My favorite perk of elite status is the ability to change and redeposit awards with no fee. But I still pay close attention to the new confirmation emails when a ticket is re-issued because sometimes the cost goes up and the agent didn’t notice. It’s usually not the agent’s fault (unless you count gross negligence; again, not usually the agent’s fault). In United’s case, computers automatically price awards and sometimes get confused by changes to complex routings that leave some segments intact and change others.
A recent example is my brother’s flight to Las Vegas. I booked his outbound flight using 12,500 miles and $5 because it was such a great deal compared to the $300+ one-way fares available from Fort Lauderdale. And that choice was validated when he called me a week before after his boss assigned him to a job in Roanoke, VA. Rather than make him drive or fly all the way back to Fort Lauderdale, I could just rebook him by keeping the CLT-LAS segment intact and replacing the initial FLL-CLT leg with ROA-CLT.
I needed to request a change rather than cancel and re-issue because CLT-LAS was at that point sold out. Replacing a segment in an existing itinerary was the only way to maintain the original price. Even though the connection time (4 hours, 13 minutes) was just over the usual limit for domestic layovers, it should be permissible because he was leaving on the very next scheduled flight — it wasn’t his fault that there weren’t any better connections.
And in fact, when I tried to make the change online, the reservations system quoted me no difference in fare. The problem was that it wouldn’t book. So began 45 minutes on the phone with United Airlines.
The first agent who picked up was on the Premier 1K desk and helpful enough. She was processing my change and must have pushed a wrong button because I got transferred to Customer Care instead of being put on hold. I called back, and the second agent who picked up was on the Global Services desk. I love it when I get a GS agent. Although the 1K desk is pretty good, GS agents almost never make mistakes. She processed my change efficiently and said a new receipt would be emailed to me.
Well, that receipt had the same confirmation number and the new itinerary, but the cost had increased to 25,000 miles. If I needed to pay more (which I didn’t) I wouldn’t mind as long as the agent explained why before processing the charge. I figured the GS agent overlooked it because it’s also easy to overlook in the email. Fixing it, however, was a real problem.
The third agent was on the standard Premier desk, for those elites not 1K or GS. I hate talking to these agents because they are less experienced and usually more likely to have a poor attitude. I politely explained that I was charged 25,000 miles and the agent hadn’t told me of any change in price when she rebooked me.
“It says 12,500 miles right here. Nothing changed.”
I responded that I saw 25,000 miles on my email confirmation and in my online account.
“Well, the computer prices things automatically. No mistake was made. It’s supposed to be 25,000 miles because the connection is longer than 4 hours.”
She was contradicting herself, and I didn’t want to argue about how much awards should cost. That wasn’t the point. I responded that regardless of why the price is higher, no one told me the price would go up before booking it. I asked to speak to supervisor or someone from Customer Care.
She resisted. Argued. Made me sound like I was being unreasonable. After much further discussion, she blurted,
“Sir, when you made the booking, the computer told you that the new price would be 25,000 miles and you agreed to it. We don’t control the inventory US Airways provides us.”
Argh. She completely ignored that I had booked this with an agent. Plus, she’s the kind of agent who just follows the prompt on the screen. If that was what I wanted, I would have used the computer myself. One purpose for human agents is to override the computer when it makes a mistake.
No, I said, I did not make the reservation online. I made the reservation with an agent just 10 minutes ago. And while you may not control what inventory US Airways provides you, you do control what you tell your customers. You are obligated to tell them if the price is going to go up before you process a change. Now will you please, for the second time, connect me to a supervisor who can correct this mistake?
She grunted and put me on hold. After five minutes, I hung up and called again.
Fourth time’s the charm, and I was back at the Premier 1K desk. This agent understood what happened, examined the record (itineraries contain a record of every change, which can be helpful in sorting out these issues) and agreed that the cost should not have gone up. It was a glitch because one segment was kept intact while another was changed. That unavoidable 4+ hour layover confused it into pricing the award as two one-ways, and no one had noticed the mistake. Rather than argue with me for 15 minutes, she took two minutes to override the computer with the correct fare and issue a refund.
This is why you should try, as much as possible, to figure out the rules so you can price your own award. Don’t ever trust the agent — again, not the agent’s fault, but they may be following the prompt from a mistaken computer. I don’t know all the rules, but I knew this one.
I usually set aside 30 minutes to an hour when I want to book or change anything complicated just in case something like this happens. The longer you wait to set things right, the harder it is to get these issues resolved. There is no guarantee the original award space will be reinstated, so you could be stuck with the change while you continue to negotiate the price, but in my case everything turned out well in the end.