United Incorrectly Charging Award Redeposit Fees

On April 15, United discontinued the largely unpublished policy of “inherited” status on award tickets. This meant that the person flying on the award ticket would no longer have the benefits associated with the Premier from who’s account the ticket was booked. As I discussed at the time, this basically amounted to the end of free Economy Plus seats, free checked bags, and the potential for upgrades. Not great news for many.

On the other hand, award tickets booked from the accounts of Global Service, Premier 1K, or Premier Platinum accounts have always been exempt from change fees, cancellation fees, and redeposit fees. And that was not supposed to change.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s been happening.

There are many reports that the United website is now charging the $200 award redeposit fee based on the status of the passenger, not the account holder.

There is no IT in United. Oh wait.
There is no IT in United. Oh wait.

It Happened To Me

I had booked an award ticket for a General Member (non-status) family member to come visit us. The ticket was booked after April 15, so I knew that they would not inherit my baggage allowance or seating benefits. But I certainly expected that I would be able to cancel the ticket without a penalty, a benefit that comes in handy if you have flaky friends and family.

It turned out, the family member couldn’t make the trip, so I needed to cancel. As anyone who has ever cancelled an award ticket on united.com knows, it requires clicking through multiple screens that keep asking basically the same thing over and over again. So if you do this occasionally, it’s pretty easy to fall asleep and just go through the motions. Click, click, click and the ticket is eventually cancelled.  

And then I eventually looked at my credit card statement and noticed a $200 fee from United.

Was I Informed Of The Fee?

Like I say, I’ve cancelled award tickets a few times, so I generally know what the process looks like and what the screens say. I’m sure I was busy at the time and didn’t pay much attention. But I honestly don’t believe I saw any mention of the fee. If so, that’s really concerning.

But when I go back and pretend to cancel a similar award ticket now, I get the following as one of the screens.

Don't just click right through this screen or you'll end up with a $200 charge that you might not be expecting.
Don’t just click right through this screen or you’ll end up with a $200 charge that you might not be expecting.

Below this message is a field for the credit card information. It would be nice to think that you can’t actually be charged the fee without entering your credit card number, but of course if you have a credit card on file, United pre-populates the box with it for your convenience. And then you’re charged.

So maybe I was informed of the fee, or maybe I wasn’t. Either way, it’s bogus.

Getting The Refund

Long story short, I called the Premier line. At first the agent claimed that the benefits had changed as of April 15 and that the fee was legit. When I politely advised that the fee waiver had not changed, she relented.

Then it was a matter of determining how to get a refund. She called the refunds desk on my behalf, but they insisted that they couldn’t do this over the phone and that I would have to apply for a refund via the United refunds website. Are you kidding me? You just hit me with a bogus charge, which even your agent says is wrong, and you have no way to remedy the problem in real time?

I complained to the agent that this was ridiculous and she said she’d walk me through the web form. She didn’t get very far. There’s actually no option in the first drop down for “award redeposit fee”.

You can request refunds for a lot of things at United.com but award redeposit fees ain't one of them.
You can request refunds for a lot of things at United.com but award redeposit fees ain’t one of them.

By then, I think even she was annoyed at their system and offered to actually fill it out for me. I accepted. I’m not sure if she used a special form or shoehorned it into one of the existing categories, but apparently it worked. A few minutes later I had an automated email telling me the request would be reviewed in 7-10 business days.

For good measure, I then called my credit card and disputed the $200 charge, because hey, the charge was bogus and United still hadn’t fixed it.

Today I received an email from United informing me that my request for a refund had been approved. 

Beware

This bug has been ongoing for about a month according to this FlyerTalk thread. Supposedly United is working on a fix. But the cynic in me wonders if this isn’t just a nice little revenue generator for United, and thus there is no real urgency to remedy this bug. I mean, why not just charge the $200 fee? Worst case, a few customers notice it and for those you issue refunds. If they don’t notice…

Don't just click right through this screen or you'll end up with a $200 charge that you might not be expecting.
Don’t just click right through this screen or you’ll end up with a $200 charge that you might not be expecting.

Bottom Line

If you are a GS, 1K, or Platinum member and cancel an award ticket for someone else, make sure you aren’t being charged the fee. I would suggest calling in to cancel the ticket, as I think the agent can override the fee. Otherwise you may end up dealing with the refund process just like I did.


Has anyone else experience this bogus $200 fee?

Comments

  1. ** Has anyone else experience this bogus $200 fee? **

    Experienced.

    And Yes. The Mileage Plus Service Center was able to refund my fees.

    A DOT complaint also eventually produced an e-certificate and an apology for the charge that should not have taken place.

    United knows about this problem, but apparently it is NOT a priority to be fixed. The terms are clearly stated (still) on their website, and Plats/1K/GS members should not be charged when a reward ticket they have purchased is cancelled and the miles are redeposited. Yet the website IS charging, and has been for weeks now.

    As frequent FT contributor Channa suggests, perhaps enough DOT complaints will give United some incentive to fix this, and other, customer unfriendly behavior of their airline. *shrug*

  2. Well according to your post the other day about the Hyatt Olive 8, this isn’t a big deal at all because you just had to call customer service and jump through a hoop or two, so total non-story!

  3. Looks like you weren’t paying attention. Also, you agreed to the fee when it was charged, so how do you justify performing a chargeback?

  4. Ben — Ha. Ha. ha.

    I never said that the Olive 8 blocking award rooms for the summer wasn’t an issue. I just explained how to get around the issue.

    Here I’m presenting the issue AND I’m telling folks how to get around it by calling the Premier Line to cancel rather than doing it on the website.

  5. I once canceled an award but had closed the original credit card it was booked on, and United refused to credit the refund the taxes to another card. Never got the refund.

  6. A chargeback seems a bit extreme. I generally reserve that only for cases where all other options have been exhausted. I don’t think credit card companies like it when you use them frequently, plus it draws unnecessary attention to you: Hey look, this guy has signed up for 10 of our cards in the last 3 years. Each time he spends $1000 to get the bonus, never uses it again and then cancels when the annual fee posts a year later. hmmm….

  7. Does this issue also happen with Premier Gold and Silver members, who should be charged a reduced cancellation fee (e.g. $100 for Gold)? I haven’t checked, but I bet the answer is “yes”.

  8. @Tom “A chargeback seems a bit extreme. “:

    My policy is that I give a company exactly one try to fix a mistake, problem or screw-up on their part. If it’s not fixed after one phone call, I have the credit card company take care of it. This has reduced stress in my life considerably, has worked 100% of the time, and has most certainly NOT resulted in Chase panting after my credit card business any less than they always have.

  9. So I guess that United has Fantastic Customer Service too, even better than Hyatt, since you only had to call United once to get what you were supposed to get in the first place, not twice like you did with Hyatt.

    In regard to the chargeback, I used to be in banking and we did keep a very close eye on people who requested a refund from companies and then charged back the same charge with us. If I didn’t know you for the honest, upstanding citizen that you are, I might think that you were trying to get the refund twice!

  10. @Travelmore, they can’ refund a transaction they never made, so they can’t apply it to a different card. They would have had to cut you a check.
    @snic, Travis did not even give them one chance to fix their mistake, he charged it back right after they told him that they were going to process a refund.

  11. Hmmm….sounds like having a credit card on file with United (or any other airline or business that charges service fees) is not a good idea….you’ll pay a lot more attention if you are asked to input a credit card number.

  12. Great use of the word shoehorned. I love that word and use it as often as possible. United is truly a follower and not a leader in commercial aviation. I just don’t know why people fly them. Their elite ranks are so incredibly packed at their hubs that Platinum and even 1K fliers often miss out on upgrades. Smisek has taken 2 years longer than he should have to complete the merger and look, simple issues like this where an agent agrees but can’t do anything to resolve it for you in real time. Then when you take the advice given to use the website it doesn’t even have a drop down to use. That is a prefect example of how technology often can’t handle certain issues because they are unique. United is a subpar airline from their customer service, management, policies, and overall product. I will continue to fly AA and DL whenever possible.

  13. This happened to me as well. As an 1K, I had booked a ticket for my daughter several months ago, and then canceled the ticket at end of April. First, the website gave me an error when I canceled the ticket. Being suspicious, I called the United, and was told that everything was good. A few days later, I noticed that United still hasn’t refunded my miles, and called the 1K desk. The agent wasn’t quite sure what was going on, and had to manually refund my miles. Two days after that, I noticed the $200 charge, and had to call yet once again to get that refunded.

    What bothered me was that United could charge $200 to my credit card without telling me, and if I had not paid attention to my credit card bill, I never would have known to call. I wrote to United, but never got a reply.

  14. Farnorth — perhaps you misread. I called United and asked for a refund. They refused to do it on the spot and instead said I needed to file a request and that “they would review it” and make a determination. Had they issued the refund on the spot, of course I wouldn’t bother calling Chase. Saying they’ll “review it” is not the same as issuing a refund.

    And when I called Chase, I explained the situation to them — that I had called United, asked them to refund, but that they were going to review it. Chase agreed that a chargeback was in order.

  15. UA Phil: I don’t recall seeing any reports of this affecting Gold and Silvers in the FT thread, but you raise a good point. Best to watch your credit card statement.

  16. George. I definitely didn’t remember seeing any notification about the charge on the website. So thanks for sharing your experience where you didn’t see it either. So it seems that rather than fix the problem, United just went and added a screen telling you they were going to charge the fee. Lovely. And typical.

  17. Why would UA let this easy-to-fix error remain on their website? I doubt it’s because they are trying to trick their customers. I’m guessing it’s because they plan to remove this benefit in the near future, so why bother fixing something that will only have to be fixed the other way in a few weeks?

    Yet another reason why I have become completely uninterested in attaining United elite status anymore.

  18. Ugh. I’m on the phone with a United representative right now. Wish I had read this post before I called. 🙁

  19. 1k, Charged 10 x $200 for the redeposit fees. Was told by UA Refunds it was an error. They had me log into the Refund site, told me to use e-ticket-refund as a way to get into the detailed area. I entered 5 of the 10 tickets in the space where they put ticket numbers. The other 5 and the explanation went in the comments section. I was told to include that I was a 1K and my Mileage Plus number in the comment section with these last 5 ticket numbers. They said it will be processed and refunded within 7-10 business days. I’ve also disputed the charges with the credit card company.

  20. I am having the same problem currently I booked two international flights using my mileage plus miles three days later I canceled the flights my credit card was charged six times the $200 I am sending emails to everyone and anyone and I am not getting any said anything solved , I have already contacted my credit card company and I am disputing the $1200 charge from United however I want mileage plus to remove these charges ,they did redeposit my miles into my account but I do not think I should be charged this amount , and as you mentioned, they had no authority to use my credit card number on file

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