United matched Delta in slashing the miles earned for flying. That came after United gutted their award chard earlier last year. United has been great at copying Delta’s devaluations. Not so great at copying Delta’s improvements.
But the United elite benefit downgrade was particularly painful for me. United inherited Continental’s shares system that assigned elite benefits to passengers that an elite member booked an award for.
As a United 1K I was able to book awards for people and they would be able to get free economy plus seating and 3 free 70 pound checked bags even if I wasn’t traveling with them.
As I also have a United credit card they were even eligible for upgrades starting 4 days before the flight.
It wasn’t uncommon for myself, my wife, and my 2 kids to all get free upgrades from coach awards.
This change even affected non-elites. If you had a United credit card previously the passenger would inherit your free bag. Now the passenger needs to have their own card to get a free checked bag.
As of April 15th United stopped applying those benefits to non-elite passengers. If the elite member isn’t traveling with them, passengers booked from an elite member’s account now have to pay for economy plus seating and for baggage. And upgrades are gone as well of course.
That hasn’t happened. Since the change Platinum and 1K members trying to redeposit an award on United.com for a non-elite passenger booked from the Platinum/1K account have been charged $200 even though there shouldn’t be any fee:
I noticed this right away and was able to redeposit an award over the phone for free. The agent said he had been getting calls all day from others in the same situation and he filed several reports to get the problem fixed.
“A relatively small number of our Premier members have been incorrectly charged redeposit fees for award tickets they’ve elected to cancel.”
That response was disingenuous at best. There isn’t a single report of an elite member not getting charged the non-elite rate when redepositing an award for a non-elite passenger when the elite member isn’t flying together with them.
The only reasons that it would be a “relatively small number” is that most elites probably called United to do the redeposit rather than risk the website charging them incorrectly. Or they’re waiting for the United.com to be fixed.
The irony here is that if this mistake was United.com not charging non-elites a redeposit fee you can bet that bug would be fixed the same day. A airfare price glitch would be fixed within minutes.
And yet, here we are nearly a month into this bug and nothing had changed. The cynic in me isn’t surprised that glitches in the airline’s favor rarely get fixed in a timely fashion. You would think that a glitch that affected top-tier elites would be a priority. At the very least they ought to roll back last month’s elite devaluation until they can implement the changes properly and stop overcharging their elite members.
While on the topic of errors on the passenger vs. the airline side of things, one of the worrying aspects of the DoT price mistake rule change is that a passenger only has 24 hours to let an airline know about their mistake (0 hours if you book on AA.com). Yet the DoT doesn’t hold the airlines to that same standard. At the very least the airline should have to let a passenger know about a mistake within the same 24 hour window. Otherwise we’ll have folks finding out that they don’t have a ticket when they get to the airport…
The new United.com launches this summer. I have zero faith in United being able to fix the problems with it that I identified in this post. Be prepared for it to be a lot more difficult to search for nonstop award flights.
It’s time to bring Gordon Bethune out of retirement. It’s as if Jeff Smisek read his former boss’ excellent “From Worst to First” book on his turnaround at Continental and then did everything he possibly could to bring the merged Continental-United back to worst. The comments from United employees left on Gordo’s facebook page are telling.
The data doesn’t lie. Smisek does.