United Honoring China 4 Mile Tickets…..If Travel Starts by 7/21, Otherwise Cancelled

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

Evenings seem to be a hot time for developments on the United 4 Miles China-gate 2012 affair.  As I was waiting to pick up supper, I saw some Facebook posts that United had started to cancel the 4 mile award tickets to China.  Sure enough, when I got home and checked my reservation it has disappeared into thin air.  Gone.  I guess easy come, easy go.

What is interesting about the cancellation is that United had previously posted on Flyertalk and Milepoint that they  “…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.” 

I received no contact from United from the moment I made my reservation, until the moment they cancelled it.  I’m honestly somewhat relieved the tickets were cancelled as it was all getting to be a bit much.  That said, I’m not sure United could have possibly handled the situation much worse from a customer service standpoint.  I’m not a big supporter of cancelling a confirmed reservation without some sort of contact from the airline.  Sure, I know what is going on as I am a miles and points forum junkie and have seen their “official” posts on those sites, but I shouldn’t have to find out what is happening with my reservation on an internet message board.

On the flip side, I do give United kudos for the following statement (again made on Flyertalk and Milepoint):

Hi Everyone, I want to provide you with a further update on our Hong Kong award programming error from this past weekend. Specifically here’s how we are proceeding with these reservations:

  • For those customers who had sufficient mileage in their account for the correct award amount, the correct amount of miles were deducted at the time of redemption. Any customers who do not intend to use the published number of miles for their ticket may cancel their reservation without paying a fee and we will refund all miles, taxes and fees.
  • For those customers who did not have sufficient mileage in their account for the correct award amount, the correct amount of miles could not be deducted at the time of redemption. These tickets have been canceled for non-payment and all taxes and fees have been refunded.
  • For those customers who have already begun travel, or are ticketed to begin travel on or before July 21, we will not cancel these tickets and will allow travel to be completed in full. This is intended as an accommodation to those customers whose travel is already underway or the departure date to begin travel is imminent.

We hope you’ll agree this was a unique circumstance. Unlike other widely reported “mistake fares,” the number of miles required for these awards – the correct purchase price – was clearly disclosed to customers throughout the MileagePlus award redemption process and is also available on our MileagePlus travel award chart.

We are in the process of communicating with affected customers at this time. Once again, we appreciate your understanding.

Shannon Kelly
Director, Customer Insights
United Airlines

I am very glad to hear they are honoring the reservations for those folks that are already in the air, as well as for those who have imminent travel.  Those folks really lucked out, and truly going to China roundtrip in first class for 4 miles!  I guess it pays to be able to be extremely spontaneous with travel plans when these mistakes pop up.  Of course, that level of spontaneity is not at all the reality of a family with a young kiddo.  I’m sure that this is not the last you will hear of this debacle as many are now filling formal DoT complaints.  Personally, I think that is a valid exercise only to find out the true limits of the new regulations.  As far as I am concerned, this saga is over.  Truthfully, part of me is a little relieved as it has been a bit consuming over the last five days.  Some of it has been consuming in a fun way, but some of it has also turned kind of negative with battle lines being drawn and people with very strong opinions one way or another.

Congrats to those who truly did score a basically free trip from this “oops moment” brought to you by United’s IT team.  Enjoy it, take pictures, and hopefully you will pay United back with loyalty and business over time.  At least I know I would!  For the rest of us, at least we can move on to obsessing about the “next great thing”.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Well, thanks for playing folks.

    I, too, understand their situation and accept the result.

    However, I have not received their email/call either and not very happy about that.

    Congrats to those flied anyway.

  2. I think united did the right thing here! Everyone knows this did not price correctly and thus there is no reason for united to honor these flights.

  3. This, on top of the “entitlement” statement from United, is going to make for a FUN Q&A session on the SMD4 . . .

  4. I look forward to the outraged mobs on Flyertalk slightly changing the tune they’re braying. So it goes.

    Now if United could bring back the disappeared HKG and Asian award capacity, I’d personally appreciate it.

  5. Love how everyone says “united didn’t contact me directly, but just posted it on Forums. What about those who don’t look at these forums”

    WOW! I’m going to go out on a limb and say: every single person who booked these tix, got the clue from blogs/forums. Sure, it just happened that one fine weekend, a bunch of people wanted to go to HKG in F/J. Rolleyes

  6. @mike, I don’t remember saying they discriminated against those who can’t be that spontaneous. I simply said I can’t be that spontaneous.
    @Stargoldua, possibly, but they shouldn’t have said you would be contacted if that wasn’t going to be the case. Just say what you are going to do, and follow through. At least an email would have probably been sufficient on the communication front. In the end the outcome would have likely been the same for probably 99%+.

  7. @mommypoints, it’s not just you but I’ve read similar comments in a other places. Look, I also got a tweet about this and my instinct said, Not Gonna Happen. Happy for those who got it. I fell you had a balanced approach on this, as did Lucky and a few others. Same can’t be said about TFG. Like u said, Folks, time to move on to the next one.

  8. The last paragraph is entirely false!

    AA recently ran a promo as well cutting the award rate by a half for flights to Asia. Technically, it’s not entirely unreasonable for a person to assume that this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal or pricing error at that. Also, the fact that there were two prices posted does not mean that the higher price is the correct pricing at that time. Online retailers/website typically show a higher pre-total price but charge a lower (sale) price.

    Btw, their claim that up to the booking the advertised price is their regular redemption rate is entirely invalid. The 4-mile rate was quoted in the step where the UA’s website asked one to review the itinerary and quoted other options for purchasing the ticket without having to redeem the meager 4 miles. Simply put, an argument could be made that the 4-mile rate is part of their advertised fare having been displayed as one of the alternative to acquiring the ticket.

    I hope the DOT took this into account during their negotiation process and no wrongful information was given to them. The press seems to have gotten this wrong so I’m assuming that UA is playing this angle (i.e., the 4-miles-only-shows-in-the-end-so-it’s-not-our-advertised-fare baloney).

  9. I still have not received any communication regarding the cancelation of my tickets. Until they communicate me regarding the cancelation, I am assuming my ticket is good and will show up for my flight with my eTicket after July21.

    We will see how much the DOT fine will be for failure to communicate.

    United doesn’t want to put out an official communication for a reason.

  10. “Update regarding award itinerary
    that includes Hong Kong

    Dear Grant Thomas,

    You recently requested the ticketing of MileagePlus award travel to, from or through Hong Kong (confirmation XXXXX). 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.”

  11. Not on the subject, but wanted to let you know that the promotion points for the Park Plaza deal did post correctly. My email said 15, but I got 50. I live in Mpls, so will do another stay for sure in my wife’s name. Let me know how yours works out.

  12. @mommypoints I think mike was just making a joke about being discriminated against for being spontaneous. No one’s saying you were making one of the loony discrimination claims lately.

    No big deal, let’s find the next deal.

  13. Way to go United. You did the right thing. I’m glad that they are not honoring the tickets because now the prices for award tickets and regular paid tickets will not be going up for us 20 billion people who have a morale compass. Theft in retail is the main reason that consumer products are soooo high priced. Big mouthfuls often choke.

  14. What about the first person who found this. They innocently looked for a flight and date then booked it. The site gave the final price. Now that reservation is cancelled with no communication. Seems like bad service to me. What if it was an all cash pricing. Say it came out to $49 plus taxes. On the other hand is it more like buying something at a store with a $5 bill and getting change back for a $20 and not saying anything?

  15. How is this over, becasue United says it is? It’s over when the DOT rules on the legality of cancelling ticketed and confirmed tickets at the wrong price. Had United offered tickets at taxes only in error, they can’t go back and cancel them and say they’re over under the new rules so I wouldn’t see how this is any more legal.

  16. If the DOT is forced to validate these tickets, they will also update the rule to account for obvious errors like this. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if an update to the rule is already under review since this situation clearly isn’t intended to be price protected.

  17. It’s over. The DOT interpretation seems to be that when the final price quoted is correct, then the airlines are held to fire. However in this case it was OBVIOUS that the intended price was not 4 miles each way. So most revenue mistake fares will still be fare game, regardless of any moral issues involved.

  18. “Technically, it’s not entirely unreasonable for a person to assume that this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal or pricing error at that.”

    4 miles. FOUR. Not unreasonable to think that this is a special deal where you get 99.998% off. 🙂

  19. I really don’t think they should have honored it for anybody. Deduct the miles from the freeloaders’ accounts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *