Advertisement

A Tale of Playing With Fire and Winding Up Upgraded on United Airlines

by on December 27, 2012 · 76 comments

in Trip Reports, United

In September, I had an insane ticketing experience using United miles for a Swiss Airlines business class flight Miami-Zurich-Nice. In the end I was denied boarding due to inexplicable “United ticketing issues,” and since then I’ve contacted United on numerous occasions – formal complaints, emails to senior management, correspondence with their social media team via Twitter, and even asking MileagePlus senior leaders in person at the Star Mega Do. I have yet to get a single response about what happened and whether I’m due any compensation since I had to burn AA miles for a British Airways First Class flight that came with ~$400 in fees. As maddening as the situation has been, I am still a fan of United miles because they are extremely valuable and I now have United Platinum (due to a status match), which means I have supreme flexibility when booking and changing awards.

Few Choices
So you’d think I’d learn my lesson with United award tickets and not mess with them, right? Well, last week I flew Newark to Dublin with a good friend. I purchased a “cheap” business class ticket with coach return for $1,400, which I thought was a good deal. Flat bed on the overnight flight and Economy Plus on the return, plus a boatload of redeemable and elite miles along the way.

Economy flights were expensive and we only needed a one-way ticket, so I burned 55,000 United miles for an economy class award for my friend (as a Platinum member I got to select him seat 7A, which is probably the best Economy Plus seat in the bulkhead with tons of legroom). I was hoping that either a Business Saver (50,000 mile) or Economy Saver (30,000 mile) award would open up before departure. Since I am United Platinum, I’d be able to re-ticket and get the miles back for free – a risk I was willing to take, especially since my friend didn’t have the cash to fork out for the pricy coach ticket and I really wanted him to come on this trip.

I set ExpertFlyer alerts for the saver level award space and crossed my fingers, but felt confident since United does release a lot of saver availability in the days and hours leading up to departure. No saver seats opened up, but I noticed coach was packed to the gills and there were 5+ business class seats available, so at the minimum I was hoping for an operational upgrade for him to business class in case it was oversold. At the kiosk at check-in it asked him if he wanted to volunteer to get bumped and we went to the gate to see what was up. The gate agent told us she wouldn’t need volunteers, but she did ask for our boarding passes so she could verify our passports.

Last-Minute Changes
With about an hour left before departure, we headed to the United Club when I got a great email from ExpertFlyer: Economy saver level inventory just became available! For a split second I thought “I really shouldn’t mess with this”, but the thought of passing up 25,000 United miles (which I value at about $500), was just too much to not try and get them back.  I called up the Platinum line and got a friendly rep who said she’d be able to reticket at the Saver level as long as we had no check luggage (which we didn’t). I told her we had the best coach seat and absolutely did not want to lose it and she assured me she’d get a supervisor to make sure nothing went wrong and I’d get the miles back in my account. A major win for me and even for my friend who felt good knowing I used less miles than I originally planned for his ticket. Before the agent put me on hold, I asked her again to make sure that we would be able to not only board the flight, but also that his seat would be honored. She told me not to worry and she’d get it taken care of in a jiffy. Okay then.

However, in typical United fashion, things started to go downhill quickly. I was put on hold for a solid 10 minutes, at which point I heard the boarding announcement for our flight. When the agent came back, she sounded a little frantic and said she was still on hold for a supervisor! Explaining that we had to head to the gate, she urged me to stay on the line and wait until things could be sorted. I told my friend to go to the agent at the Club to make sure his boarding pass was still valid. Negative and his seat assignment was gone. Great.

Boys weekend in Dublin and Edinburgh was in peril!

Boys weekend in Dublin and Edinburgh was in peril!

I instructed him to go to the gate and explain the situation and I’d be there shortly once I got done with the phone agent. Apparently the phone agent messed around with the ticket and since it was so close to departure, she couldn’t reassign the seat or do anything for that matter. When she started to blame me for playing around with it too close to departure, I just about lost my mind. However, I  kept my cool because getting angry doesn’t usually solve situations. She seemed pretty powerless, so I told her to do whatever she could to make sure it was ticketed correctly and we would handle it at the gate. She apologized and told me she notated the account and that I should email United customer service (ha!) and ask for the 25,000 miles to be manually added to my account.

The Gatekeeper
Things got really fun once we got to the gate and started dealing with one of the surliest gate agents I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve flown a lot out of NYC, so I know how to handle the power-hungry battle ax, no-nonsense New Yorker!). The agent basically told us “tough luck” and gave my friend a middle seat in row 41. This was the same agent who verified our boarding passes and passports and knew we had seat 7A reserved. We were very calm and asked if there was any way they could help us get that seat back since the lucky person who got it assigned last minute probably didn’t even have elite status and certainly didn’t have it reserved or paid in advance.

She told us “no” and that we were lucky she was helping us at all. We asked if there was anything in business class and she said “Yes and it will be $5,000 if you’d like to buy a last-minute ticket. Please give me your credit card- after all if you wanted business class all along you should have paid for it.”

Comput-ah says nooooo.. I felt like I was smack dab in the middle of a Little Britain episode!

Comput-ah says nooooo.. I felt like I was smack dab in the middle of a Little Britain episode!

My blood pressure started to rise and I realized I hit a brick wall with her – she even taunted us that she could easily put him in business class, but “she wanted to work the next day.” I explained that this was all due to a United Airlines error and that we actually used more miles for coach than a saver level business award and that all we wanted was a non-middle back-of-the-bus seat. At this point I decided to escalate beyond her and I walked over to another gate where I found a customer service leader in a red coat and quickly, but politely explained the situation. I calmly explained that the United Platinum customer service line royally messed up our ticket and is there anything he could do to make the situation right for a loyal customer?

He fumbled around on the computer and read through the notes on the reservation. He printed something up, which I thought was a boarding pass, and then highlighted “This ticket is not subject to complimentary elite upgrades” and showed it to me. I tried explaining that we knew that – we weren’t asking for a Premier domestic upgrade (it was an international flight after all), simply a better seat, and if none were available, if they’d be able to give him one of the empty business class seats since it was a United error that led to him losing his awesome coach seat. He did see that the reservation was notated with “Extend all courtesy possible,” which seemed to be enough for him and he gave my friend one of the open business class seats. Major, major kudos to him- I firmly believe he did the right thing, but it was hair-raising getting to that point.

Score!
While we were boarding, the nasty gate agent was at the forward boarding door and pretty much assaulted me with “So WHAT HAPPENED?!” I was as nice as I possibly could be “Thank you so, so much for your help. We’re good.” as my friend slid into seat 2D. I could tell she was livid, which made my pre-departure beverage all the more enjoyable.

Lessons Learned
1) Don’t mess with United tickets unless you absolutely have to (in my case, 25,000 miles or $500 in value was worth it).
2) United elite phone agents aren’t as good as you think they are
3) Don’t expect United to make the right customer service decision unless absolutely prodded and pleaded with.
4) Never get angry. If you run into a roadblock, get resourceful and try to find a willing employee to help you.
5) When airlines hand you lemons, make an ice cold pre-departure cocktail.

Stay tuned for the actual BusinessFirst Newark-Dublin flight review. I’m curious, though, if anyone else has been in a similar situation and whether I was totally crazy to try and reticket the reservation to save some miles.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

Previous post:

Next post:

  • BobChi

    I think one takeaway for those of us not as nimble or knowledgeable as TPG is that this sort of thing may not be worth it, and could well turn out badly, even for an expert. Sometimes you do settle for the “next best” rather than take a chance at “best”, if that puts what you’ve got at risk.

  • Bigr3dbears

    Those who don’t take risks don’t drink champagne. Literally, in TPG’s case.

  • Aaa

    well done

  • Artpen100

    “if you wanted business class all along you should have paid for it.” What is it with this attitude? I was recently told the same thing when checking on the possibility of an upgrade with miles on the phone. I know how United likes to make it as hard as possible to upgrade (and book businesss and first with miles, compared to other airlines). That is why I try to book on those airlines unless United has a direct and they don’t. I don’t need the snark.

  • ZJ

    I don’t understand why in times of historically high unemployment, customer service is at an all-time low.

  • notsosmart

    Well… I’ll take the opposite side, because as a fellow traveler and also a pathological gambler, I’ve been in similar situations before.

    You *knew* the risk associated with screwing with the ticket so close to departure. You *knew* that UA CS often blows, even for elites. You already had the best situation possible going, why tempt faith?

    The way I look at it, instead of complaining about the one surly agent (remember, she sees thousands of clueless travelers, as well as self-entitled morons every day), you should be grateful that the situation was resolved so well for you by the red coat.

    Anyway, I’m sure you already know this.

    Cheers! Happy 2013!

  • mwilson77

    that’s amazing and couldn’t agree more about the “Never get angry” bit. I’ve had a few recent experiences with DL redcoats going out of their way to do a above-and-beyond ticket change at the gate simply because I asked nicely and didn’t freak out (despite it being a somewhat emergency situation)…rule of thumb: “Polite, but firm”.

  • http://twitter.com/jamucsb Jamison

    it never hurts to ask! ask and you shall receive – I would also e-mail United customer service for a lack of phone service and gate agent attitude which should net you some addition compensation in the form of miles and or vouchers! Kudos TPG

  • Michael

    Awesome story! You are so resourceful. I know I couldn’t have resisted making a snarky comment to the Evil Witch, er Boarding Agent…

  • Libby

    I found your website a few days ago. This is a goldmine! I am trying to accrue miles for three tickets to AMS. Applying for a bunch of new cards – trying to get that introductory 30,000 – 50,000 points score :-) Thanks for the boatload of info!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565328528 Robert Grunnah

    I flew United 40+ times last year and was in this situation (where a friend was booked on the higher mileage award and a lower-mileage award came up later on) many times. You were not crazy to try to get him re-booked into the lower miles award, but you were crazy to try to do it so soon prior to the flight boarding window.

    It is without question that the UA customer service people have a WIDE variety of competence – some phone people are amazing customer advocates and will basically do whatever you want. And others are so surly, you find it hard to believe they answered the phone at all.

    The key is to keep in mind what base you’re in. If you’re in a ex-Continental hub like Houston or Newark, you will usually get better customer service. If you’re in an ex-pre-merger United hub, prepare for the worst.

    United management screwed over their employees for so long that many of those people stopped caring long ago. But they’re protected via unions, so they will ride it out until they retire. Thankfully, the new United is hiring fresh blood, and these new hires tend to have gone through a more rigorous screening process – and are far more pleasant helpful.

    The bottom line is, the Saverpass option will have become available a few hours before the flight, so make a mental note that if you will NOT check it beyond ONE HOUR PRIOR to leaving FOR THE AIRPORT. That gives you an hour to deal with them on the phone before you leave. Waiting until the last minute will cause this type of problem, because the probability is, you’re going to get one of the less helpful agents that don’t know so well what they’re doing.

    The good news is things are definitely getting better, especially for high level elite. As a 1K, they answer my calls almost always on the first ring, and they seem to be learning the new system quite well. I think we’ve crossed the chasm on UA customer service issues, and I certainly hope so, because as you say, the awards are the best in the business. (Just try to imagine getting the lower mileage award credited back last minute on AA or Delta! – FORGET It! … The problem you had is a creation of UA’s own lax policies).

    Robert

  • 1KforLife

    It seems to me that you asked for something impossible and then capitalized on the subsequent chaos you created and eventually got United to let you have things your way. I would hardly call this a customer service failure with United.

  • Rob

    Another thing I think fliers have working against them is that most CS agents as well as gate agents don’t regularly fly the product their company sells and they don’t understand the difference of flying a long-haul international flight in the middle seat in coach, versus a great economy plus seat with extra leg room that you’ve worked hard to build status for….they simply see some one coming forward trying to “manipulate” them into granting an “upgrade” having no appreciation for the bigger picture or the sequence of events that brought you to them…you’re simply one of the millions of customers they see each year and it doesn’t make sense to play favorites. Its wrong, but you see something along these lines pretty regularly.

    Also in all my years of flying, I’ve never attempted a seat change with less than an hour before an international flight, too much chaos at the gate, and too many variables that can go against me, considering the poorly trained agents

    #endrant

  • Michael

    I have to chime in here because you make a great point — what is up with customer service nowadays — even for Elites? The “if you wanted business class all along you should have paid for it” comment is outrageous. Who is she to tell you that?

    I’m in a situation right now where I have my family in tow and am flying YUL-JFK-LAX in J on Dec 29 but my flight from YUL-JFK is at 6p and my JFK-LAX flight is at 9:30p and the former has been delayed 1-2 hours every day this week, so I called the Explat Desk and asked if I could jump on the noon YUL-JFK flight so a) there would be no worry about making the JFK-LAX connection and b) we would be able to enjoy the AC at JFK since there is not one at YUL. I got the same snark: “Well since there is no travel notice listed, there will be $150 change fees plus the fare difference so that’ll be $3200 – what credit card would you like to use to pay for that” response.

    I tried to explain that since the noon flight was empty and the snowstorm blanketing the east coast is through Sunday, isn’t it smarter to ensure that your customers (My wife is Elite too) would be able to make their connections instead of being stuck in JFK, and she replied, “Well, you should have considered that when making your reservation, shouldn’t you?”

    So now I’m waiting for a travel notice from AA to be issued so they will waive the fare change and fees…

  • Adam1222

    Sounds like Smisek may have been right on those entitled United passengers….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565328528 Robert Grunnah

    That’s a really odd, Soviet-era, line of thinking. Are you “1KForLife” because you’re a company apparatchik?

    The reality is that if a company is going to offer a benefit or a service – they need to honor it, and do it with a smile, 100% of the time.

    Brian was advised that a lower mileage redemption option was available, and being Platinum, he is given the right to refund his miles for free any time he wants, and book last minute new awards any time he wants.

    True, he did it too soon before departure, but if you condone the insolence and absolutely disgusting customer service that your fellow comrades offered him, then indeed you must be drinking the Kool-Aid!

  • Ahecht37

    unions

  • Lively

    I don’t have a problem with TPG changing at the last moment. But it’s living too close to the edge for me. :)

  • ZJ2

    Why didn’t you book a new reservation or your friend instead of trying to change the old one?

  • Carson3s

    wrong, most people join the airline for the benefits including flight-benefits..my wife worked for the airline and I saw this first-hand. She had many, many coworkers that flew the planes non-rev (as they fly for free) both domestically and internationally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004382144264 Chandler Pellock

    I love stories like this. I’m glad it worked out!

  • thepointsguy

    If it was impossible, then the Platinum phone rep should have never touched my ticket- no?

  • thepointsguy

    The whole goal was to not lose seat 7A and the phone rep assured me I wouldn’t if I let her reticket it.. lesson learned!

  • dhammer

    2 cents a mile? For biz or first maybe, but for coach, a penny and a half is generous.

  • turgutbey

    What I find interesting here is the total difference in proposed solutions btwn agents. Gate agent says “computah says no”, whereas redcoat delivers the holy grail upgrade.

    I had a similar situation this past Oct flying SEA to CMB via SFO and SIN. I missed my connection in SFO and the agent’s only solution was a flight that would leave me in SIN for 12+ hours without a hotel and arriving to CMB 24 hours late. She swore up & down she could not put me on a much better routing with a UA flight to FRA connecting to Sri Lankan flight to CMB. Sure enough a second agent tried just that and was able to ticket me.

  • houstonmama

    Horrible customer service! No need to be snarky!

  • houstonmama

    Good for you TPG!

  • http://www.facebook.com/toni.perkinssoutham Toni Perkins Southam

    We had an awful experience with several united employees last year. One phone rep was just awful. I asked him if he could just transfer me to someone else and he says, “No! Just because you’re having a bad day doesn’t mean I’m going to transfer you!” Whatever the heck that meant. When we were checking our bags, the customer service rep next to us started yelling at this young girl who was bawling because he was so mean! I wrote down his name, and wrote united, but of course, i never heard anything again!

  • Dshamooelian

    My dad had a one pass plus card from continental airlines, and recently he received the mileage plus explorer card as its replacement due to the merger so do you know if he’s entitled to the 30,000 bonus points? Thanks

  • Ackrach

    Nicely done! I just love reading about victories over stonewalling! It’s even more fun seeing how many people seem to resent you for getting what you were actually entitled to from United. It really speaks to how fascinatingly vindictive the human species really can be.

    It’s also amazing that given your rather large soapbox, and repeated attempts across multiple channels, United fails to budge on the incident on Swiss. Don’t mess with a guy that has a website!

  • thepointsguy

    True- god forbid they want the benefits offered by the airline..
    How greedy!

  • thepointsguy

    I am grateful it was handled well after much prodding. I knew I was playing with fire (hence the title), but still thought it was worth it to get back ~$500 in value

  • Adam1222

    I must have missed “guaranteed changing tickets minutes before boarding and retaining the seat I wanted” as a listed benefit….

  • thepointsguy

    Nope- only if he applied for a new card, though it never hurts to ask!

  • thepointsguy

    I guess you missed the part of the post where the Platinum phone rep confirmed she would be able to do that.

  • AKold

    I think you got out like a fox on this one, and asking for more compensation from United would be too much (how many miles were you charged in the end — the saver economy, standard economy, or saver business?). I agree with some that “what else would you expect?” especially given your previous troubles with United, but also agree that someone answering a Premier Platinum’s phone call should know what is possible to do in a short amount of time and be able to follow through.

    In my limited experience with United, it seems that the company makes rules, we follow them, they mess up, then blame us.

    Notice how what you did would be impossible with Delta (because of the 72-hour rule), but whenever Delta has messed up a ticket, they have proactively taken care of me. I can deal with Skypesos considering their better customer service culture.

  • Adam1222

    How is that a “benefit offered by the airline” ?

  • Adam1222

    You ended up with a Business Class seat you had absolutely no entitlement to, after you did something that you knew was risky. How this is proof of problems at United is mindboggling.

  • thepointsguy

    Waived award redeposits are a platinum / 1k benefit. Please point out where there is a cutoff time for doing so

  • thepointsguy

    I agree the end result was more than satisfactory. The customer service experienced up until that point was not.

  • Dshamooelian

    thnx and I’m looking at either the ink plus or ink classic for my dad’s business. All the benefits are the same except the 50,000 bonus for plus vs 20,000 bonus for classic but classic has no annual fee, while plus has a $95 annual fee. So basically if I’m gonna keep the card for 4 or more years the classic is better but if I’m gonna keep it for less than 4 years then ink plus is better cuz plus’s bonus is 30,000 miles more=$300 so it will take up to 4 years of annual fees to cancel out the extra 30,000 bonus miles of the plus over the classic (including the first yr annual fee waived).
    Your thoughts?

  • thepointsguy

    Get the bold or plus with 50k and then change to classic down the road to avoid the fee if you think that card will work better for your needs

  • Dshamooelian

    Thnx, and how long should i wait before changing to the classic so that my dad’s credit score won’t fall? My dad pays in full each month so how long do you recommend waiting before switching cards? Thnx so much for your help!

  • Adam1222

    Oh cmon. It doesn’t say you can’t do it while you’re midflight, either. (Nor does it say you’re guaranteed to keep your seat assignment)

    That kind of argument is what leads to folks being called entitled. I’m happy you got a free business class upgrade, even if it cost you and several United employees stress. I hope this greed doesn’t cost a united employee his or her job. Merry christmas.

  • thepointsguy

    Actually it does say you can’t redeposit miles after you begin travel.

  • sfomsp

    Playing with fire is right.

    You really had no entitlement whatsoever to ask for a biz class seat in exchange for ‘losing’ a decent economy seat. Doesn’t matter that your economy award cost as much as saver business – there’s a reason it wasn’t available.

    You got lucky on getting the biz seat but wouldn’t chalk it up as something to be proud of. More of wasting agents’ time and energy.

    FYI ‘Extend all courtesies’ appears in all Premier PNRs

  • thepointsguy

    So you don’t think the phone agent who told me she would be able to preserve my seat and reticket at the lower level is at fault at all? When she lost the assignment, you don’t think United should have tried to make it right?

    I’m aware I wasn’t “entitled” to the business class seat- I simply said it was the right thing to do since it was a United airlines error that caused me to lose my Economy Plus seat in the first place

  • thepointsguy

    Agree that I’m not owed more comp.. In the end I spent 55k miles and got a business class seat..more than fair in my mind

  • sfomsp

    You travel enough to know things get messy when passed to airport control close to departure and you’re putting it at risk. The cleaner thing would have been to book the new itin outright, get him in a ‘good enough’ seat, cancel the original, then try to grab that seat. Rather than have an agent have to reissue the whole thing. Then trying to ask other agents to take someone’s seat away.

  • Tala

    I am not a big fan of TPG but he got screwed by an untrained agent, he was well within his rights to get a cheaper mileage ticket, he wasnt asking for a favor, the error was on united’s part, there are always people like that women who wont help and than there are others that make up for people like that, it just said, so many people hate their job and take it out on their customer

  • John H.

    Although you have recently experienced some customer service issues with United, I continue to remember the “above and beyond” service I experienced with a Newark in-terminal customer service rep this past summer. We were in NJ for a youth baseball tournament and needed to move our departure to a later time during the day. The telephone reservation agent moved my ticket, but failed to move my son’s. We did get to the airport in time, but both flights were now oversold, with me booked for the later flight, and my son the earlier. The front-line ticket agent said he couldn’t help me, but after issuing our respective boarding passes, said to see customer service on the other side of security.

    The patient and understanding agent made a call to her seat control supervisor, and was able to have them release a held seat for the later flight in exchange for opening up an earlier one. Yes, having a 10-year old on a different flight than his father didn’t hurt the cause, but this agent worked hard and seemed determined to make this work for us. I do not carry preferred status on United (although wish I did in order to speak with a domestic call center), but this act of outstanding customer service keeps me a loyal United customer whenever possible.

  • Albert

    Brian – have you tried filing a complaint with the DoT and letting United that you have filed formally? I believe they send a copy of the actual complaint to the airline and oftentimes they become a lot more responsive.

  • http://www.deltapoints.com/ DeltaPoints.com

    @Adam1222 – I think you are missing the point. Brian is inside the rules. This is what we do. I love TPG for this. If inside the rules, we do it. We are NOT asking for more that told we can get. Brian did not expect more that told he would get. Extra was due to UA mistake. He was stressed out due to UA issue following their rules. Not mindboggling, just playing the game by the book – just like golf! – Rene

  • Guest

    FYI, Brian, All UA Plat reservations have PLS EXTEND ALL COURTESIES in the record the line usually says something like OSI UA PLAT/*GOLD PLS EXTEND ALL COURTESIES.
    Also, you really should have known better. Once the flight is under gate control, when you call reservations and still want to stay on that flight, you’re playing with a loaded gun which will shoot you in the foot.

  • thepointsguy

    Well I didn’t get shot in the foot since I turned a coach award into a business one, right?

  • SEM

    Robert, not that I don’t agree with a lot of what is in your post, but you did see where he was departing from, right…??? –EWR-DUB– , with your ex-Continental agents…As a top level flyer on more then 1 airline in my lifetime, I believe the more accurate observation is that gate agents skills AND attitudes vary widely, regardless of which hub OR airline you are on…

  • Pingback: Flight Review: United Business Class EWR-DUB-EWR and My Thoughts on 757 Service to Europe | The Points Guy

  • Jtgray

    I don’t think Brian’s original goal was to get a free business class seat, Adam. It was get a partial refund…just like you bought something at the store, and the day of the return policy, they drop the price. But it sounds like you have a real chip on your shoulder and can’t be reasoned with.

  • Adam1222

    Thanks for the personal attack, but I will continue to disagree, along with several others that have suggested Brian was asking for trouble.

  • Chris M.

    Even with an elite representative telling me this, I’ve been in the world long enough to know that when you mess with stuff, unintended consequences often occur. I would have made an entirely new saver economy reservation, and selected another economy plus seat. Then, I would ask a Red Carpet Club agent to cancel my first reservation, and grab 7A with the new reservation.

  • Chris M.

    I completely agree with you, that you should be able to trust the promises of the phone agent, and you should be able to expect being treated at least professionally, and not rudely, by a the gate agent. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. And that problem is certainly is not limited to United, or even airlines. Many large companies often seem like uncaring bureacracies, with little accountability to the customer.

  • Chris M.

    @Adam1222 – I agree Brian was asking for trouble in this instance, but do you think it is ok for gate agents to be rude? Do you think it is ok for phone reps to make promises they cannot deliver?

  • Julie

    I agree with Carson3s. I was an airline phone rep for 7 years.

    Travel concessions are the most valuable perk of an airline job and ALL airline employees are VERY aware of the difference between a long-haul flight in a middle seat versus a great seat with legroom.

    Frontline CS staff field hundreds of requests each week for the better seats, so they know fine well.

    The gate agent who put Brian’s friend in a middle seat ‘down the back’ was doing so punitively, and taking pleasure in her ability to ensure that he had a miserable flight.

  • Julie

    That’s outrageous. Aren’t the calls recorded ‘for quality and training?’ I wonder that they don’t fear being heard by a supervisor. Perhaps the supervisors are as tuned-out as the CSR’s.

  • Schmenge

    TPG–do you ever drop your own name or what you do? And do you think that ever has any bearing however favorable?

  • thepointsguy

    I do not. And I don’t think it would matter if I did

  • JB

    This debate turned out to be a pretty awesome ethical litmus test. I am a fairly religious complaint writer when I receive bad service. I honestly think the airlines would fall apart without the feedback loop of customer complaint/kudos. I see the upgrades, free miles, preferential treatment as an acknowledgement that not only do you give them business, but you participate in the evaluation of it. Some people, like TPG, know the value of the info they have provided the airlines and I think it is reasonable to ask for compensation as part of that relationship.

  • Shorty

    Strong work TPG. Respect for not letting United screw you over like everyone else. Any posters who think otherwise are probably just pissed they’re riding in steerage.

  • Michael
  • Charles Clarke

    I went and read your letter to AA. I agree with the other responses that you could be more concise and suggest actions for AA to take. I would suggest using two emails. These suggestions can probably be edited down more.

    Issue 1: I had a X (I don’t see mention of this in your letter, just when your flight left YUL) minute connection in JFK which seemed reasonable at the time I booked it. When the weather turned bad and AA placed travel notices for the 2 days before, I called the Ex. Plat. line to see about changing the YUL-JFK tickets to an earlier flight to allow more time for weather delays. Even though it was, at that time, a day beyond the travel notice, it later became a travel notice day, it would have been very helpful to change the flights before your agents were so busy with everyone else calling in and the seats being taken. I would suggest that AA allow Ex. Plat. members to do minor modifications to their travel plans without charge on the day before or after travel notices also. Thank you.

    Issue 2: I recently had an issue with a weather delay (see issue # XYZ for more details) and when I was rebooked by the gate agent, the boarding passes I was issued were not properly ticketed. I called the Ex. Plat. line and the agent, insert name here, said there was nothing she could do, so I should go to the airport and hope. Fortunately, I called back, spoke to a different agent and she, insert better name here, was able to ticket me right away. Obviously the (overworked) gate agent and the first phone agent need some more training. Please praise the second phone agent. Thank you.

    BTW, about 10 years ago I had a similar situation where Denver got 3 feet of snow and they had travel notices for the 2 days before my flight back, but not the day I was traveling. As a Colorado native, I knew there would be more than 2 days of problems. I had to wait until after noon the day I traveled(red eye flight) before they issued a notice for it. Fortunately they did and I was able to change my flight so I was stuck in Oahu at a $20 hostel instead of LAX.

  • Charles Clarke

    I think you pushed the limits of their contract of carriage, but were, barely, within it. I feel it is your job as a travel blogger to do so and then write about it. How else can we learn relatively painlessly where the rules don’t match reality. Or where there are opportunities for improvement.

    I think you also provided lesson for folks like myself on how to deal with grumpy agents(mainly seems to be to go around them). You could also help AA by sending a note to them about the agent(s). Maybe starting with “I don’t know if you want to praise or retrain(my preference) this agent, but here is what happened:”

    How about asking the Platinum line agent if they can just credit you with the difference in miles instead of re-ticketing since you are concerned about possibly losing the great seat your friend had? Same result for the airline and you, just less chance for problems.

    As for your earlier United/Swiss Air fun, seems like it might be time for a lawsuit. Your contract was with United. Any problems between them and their partner Swiss Air are their issue, not yours. United needs to make it right to you. If it was Swiss Air’s problem, then they need to make it right to United. And, no matter what they think should be done, the delay in getting back to you is another issue they need to address – before the government forces them to.

    For the conspiracy folks: Would you see any difference between the, assumed, bad programming/processes indicated by Brian and others’ United/Swiss Air problems and some rogue idiot savant at United or Swiss Air thinking they could save/make money by un-ticketing award seats (usually at the last minute for savvy/frequent travelers) and not notifying the customer. Then sell them a last minute ticket. Take forever to respond to their complaints and maybe, someday, possibly give them back their miles. I say rogue because I hope they aren’t top management. Savant because it could be a brilliant way to make extra money. Idiot because of all the bad fallout and the fact that they’ve increased customer service costs, etc.

  • RWalker

    TPG, in my experience problems like you have described seem to be the result of UA having adopted the CO reservation system. Elite customer reps from the UA side do not have enough experience yet, or they believe something can be done because it was possible on the old UA system, but no longer possible on the CO system. Oops! Now they can’t undo the problem they created. Those from the CO side are often helpful but simply don’t understand UA elite flyers’ past experience and expectations. My experience with UA, post March 1, is that there has been a serious problem with every reservation whether revenue or award ticket. And like you, no response to complaints about unexplained involuntary denial of boarding — even when a confirmed first class revenue ticket is held. Kudos for not losing your cool and getting such a good result.

  • GoGo

    Adam1222, amazing that there are people (like you) that can come to a conclusion that only serves their own skewed mentality. UNITED AIRLINES MADE THE DECSISION to provide the complimentary upgrade. Simple. What do you not understand about this? Maybe you should not get your little panties all up in a wad and take a permanent break from this site…

  • GoGo

    Adam1222, amazing that there are people (like you) that can come to a conclusion that only serves their own skewed mentality. UNITED AIRLINES MADE THE DECSISION to provide the complimentary upgrade. Simple. What do you not understand about this? Maybe you should not get your little panties all up in a wad and take a permanent break from this site…

    Read more: http://thepointsguy.com/2012/12/playing-with-fire-with-united-and-winding-up-upgraded/#ixzz2GtuhsGIG
    Follow us: @thepointsguy on Twitter | thepointsguy on Facebook

  • Adam1222

    Thanks for referring to my little panties twice. Happy new year.

  • Pingback: Ryanair Is The Worst Airline in the World | The Points Guy

Print This Page