights at getting a full refund “automatically” (here I’m implying without any other cause other than 2 hours, it become pro forma at this point). That might have a dramatic and significant spiraling impact both to demand and revenue. In normal operations, the schedule was strong enough to re-accommodate passengers within that 2 hour window. But this is an extraordinary time with significant cuts to the overall schedule due to no fault of their own. So the 2 hour window is now too narrow to try to honor the CoC. They needed to expand the window to opportunity to accommodate each passenger without triggering a “Get out of Jail for free” card.

    @Lukcy, “I’m curious what you actually interpret the policy to be here? If my flight has a schedule change of three hours, am I entitled to a refund? What about four hours? What about 10 hours?”

    I think it’s stated pretty clearly. The agent can make the call based on the set of circumstance presented. If you’re a business person who’s going to miss their lunch meeting, you have a reasonable case to ask for a refund if it’s over 2 hours. If you’re going to miss your cruise down the Rhine by departing the next day, that’s reasonable. If you’re a family of 4 and your flight to Salt Lake is delayed 2.5 hours for a ski vacation, I think it’s unreasonable to ask for a refund without other extenuating circumstances.

    So the answer is it depends. You’re looking at this policy in a purely punitive light. With your business hat on, United’s policy is reasonable given the negative consequences to the long term viability of the company if you’re too generous. Rather than a policy that is black and white, they’ve empowered their agents to make a judgement call within a reasonable accommodation option.

    To imply that they are going to force you to eat a ticket if it’s rescheduled over 25 hours with no recourse, is disingenuous and in my opinion a misreading of the intent and spirit of the policy.

  15. @UA-NYC,

    You’re certainly welcome to your opinion. That’s why there are comment sections. I have never worked or been directly affiliated with CO or UA except as a passenger

  16. @UA-NYC

    You have been around long enough to know that there are plenty of people out there who are just diehard defenders of their chosen airline. This loyalty isn’t suspicious even if it’s a bit…rabid. It also doesn’t make these people trolls. You just have to interpret their posts through a lens.

    I don’t imagine DCS works for Hilton.

  17. @BrewerSEA – all good and fair points. But having been on FT over a decade, you tend to notice those whose profile and posts are, shall we say, a bit suspicious, and don’t represent typical posting content.

    Fly18725 is another infamous one.

  18. I just canceled an award ticket and they charged me $50 per ticket to reinstate my miles (I am UA Plat). When I asked them why they are still charging it, they said that they waived my change fees. Face plant. 🙂

  19. “BrewerSEA says:
    March 11, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    @UA-NYC

    You have been around long enough to know that there are plenty of people out there who are just diehard defenders of their chosen airline. This loyalty isn’t suspicious even if it’s a bit…rabid. It also doesn’t make these people trolls. You just have to interpret their posts through a lens.

    UA-NYC says:
    March 11, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    @BrewerSEA – all good and fair points. But having been on FT over a decade, you tend to notice those whose profile and posts are, shall we say, a bit suspicious, and don’t represent typical posting content.

    Fly18725 is another infamous one.”

    Classic. Attack the person since you have no credible counter argument.

    We used to encourage and reward educational discussions, even if we disagreed. But this site, like most, has become a dogpile of piss and moan about perceived unfairness. In particular with views that we disagree with, we label as sycophants and corporate proxies.

    When was the last time I posted on FT or this site? Guess I’m not doing a good job as a corporate shill.

  20. Post something contrary to the latest official UA policy, be prepared to get called out on it. Not seeing anyone rise to your defense and agree with your “interpretation”.

  21. The policy is almost certainly unenforceable for tickets purchased prior to the change. Courts almost never allow one party to change the terms of an agreement and certainly not to the detriment of the other party.

    United might be banking on the fact that most people don’t know this. The solution to let people know that if they purchased a ticket when the policy was 2 hours and United fails to honor that they can sue in small claims court.

    Just because a company takes says something doesn’t make it enforceable. Companies try to wrangle out of agreements all the time which is why we have courts. Passengers who purchased tickets that promised a right to refund can enforce that right regardless of whatever United representatives say or would like you to believe.

  22. wpr8e giving agents the option to refuse to refund a ticket that was purchased under an agreement that gave them the right to refund means management is instructing their employees to abrogate the contract they have with their customers.

    I’m wondering if you have a problem with that?

  23. Case by case ultimately translates into do you have status. Unfortunate for those without status and no access to a priority line. Seems very unfair.

  24. We had an itinerary change with United from a non-stop to a one-stop, within the 2 hours. We only booked out of SFO (2 hours away and further away than 3 other airports) because of the non-stop which also cost more than flights with connections. Wait time on phone to cancel was 90 minutes. To cancel on line, we have to accept change. Maybe the wait time this evening will be shorter.

  25. I live in a united hub. I flight 100, 000 miles a year and am a 1 million miler. In the last seven years I have flown less than 10,000 miles a year on United airlines. Why? Because they suck and I hate them. They just do a poor job and I can’t see spending any money on them if I can avoid it.

  26. Why does United hang up on me when I call, saying “there are no agents at the time due to high call volumes.” Why can’t I wait on hold?

  27. I’m annoyed with this already, I had an agent calling me to add the insurance fee to my total, regarding flight changes etc,..
    Just to find out after they charged my credit card the additional fees, United has waived all fees regarding any changes. I feel like I was robbed and taken advantage of….

  28. From my personal experience and from the people I know the United is the worst company ever. After passenger buys the ticket they treat you as a slave or like a dog. It’s like parasites living in the body of air company. They try to sack as much blood as possible from passengers. Beware! Avoid them under any circumstances if possible. Period.

  29. We got a travel credit for our ticket amount for “1 year out” to use as we please. EXCEPT that it’s from time of “booking date”, NOT “travel credit issue date” so that means we only have until Aug 30, 2020 to use it.. not March of 2021. SO NOT A YEAR OUT….. which stinks. And is disingenuous of United to say you have a year but not actually have any intention of it being a year. To ACTUALLY only have 5 months to use the flights is crappy… and to reiterate, 5 months is not nearly a year. But, I am glad we didn’t just lose the money altogether. I suppose that is the silver lining.

  30. Meanya says:
    March 12, 2020 at 12:24 am
    Why does United hang up on me when I call, saying “there are no agents at the time due to high call volumes.” Why can’t I wait on hold?

    Keep trying.. I just kept dialing and finally got thru. Then waited on hold for 50 minutes.

  31. Have applied for a refund on March 4th and was told that my refund was successfully completed. ThenonMar h11th was tolbthat,yrefudwasie. Please listen to your “ this call is being monitored for training purposes” and you will hear the whole conversation. I believe that I am entitled to a refund based this conversation. I will keep trying until I reach a satisfactory conclusion.

  32. This is BS. Our resort cancelled and shut down due to COVID, the Gov said no travel to Mexico and they won’t refund a ticket when people need the money right now not a voucher? Taxpayer money had better not go to bailing out the airlines.

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