Just to bring those of you into the loop, this past Sunday United Airlines had a massive computer glitch that allowed anyone to book any class of service to and from Hong Kong for only 4 United miles round-trip.
Yes, only 4 miles!
Predictably, as soon as this news hit the blogosphere, thousands of people got in on the offer and it was swiftly shut down by United.
I talked about the entire offer here.
On Monday at around 10pm, a Representative from United posted on FlyerTalk and MilePoint the following statement:
Hi Everyone, over the weekend, we discovered a united.com programming error that allowed customers to obtain Mileage Plus travel awards to and from Hong Kong for as little as four miles round trip per person, substantially below published levels, which we disclose to customers. We have since corrected the error and will be in contact with customers who have tickets issued at the incorrect award amounts. Customers will be given the choice to redeem at the correct mileage amount or re-deposit their award with all fees waived. We regret any inconvenience this has caused you, and appreciate your understanding.
Director, Customer Insights
Finally last night, after waiting 3 full days from when the United Representative posted on FlyerTalk and MilePoint, we all finally received emails saying either the tickets had been booked at the full mileage cost or they had been cancelled.
Now originally when this mistake offer came out, I knew it was to good to be true but I got in anyways.
I figured that United would catch the error and within 24 hours either tell us that all the tickets were canceled or that we were free to fly.
Regardless of the outcome, it was all in good fun.
However after this past week, I am kind of leaning towards the camp that thinks that United should have to honor the tickets.
The reason for this is not because I think I am entitled to a free First Class tickets, it more has to do with how United dealt with the entire situation.
The 2 major things that really annoyed me about how United handled their response were:
1. Lack Of Communication
Typically, when either you or I book a ticket on United, we have a 24 hour grace period. This means that in the event we change or mind or picked the wrong flight, we can cancel or change the ticket free of charge. This applies to Revenue Tickets and Award Tickets.
In the event that 24 hours lapses and you need to change your ticket, instead of being remotely understanding and taking into consideration that plans change, etc, regardless of the circumstance, if you need to either cancel or change your ticket, United charges a fee of $150.
I understand that United runs a business yada yada, but still shouldn’t they be held to the same standards that they force upon their Customers?
It took United a full 24 hours to have a Representative comment on FlyerTalk and MilePoint!
Then after that, it took another 3 days for United to communicate via email that the tickets were in fact void.
For people that read the FlyerTalk and MilePoint everyday, I guess it isn’t a issue that United commented solely on there for 4 days, but for my Parents or anyone else that got in on this deal that doesn’t check FlyerTalk or MilePoint, did United think that it was acceptable for them to just be sitting around twiddling their thumbs?
MilePoint and FlyerTalk aren’t exactly the most mainstream channels of communication.
Personally, after a couple of days of not hearing from an Airline, I would think that it is safe to assume that the tickets are valid because in my 2 experiences with a Delta mistake fare and Expedia mistake fare, they didn’t ever contact us so ultimately we took the trips.
The main reason why I feel that it is a big deal that United should have been proactive and communicated to Customers via email is primarily because many people booked trips for these up coming weeks.
Obviously if you are going to visit somewhere, you need to make hotel reservations, etc.
If your flight was to suppose to depart on this upcoming Monday, after 4 full days of not hearing anything from United, I would have just assumed that the tickets were valid and would have started making hotel reservations.
Even a simple email on Monday from United saying,”Sorry folks our computer had a glitch and mispriced the tickets, we are going to most likely cancel all your tickets, so please don’t make any other plans related to this booking. We will be continuing to update you as we have information”, would have sufficed.
2. United’s Official Email 4 Days Later
This morning at 12:00am, United finally sent an email to everyone that got in on the 4 mile offer.
However to my amazement there was no apology or admittance of fault or really anything that would make it seem that the error was on United’s end and that they were sorry about it.
You recently requested the ticketing of MileagePlus award travel to, from or through Hong Kong. Because your account does not have enough miles to complete the purchase, we have canceled the ticket for non-payment and refunded all taxes and fees. The number of miles required for this award was provided during your transaction and is published on the MileagePlus travel award chart on our website.
If you have already canceled the ticket, please disregard this email.
We appreciate your understanding and look forward to serving you in the future.
This email really makes it seem that the Customer was at fault for booking the award flight, and that because we were delinquent and had “non-payment”, the tickets was canceled.
Also the sentence about “The number of miles required for this award was provided during your transaction and is published on the MileagePlus travel award chart on our website.”, I find extremely condescending.
Obviously, it was published there and everyone was fully aware of how many miles it costs. We are frequent flyers after all!
I just find it strange that they forget to add another sentence in which they talked about that it was their systems that mispriced the Award and let us book it for 4 miles.
We didn’t hack in and trick United into letting us book the tickets for 4 miles, they did that for us!
Honestly, these days from big corporations I don’t really expect much but this is really just a new low from United. Blaming the Customer for your mistake.
It takes them 4 days to write a crappy email that in no way apologies for their mistake or the fact that they did not communicate for 4 entire days, and then basically blames the Customer for making the booking because the “correct amount was published”.
A Final Twist
This wouldn’t really be a fiasco if there wasn’t a final ironic twist.
As I talked about last week, I booked a whole bunch of tickets for only 4 miles.
Ultimately, both my friend Chris and I had our ORD -> HKG First Class United Tickets canceled.
For our India trip in December, my Parents and I also had our ORD -> HKG First Class United Tickets canceled. Since it was a multi-leg trip, I also had my HKG -> BOM leg canceled.
However, one of the reservations slipped through the cracks, and my Parents DID NOT have their HKG -> BOM leg canceled.
Instead I got this email from United saying that they deducted the required mileage from my account.
However when I logged into my United account, nothing had been deducted.
Any other time if this had happened, I’d be pretty happy.
However in this particular situation, it is kind of annoying.
Basically, my Parents currently have a free HKG – > BOM flight in Thai First Class that United failed to cancel.
Unfortunately, they do not have a flight to get to Hong Kong from Chicago because that was canceled.
They have enough miles that they could fly in Business Class to Hong Kong and then connect with their HKG -> BOM flight.
Now the issue and ultimate irony is that if I book their ORD -> HKG flight and United ultimately catches their error in not canceling the the HKG -> BOM flight, my Parents will be stuck in Hong Kong without any way to get to India.
Of course if I book my Parents flights to Hong Kong and then United cancels their HKG -> BOM flights, they would of course have to pay a change fee to have their miles redeposited into their account so they could book a flight straight from Chicago to Bombay.
That being said, I am sure United will be extremely understanding and recognize it was just a “computer glitch” on my end so they would be happy to redeposit the miles for no charge ; )
Given the uncertainty of the HKG -> BOM booking, ultimately I am just going to cancel my Parent’s free flight and just use 120,000 United miles for each of them to fly from Chicago to Bombay in Business Class.
Lessons Learned From This United Adventure
1. United Sucks At Communication
Pretty self explanatory
2. Fly As Soon As Possible
Since United was so slow to respond to this situation, many people who booked tickets last Sunday and flew out anytime from Sunday night to Saturday, July 21st, were in fact able to fly First Class for only 4 miles!
Basically in the event that something like this happens again, if you can, try and get a ticket that departs as soon as possible.
Worst case is that you can’t go and you loose 4 miles!
Best case is that you got a free trip in First Class for only 4 miles!
Again, I’ll stress that I don’t think that I deserve a free First Class trip just because United made a mistake, I just think United could have done a better job handling the situation.
If United had simply apologized for the situation and communicated to their Customers in a timely manner, I think a lot more people would be a bit more understanding.
I am curious to here what you guys think about United’s response and if you think it was appropriate.