So What Really is Going on With the United 4 Mile Tickets to China

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This United China-gate 2012 incident where award tickets were “sold” on United for 4 miles each plus tax is just getting more and more entertaining.  A short recap is that reward tickets to China were sold for 4 miles each on Sunday afternoon for a period of a few hours.  I secured three tickets in First Class to China from Texas for my family (Grandma, my kiddo, and myself) for June 2013, as the opportunity was just way too good to pass up.  Of course, it was clearly an error as actual reward tickets in first class to China for three people would cost hundreds of thousands of miles – not 12 miles plus $121.50 in taxes.  However, I was happy to purchase three seats and sit back to see what would happen next.

A little over 24 hours passed and then an “official” announcement from United was posted from their representative on and  That statement indicated that customers would be contacted, and would have the option of either cancelling the reservation for no penalty or they would be required to pay the regular number of miles required.  That was a bummer as a virtually free trip would have been awesome, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected.  In fact, it is the outcome that most people (myself included) seem to have believed was most likely.

However, the story didn’t stop there.  According to this USA Today article, it seems the Department of Transportation had been contacted by several folks and they made the following statement:

Bill Mosley, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, says the department is looking into several complaints it received about the frequent-flier tickets.

Mosley says the new rule would apply to frequent-flier tickets, “particularly when they also entail cash payments.”

The rule says that no post-purchase price increase can occur after a customer receives a confirmation of the purchase “even when the fare is a ‘mistake.’ “

Hmmm, guess that means the plot has thickened a bit.  I know I have not been contacted by United, nor have I noticed any changes to my ticketed and confirmed reservation.  To be clear, I don’t think I “deserve” a virtually free ticket to China.  I knew it was a mistake when I booked it, and life will move on just fine if it ultimately isn’t honored.  That said, I will happily go and discover China with my family if the ticket is honored.  As I posted on Milepoint, I’ll even volunteer to head up some charity activity in honor of the virtually free trip so many of us will get if it is honored.  I’m all for keeping some balance in the miles and points universe.  😉

However, whether the tickets are honored or not, this whole incident has raised some interesting questions in my mind.  What if it had been 40,000 miles charged instead of 4?  40,000 miles is still less than the regular posted mileage rate to China, but it isn’t unheard of for there to be specials or discounted mileage rates from time to time on various airlines.  It would be reasonable to assume that not everyone booking at 40,000 miles would know it was an error, and those customers would reasonably make other travel plans to go along with their tickets as believe they are headed to Asia.  Would it still be okay for an airline to come back and say oops – that was a computer glitch, either cough up more miles (that the customer may not have), or your confirmed reservation is now cancelled.  If that is the case, what is a reasonable time frame by which the airline should personally notify the customer of the issue?  At the very least, I hope we get some of those types of questions answered as a result of “China-gate 2012”.

I know people are already traveling on the 4 mile tickets, and more have reservations coming up over the next several days.  Mine isn’t for 10 more months, so I am sure all will be sorted out by then, but how long should the airlines have to notify passengers of a mistake that won’t be honored?

I’m not out to “stick it to United”, but I’m also not going to sit on the sideline and miss out on what could amount to a chance of a lifetime.  For better or worse, I’ll still be a United flyer regardless of the outcome of this situation, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if they did decide to honor the tickets.  I know for sure with more and more mainstream media stories popping up about this issue today (including the AP and NBC), that the end of the saga has not yet been told.

If you do have a reservation like I do, my advice is to just sit tight and see what happens.  Obviously if your travel is imminent, you need to decide how you are going to proceed.  If you fall in that camp, I would make sure your hotel reservations are refundable right up until you depart for China.  If you didn’t get in on this “oops” IT opportunity, I would still carefully watch how this saga unfolds, as it may impact an award reservation you hold in the future.

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  1. I have seen a lot discussion regarding the grace period for customer is 24 hrs, so UA should respond within 24 hrs or swallow the big chunk of lose or whatever.

    Being a greedy dealer hunter, I like these statement.

    On the other side, I think it is clear that business is business. UA does need a lot time to clear the mess, come up with several plans, evaluate each options, calculate the cost and finally make a decision.

    I don’t know how much time exactly that will need. But it is definitely more than 24 hrs.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. The lack of communication from united over the last 3 days is a major error on their part. Given the condition that us frequent flyers are held to (cancel within 24 hours or pay a penalty), my sympathy for the mistake is waning rapidly. The more time that ticks by, the less guilt I will have when I am sitting in my almost-complimentary first class seat for the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong.

  3. FYI: The payment of cash was not for United’s services, it was government fees and taxes, so I think United could certainly make an argument that they received no cash for the tickets. Further, from all the reports I have seen, the people who didn’t have enough miles for the normal redemption rates were never charged the four miles, so absolutely no argument can be made that they fully paid the agreed upon amount, so the DOT regulations wouldn’t even apply.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, or disappointed, if those that sued United or flew on tickets they “paid” (but didn’t actually pay) 4 miles for have their account emptied, and in some cases closed.

  4. “What if it had been 40,000 miles charged instead of 4?”

    Same, same… The opening page for the reservation had the correct amount of miles on it. Only the last page had the error. So anyone booking would already know they were dealing with a mistake, whether a mistake of 120K miles, or of 160K miles.

    As much as I would love to get a FC flight to China for 8 miles roundtrip, and being no friend of United, I don’t understand why United gets stuck for this. If a bank accidentally puts $100,000 in your account, do you get to keep it? No, you are required to return it. And if you have already spent it when they realize their mistake you are in serious legal trouble if you cannot pay it back. Why the DOT thinks that airlines, which have never made a profit since, oh say the Wright Brothers, 🙂 ought to be subject to possibly millions of dollars in losses just because a known error was exploited by very savvy travel hackers is beyond me.

    It would be very different if UA had advertised a certain price for a flight, and it was reasonable enough for people to in good faith assume it was simply a good “sale” fare, and bought it on that basis. But no, virtually everyone who get in on this found it thru travel blogs, which said right up front “this is a mistake fare”, and booked it on a “lottery ticket” basis, knowing they had a good chance of it being cancelled by UA.

    As for the people already in China, they are like someone in the example above who found $100,000 in their bank account that they knew wasn’t theirs, and went out and quickly spent it, figuring when the bank asked for it back, they would just say “sorry, I spent it already”. They have already gotten more than they deserve with the flight over. But it would be terrible public relations for United to strand them there. So if I was United management, I’d tell them “you got lucky on the first flight, and we are giving you a free flight home in economy, with our compliments”….and cancel all reservations for the future. An email to everyone with a 4 mile reservation saying “Sorry, you knew it was too good to be true, and it was. We wish we could afford to give you this fare, but we can‘t…” is really all that is called for here.

  5. I agree with Robert 100% – it showed the higher point value and the point values are in charts on United’s website.

    United should do as they originally said in their official announcement – charge people the correct fare or cancel the reservation.

  6. “The opening page for the reservation had the correct amount of miles on it.”

    It has become common practice with internet commerce that a consumer adds an item to the cart to see the true sale price.

  7. Couldn’t agree more with Roberts.

    Nicely said on the payment part (fees goes towards taxes, so United has a valid argument that it is not the fees for the agreed upon ‘service’).

  8. Robert Hanson got it right. Taking advantage of the UA “deal” is no different from keeping a wallet you find on the street. Sadly, I’m sure many people don’t find anything wrong with that either.

  9. I recommend everyone state your situation(caught it or not?????) before making these comments. If all of the above were written by those missing it, there is no creditworthiness or objectness with this issue at all. It just sounds too personal, filled with disappointment and jealousness.

  10. I was in the category that ultimately got charged the full amount. I am having trouble getting my reservation that is booked for next week canceled without a penalty. If you can the main support line on their end they never saw an error, but if you get transferred to the web support they see the 4 miles > 70k miles.

    I’ve been put on hold for 45+ mins. When the CSR got back on the line he could barely speak english and acted as if I was in the middle of a hurricane and could not hear me. Seems to me that United has dropped the ball on this one. If they are going to offer to allow people to cancel outside of the 24 hours they need to have their CSR’s informed. Having to keep calling just so I don’t get charged to have my miles redeposited makes me feel as if I am being punished for their mistake!

  11. I agree..I think most people who got in on the deal will now say they should be able to keep the tickets and the majority who missed out on the deal for whatever reason (including myself) will say it is not right, should have seen it coming, etc…..Human nature.

    If most people found a hundred dollar bill in front of their driveway, they would not invest much energy in asking the neighborhood if anyone was missing the bill or for that matter, most would not immediately donate it to charity.

    I think it is nice that mommypoints said she will donate some time to charity because of the “free” flight..however I don’t think she would do this if she was not a blogger with followers 🙂

    human nature…my opinions of course.

  12. I can see UA banning those who do not cancel if the DOT rules against them. It is clearly against their published rules and award chart.

  13. When I read the blogs on Sunday, I was able to pull up the “deal”. Before executing, I decided to do what I thought was the right thing. I didn’t execute the transaction. Instead, I called United, and made them aware of the mistake. Within minutes, people were reporting they couldn’t access the deal any longer.

    Everyone had their rationality regarding te situation, and most favors what will benefit them best. I have also seen it get very ugly on the chat boards, in a way I have never seen before. Personally, I would love to see everyone cancel their reservations, and not put our friends at United into a very precarious position. And they are friends, as they are welcoming our community at SMD4.

  14. @tbr, I may not do it if I wasn’t part of a travel community, but I would absolutely be involved in a sort of “pay it back/forward/whatever” event if it was presented to me whether I blogged or not. With a social work background, it isn’t hard for me to want to find a reason to help others – and rally others to do the same for greater impact. If this is a reason to get a number of folks involved in doing good, then it is a very unintended great consequence on an IT oops. Even if this isn’t honored, I’m sure we’ll all find a way to do more good on a large scale soon. 😉

  15. I can’t fathom why you would view this as a “trip of a lifetime” when it clearly is taking advantage of something you did not deserve. Just as if Bank of America spit out $20,000 for a $20 withdrawal, you can’t take that $20,000 and fly to London and stay at the Ritz for a “trip of a lifetime.” The money is not yours — nor is that seat you booked yours — unless you are willing to pay what was on the original confirmation screen that we all saw —

    — now if you went to United and tried to book first class to China and it said it was 40,000 miles and $120 in fees and there was no other figure on the screen, then you have a case. But clearly we all saw the original miles needed and then we saw the error.

    How people can talk themselves into this “deal” is beyond me.

    When I was growing up, my grandparents often asked me, what would you do if you went to a store and they gave you too much change back. I know how most people who snapped up these tickets would answer that question: “Keep it! It’s mine.”

  16. It’s fun to read all the comments from the the self-proclaimed moralists pointing fingers at those who got in the deal. Puh-lease, is your life so boring that you have to write your lengthy moral opinions lecturing others who partook the fun? The point is others got in the deal and you did not. Move on. Don’t rain on other people’s parade as if you are a person with high moral values.

  17. In your 40000 mile example, I’d be inclined to toss the award chart argument out the window. It would then become more like the Aeroplan glitch-turned-promo from last year where the website started selling F for J miles and J for Y miles.

  18. I don’t think it is at all the same as finding a wallet, a cell phone, money on the street, or even money in your bank account. I have hunted down the rightful owners of all of those things, and would continue to do so every time the situation presented itself. Airlines are hard to draw analogies for, as it really is a different sort of cat and mouse game on a daily basis between the company and the consumer than in many other facets of life. I commend those who didn’t partake in this mistake for moral reasons. There are things I don’t do for moral or ethical reasons as well.

    We all have our own lines, and for me I was fine booking this ticket and leaving it up to UA (or as it turns out, perhaps the DoT) to decide what would happen next. I certainly will not be sending in any formal complaints or suing anyone if I don’t make it to China. That’s my line.

  19. Jeez whiz!

    Hope you score as many deals as you want.

    We all live by our own moral compass.

    That said, this is a blog where diverse views are welcome. I’m sure MommyPoints can handle it.

    And so can you, too.

  20. I got in on this one, so take it with a grain of salt.

    But for the love of everything that is logical, get your analogies on target, people. This is not equivalent to anyone putting anything into your bank account or finding someone’s wallet. United did not put trips to HKG in our accounts, nor was United looking for its lost stack of HKG tix. This was a business transaction, although an automated on United’s part, and United made an offer that many of us accepted. In fact, if they’d like to throw a fewK extra miles my way for helping them uncover an IT bug before it became an even bigger clusterf than it is right now, I’d be open to that. Anyway, I’m not going to feel bad if I take this trip for a few reasons: 1) United is in business to make a profit of off us; a large corporation is not a person, and despite what any PR spin may have you believe, a large corporation that wants to stay in business is not capable of altruism. So if I set them back a few Gs them for this trip (and let’s be honest, flying F does not actually cost anywhere near what they’re selling it for), they shouldn’t be worried, because they’ll surely make it back from me if I continue to fly United (which I will, especially if this ticket sticks). 2) If United can claim that an award redemption was a mistake and retract your ticket without question, this has consequences. Can they do this on any ticket? What if they go on to claim that a saver award should really be priced at the standard level, and cancel your ticket for that reason? It’s a slippery slope, and either way, a powerful precedent could be set. 3) The “Total” line on the purchase is the only one that counts. Think of a bar or restaurant. You order a Woodford and the mozzarella sticks, which are delicious. $12. You go to the same place again at 1 pm on Tuesday because you have a drinking problem, and get the same moz sticks and bourbon. The bill reads $12 at the top, but the total comes to $6, because it’s happy hour. There might be some other lines detailing exactly what the discounts are, there might not be. But people pay the TOTAL. People routinely do not read receipts. If the merchant were to overcharge us and we overpaid, you think United is going to come knocking on your door? (The only answer to that is “no”.) So, you paragons of virtue who are staring down at the rest of us morally bankrupt peasants from your white steeds, please fall off your highest horses. Unless you never speed, unless you report every penny you pick up from the sidewalk on your taxes, unless you never place an open container in your ex’s car before he drives home and then call the cops, wait scratch that last one, unless you never fill up your 32oz soda at the convenience store and then take a couple sips and then top it off again, stop judging those of us who will hopefully be kicking it in First or Business on our way to the orient. You, and United, are living in the same moral grey area as the rest of us. And next time fortune favors you in an ethically questionable way, I’ll give you a high five.

  21. I hope you are kidding GLC. People either paid full miles or didn’t pay any, in which case they didn’t fully pay the agreed upon amount (no matter which value you use), so the DOT doesn’t have anything to do with it. And beyond that, anyone who says they thought that getting a 139,992 mile discount was some sort of promotion is an absolute liar. There is absolutely no way anyone who booked this thought it was anything other than a mistake.

  22. Gee, my e-mailed United receipt says 8 miles debited for 2 round trips which happens to be the same amount as was listed when making the reservation.
    As I said before: Me thinks those that cry “unethical!” are those that missed out on this possibility!!!!!!!!! Oh, those grapes are sour —-

  23. No, Kris, I’m not kidding. I will have no moral/ethical issues with taking this trip. In fact, I think both Jesus and Buddha got in on it, if that tells you anything. And, I never said that anyone thought it was a discount fair. Of course UA made a mistake. But when we approach the area where the discount/mistake line is a little fuzzier, who do you think should have the power? A consumer with a confirmed ticket, or the airline claiming that “oh, that fare was actually $20 more than you paid for it and we need that money now or you’re not flying”? What happens in life when you make a mistake? Everyone pretends like it didn’t happen, or everyone makes you face the consequences? Probably a mix of both. And I don’t think I would say that either group of people–those who look the other way and those who think consequences help us learn from mistakes–are in the wrong. So let those who would like to cancel their confirmed tickets cancel, and the rest of us can party all the way to Hong Kong.

  24. MP: I think your analysis (you’re not entitled to the trip but would take it if United is forced to honor it) is fair and balanced (by which I mean, of course, that it’s closest to what I would do myself :-)).
    I do disagree when you say “I’m not out to stick it to United”. You most definitely ARE out to stick it to United. You must have known perfectly well that you were taking advantage of an IT glitch that would get you something United never intended to offer you, and now you’re relying on a government regulation to force United to honor a sale which would never pass muster in a court of law.
    I’m not saying you’re necessarily WRONG to stick it to United, but let’s call a spade a spade.
    Also note that United has language in its frequent flier program terms that requires member not to act “against United’s interests”. Assuming such broad language is enforceable, it seems to me that anyone who booked this mistake (or, really, knowingly books ANY mistake fare) could reasonably expect to have their frequent flier account closed, the miles confiscated, and any elite status terminated.

  25. I’m beginning to suspect that those self-appointed moral police here are really some party-poopers paid by United Airlines to influence those who got in the deal to self- cancel their confirmed reservation. It’s much cheaper to do it this way than litigation.

    • I don’t think it is unethical or immoral to book the tickets, but to somehow act like you got shafted when United cancels them is outrageous.
      Litigation won’t be expensive. They have lawyers that are paid regardless. This is such an easy case for United to win.
      Unless your ticket booked is in the next few days, in which case you obviously knew it was probably going to be cancelled, you won’t be having a party in Hong Kong. At least not on the ticket you paid 0 miles for.

  26. @larryinnyc —

    Very well said. The chutzpah by those who can’t/won’t admit they weren’t sticking it to United on an IT 139,992 mile error is beyond me.

  27. I didn’t get in on this deal. I think everyone griping about the morality of those who dead ate just sore losers. United doesn’t thinking twice about “sticking it” to their customers; they wouldn’t get any loyalty from me.

  28. No one is acting like we get shafted. We are just GLAD that we got the possibility of a free travel. The fact is we got that possibility and you did not. Just keep eating those sour grapes.

  29. Here’s what I do not understand about the whole United should honor these tickets or compensate people for their trouble argument. Apparently the tickets priced and displayed properly, but there was an IT glitch that or some other glitch that caused the final price to not show the right award total, but instead 4 miles plus taxes. That surely was not the point of the DOT regulations or the rules. And if I was United, and I am looking at a loss in the range of tens of millions of dollars on this (I’m guessing, but let’s just say 3,000 trips were booked at about $5,000 a trip, which I think is conservative for the price), I would say forget these passengers, even if they are our “loyal” customers. If they want to book a FC ticket to HK, then they should pay the published award amount, not the glitch 4 mile fare.

    Here’s my reasoning for United not honoring these 4 mile fares: No one was rightfully entitled to them. There’s no way someone can go before the DOT or a judge and say, here’s my receipt showing 4 miles paid when right above it is says XX thousands of miles should be paid for a trans-continental flight. I doubt that argument wins. Now here’s an even better tactic, if I am United, I lawyer up, spend the potential loss on attorneys and make every single person come fight it out for the 4 mile fare. And fight the DOT too if they push back on this. This causes 3 things: 1) the people who really want the 4 mile tickets but are afraid to publicly fight it will back down; and 2) people who do fight it will have to cancel their planned trips or at least postpone them until the litigation is resolved, and 3) if people do come in and fight it, United can always terminate their UA FF program (the FF program is a privilege, not a right). Now let’s say United loses every 4-mile fight case, then they’ve in essence lost nothing other than the attorneys fees; people would have cancelled their tickets and not fought (saving United $$), travelers plans would have changed or they could not wait out the delay and thus do not fly (saving United $$), or people fight, win, and they get their UA FF programs cancelled (United loses $$ here but sticks it to the passenger). That’s me if I am United right now. It’s cold, it’s calculated, and it’s sure to really tick off a lot of travelers, but if I am United, and these people are the my best customers, maybe I need to rethink my loyalty strategy.

    And for the people who talk about the fat finger problem, there’s a consumer friendly solution – you have up until 24 hours to cancel your ticket. Does not work if you do not check your ticket, but it’s much better than nothing.

    As an FYI, I did not book this fare, but I thought about it. And I thought no way they let this happen. But, I did follow the giddy postings “live” on BA. And they were giddy.

  30. @MommyPoints — How many miles did you have in your account? Enough to cover one or more of the tickets? I’ve read some reports of the “correct” mileage being withdrawn from accounts with sufficient miles, so I am wondering if only folks with lower balances were able to successfully ticket these for 4 miles, or if others got in as well.

  31. I got in on this and booked a trip for myself and my friends to HKG for spring break. Do I expect it to happen? NO. But, I feel like we should have an answer by now. But that doesn’t even really bother me. What bothers me is the insane numbers being thrown around for how much money United is losing. Even if thousands of people got in on the deal, those tickets are not “worth” $20,000 each which is about what it would cost to pay cash for the flights. According to some other source that I can’t remember at the moment, only 10% of first class is paid. The rest is upgrades and award redemptions. So they really don’t lose that much money, they just lose the upgrade possibilities. And they have to keep more miles on the books and allow people to use those miles for other flights. But a lot of people didn’t have many miles to begin with, so they are only losing the upgrades. I’m fine with United not honoring tickets, I just don’t want them to pretend like every seat taken in this mistake would have been sold and it is costing them millions and millions of dollars.

  32. I find it almost funny that some people think those that think this whole situation is just plain wrong and clearly a mistake….think we are jealous?!?! It’s more like karma. If they end up having to give all these flights away….you will surely pay for it in the future in some way…with them adding on a new fee of some kind.

  33. Geez.. the more I think about this, the more it seems like people who found someone lying drunk on the sidewalk, and stole the money in his wallet, and then claimed it was ok because he “didn’t complain in time”.

    Everyone who booked knew, ABSOLUTELY KNEW, that 4 miles was not the proper price for this award. Everyone hoped that United would have to take the loss for their good fortune in having been alerted by View From The Wing {Peace Be Upon Him} and the blogs that jumped upon his post, to basically STEAL a FC award to China for less than 1% of what it should have cost.

    Now people who originally said “it’s a lottery ticket” are hoping the DOT forces United to fly them for FREE. Yes, 4 miles IS really for FREE, to China and back in FC, just because they were the first to jump on a mistake before United was able to correct that mistake.

    This is pathetic in my opinion. You knew you were booking a “mistake” fare that was so far below norm that UA would take a major loss on it. And now you want to use the power of government to force UA to give you something you never earned or deserved to have, at UA’s loss.

    News to the “travel hacking community”, which includes me: we are a parasite on the miles and points system. When we apply for a bonus “after one use” credit card, that was the way the CC company set it up, hoping to rope us into using that card forever. If we don’t use it past one time, we only did what the CC company asked us to do. They hoped their offer would lead to more profit than it did, we were “smarter” and didn’t fall into that trap. It’s a fair game between us all.

    When we book a 4 miles per FC 12 hours flight, it’s no longer a fair game, finding a way to slip between the rules gambit. It’s just hoping to use the DOT rules to steal something we don’t have any right to have. The first rule of parasites is “don’t suck so much life out of your host that it dies”.

  34. I’m NOT in on the error/deal. I wish that someone at United would provide some FACTS; it would hep to put this into proper perspective. What I want ot know is How Many Tickets were ‘sold’ at the incorrect mile price. Second, How is United dealing with folks who are ALREADY on the airplane or in Hong Kong? I want to see the numbers jast as DOT will want to see the numbers.

  35. Yeah I’m with Robert on this one, I want to earn and use miles in an fair way. I passed on this, didn’t seem right.

  36. To answer “Anon’s” question, I did not have enough miles in my account to cover the actual mileage cost when I made my reservations.

    Also, just to follow-up on the “sticking it to UA” comment. That really was not my motivation in booking these – I just jumped at the chance to go to China. From what I have read online, it seems some folks do feel some retribution for some of the negatives things they feel UA has done to them in the past. My motive for booking is I am sure irrelevant to UA, but it certainly wasn’t to “get them back” for any perceived wrong doings in the past. Or to put it another way, I certainly wasn’t out to “stick it to United”. Though, it is always possible that they will view it in that manner…..

  37. Given that views on this matter seem pretty evenly split—and said views are pretty strongly held—the travel bloggers who are openly promoting and participating in this error should perhaps reconsider their position. I’m sure the $$ margin in travel blogging is pretty thin and it doesn’t make sense to disappoint or anger a large segment of readers. Better to keep your own plans and views private and just report the “facts.”

    • @JetAway, just reporting the facts would be easier in this case. 😉 Certainly not here to anger anyone, but don’t want to hide whether or not I participated either. I linked to several news articles that are “just the facts” on this topic, but this blog is more a story of how my family earns and redeems miles and points than it is “just the facts”. I very much understand the position of those who didn’t participate in this, but I’m not sure it would be fair for me to stay silent on whether or not I did make a reservation since this isn’t a true news site.

  38. Wow…this has been interesting and entertaining!

    Yesterday “RapidTravelChai” posted an analogy to this situation of a doddering old barber ringing up a fourteen cent charge by mistake instead of the normal $14.00 charge for a haircut. He posed the question about whether you would take advantage of that as analogous to the four mile trip to HKG.

    In my response to him I suggested that if you went to your barber and there were twenty people waiting and you discovered that all twenty paid a different price for the very same haircut and four of the people waiting got to go first because the had “elite” status I suspect you would feel quite a bit differently about your doddering barber.

    The airline business is dynamic and fluid. Everyday United “games” it’s competitors with it’s fares. It also “games” us…it’s customers.

    Some of us play the game by being loyal and enjoy the perks of loyalty and many of us are loyal only to the deal of the day.

    It is system where both parties are gaming each other. It seems odd that United should cry for sympathy when one of the tools they use to game us didn’t work too well [and let’s face it…how do you think the DOT ended up with rules that they have to honor “mistake” fares? It wasn’t because of their exemplary behavior].

    I think where United screwed up is that they could have said we made a mistake and here is some token of appreciation [5,000 or 10,000 miles] and 95% of us would have just gone away and been happy.

    Now it will be win/lose. I suspect United will still prevail and garner no goodwill from its customers and even if they honor the trips they will still not garner any goodwill.

    I am a Delta Diamond flyer and I have thought many times of leaving for United as the miles are so much more valuable. It is hard to make that leap these days as it is hard to find any good will being generated by United at any level with all the merger integration issues.

  39. I don’t care about the moral grandstanding. Call me a thief with morals, but the airline industry, at least in the US, does not seem to act in the fliers best interests. Their rational for initially charging us to to bring bags with us on a trip was because gas prices were too high. When gas prices returned to normal, we were still charged baggage fees and now some want to charge for carry-ons. We are also charged for food where before it was free. And let’s not pretend the customer service is what it once was.

    I work for an internet company. If we mess up, we have to suffer the consequences. And yeah, someone might get fired. You’re employed to do your job and do it well.

    I give money to the homeless, I volunteer with the elderly and pets, I *have* had a bank deposit a large sum in my account that didn’t belong to me and I let them know and didn’t spend it. I’ve let a grocery store checker know when she forgot to charge me for something.

    These moral comparisons are ridiculously flawed. Spare me. Sit on your high horse and enjoy the view. I won’t be paying you attention either way.

  40. Airlines charge fees, so what? Adjusted for inflation, air travel is cheaper than it has ever been. Not to mention that airlines have lost tens of billions in the last decade, so those fees aren’t helping them rake in profits, they are helping them mitigate losses. As Smisek wrote in the most recent Hemispheres issue, airlines are the most regulated deregulated businesses. This DOT rule just adds to that (not that it applies because people either paid full miles or no miles). And people are complaining about putting in the wrong dates (how do you manage that), or wrong class of service (even more difficult), and then blame the airline, the era of personal responsibility is gone.

  41. “When gas prices returned to normal, we were still charged baggage fees and now some want to charge for carry-ons. We are also charged for food where before it was free. And let’s not pretend the customer service is what it once was.”

    And the reason for this is? Because the majority of people will choose to fly the lowest cost airline, even if it is just a dollar less. Because of the pressure to meet the lowest price out there, airlines routinely lose money. American is in bankruptcy right now, and United has already gone thru bankruptcy. The only way to sell tickets is to meet the lowest advertised price, even if you are losing money doing it. So they come up with baggage fees, charge for meals, charge for pre-boarding, and yes, cut back on service, all trying to cover their costs.

    Everyone here knows that Singapore Airlines has far superior service, food, airplanes, etc to that of Southwest. Yet when buying a ticket with your own money, and given a choice between Singapore and Southwest, how many of you will pay “extra” for the superior experience on Singapore? Its illogical to search for the absolute lowest price, and then complain about the lousy experience you get for that lowest price. It’s especially illogical to claim that because the experience of flying on the lowest cost ticket you can find is so bad, that you are now entitled to “stick it to” the airline that is losing money selling you that ticket…..

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