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Sunday Reader Question: What Ever Happened With Your Swiss First Class @United Fiasco?

by on December 9, 2012 · 39 comments

in Sunday Reader Questions, Swiss, United, Video Blog Post

Travel blogger and friend Parag from @FrequentFlyerU Tweeted me this past weekend with @thepointsguy What ever happened with your Swiss First Class @United fiasco?”

For those of you who don’t remember, in September I was supposed to fly from Miami to Nice via Zurich on a United airlines business class saver award using 50,000 Chase points that I transferred to United. When I showed up to the airport, the agent couldn’t check me in and after numerous calls to United and even Swiss corporate in Zurich, they couldn’t figure it out and I wasn’t allowed to board the plane. I luckily was able to burn American miles and booked a last minute trip on British Airways first class, but I had to use more miles and pay hundreds more in taxes and fees- and got to my destination later than planned.Throughout the whole fiasco I was Tweeting @united and they never responded to me either (a huge difference from Delta and American whose social media teams are empowered and proactive).

What I was supposed to fly to Zurich

I filed a formal complaint on United.com and then called the Premier Platinum line to discuss the situation. The phone rep was sympathetic, but simply stated should couldn’t do more than give me back my original miles, but said that I should escalate it with customer service and they’d be able to at least figure out what went wrong and try to make it right.

I never heard back from United customer service (and I do have a formal case number). Several TPG readers recommended that I email senior leaders at United who can have their senior customer service reps who will make certain situations “right”. On September 25, 2012, I sent Jeff Smisek (CEO), Anne Seeley (Managing Director – Customer Care & Refunds at United Airlines) and Scott O’Leary (Managing Director, Customer Solutions at United Airlines) the following email:

Subject: MileagePlus Award Reservations Not Being Honored by Star Alliance Partners
Dear Mr. Smisek:

I recently redeemed 50,000 United miles for an award trip on Swiss Airlines from Miami to Nice via Zurich but when I arrived at Miami airport to check-in I was told the reservation had an error and was not allowed to get on the flight. Apparently there was an issue with the ticket and after repeated calls to United, they were unable to fix it. They attempted to find a United supervisor at MIA who could manually issue the ticket, but no such person was available.

The Lufthansa agents working the Swiss counter complained that nearly every single United award since the merger has major issues. When I asked them to detail the problem, they were unable to identify it- simply stating something was wrong and their systems could not check me in. I even tried buying a last minute ticket, but at that point it was too late, so I ended up calling American AAdvantage while walking to the British Airways terminal and luckily booking a flight with them.

The point of this email is to urge United to fix the ticketing mishaps that are currently happening to your customers around the world. I know I am not the only one who has experienced an issue like this, but I do hope I am the last. I’m sure you have a lot of issues to work on since the merger, but this one should be a top priority.

As a member of pretty much every frequent flyer program, I do believe that MileagePlus miles are the most valuable frequent flyer currency- at least when they work as planned!

My official complaint is detailed below, but I wanted to make sure this situation was addressed to those who are in positions to be able to fix them so other fellow travelers do not experience what I went through.

Best and safe travels,
Brian Kelly
United Platinum Premier #1234567

To date I have not received a response or acknowledgement of the email.

Then in November I went on the Star Mega Do and was able to speak directly with reps from MileagePlus, Aileen Furlong and Praveen Sharma. In the session I told them about my experience and they stated that they were unaware of any issues like mine and to forward them my information and they’d look into it. On November 20, 2012, I emailed them all of the pertinent information and to date have not heard back from them.

So this past weekend, when Parag Tweeted me he CC’d United and to my utmost astonishment they responded! I direct messaged them with my Case number and I am waiting to hear back.

So there you have it. I didn’t just forget about it, it is just that United has atrocious customer service – even for their elite members. I hope their social media team is empowered to change the status quo, but I’m not holding my breathe!

To be continued…

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  • Suedalsing

    I was a travel agent starting in 1979 and then worked at TWA for several years. UA has always
    prided themselves on having the worst customer service. CO was a close 2nd. They are a match
    made in hell.

  • Chris B

    Wow this sounds horrible!!!! I guess I missed this from your original post. I’m by no means an elite flyer with United or any of the other airlines but I do accumulate miles and use them for saver economy awards. If this is how united treats their elite customers I’m concerned that if this happened to one of their regular customers it’d be worse! I’m a little confused how you can say that united miles are the most valuable when you run the risk of something like this happening.

    Also I’m a chase sapphire preferred customer. I’m curious- did you ever bring this up with chase? Since you transferred your points to united miles and were unable to redeem as you wanted to through no fault of your own then chase should do something on your behalf to get that resolved. I would also think that chase would want to be aware of these kind of issues happening to clients of their credit cards that are members of united mileage plus because they’re their biggest airline partner so I would think chase would have some interest in making sure united fixed these award issues and rectify the situation with chase card members’ such as yourself that were affected. I even smell lawsuit – you lost out miles with British airways, time and money. It’s bs that united doesn’t even have the courtesy to reply back and apologize about this. It could escalate to a class action lawsuit if left

  • [email protected]

    I am wondering if united awards on other carriers are still having issues. I have a very complex trip ticketed on air Canada (actually to Zurich) , Thai airways, AsianA, air Canada and ever so briefly united at the end. It is practically a matter of life ( my child’s birth ten thousand miles away), is there anyway to verify in advance with air Canada and Thai that my ticket is ok? Would seat assignments be evidence of an ok ticket?

  • Ted

    This makes me wonder about my trips on Singapore Airlines next year – I booked a couple using United miles during that brief window when Business and First seats were open to all… perhaps I should make a backup plan?

  • JL100

    You are being far too kind and professional! You should get a free business class flight AND the miles redeposited! Are you serious! I can’t believe that all of your various ways of getting in touch with them have still resulted in nothing! I have had similar frustrations with Amex and their systems, but this is much worse – not being able to travel on a ticket you booked! Good luck and I hope you get something.

  • http://twitter.com/jamucsb Jamison

    United is pretty evil.. i recently got 5,000 UA miles via a complaint i submitted back in March – how’s that for a response time via email??? you will get compensated somehow, it just takes a LONGGGGG time =/

  • Josh

    This is not surprising. I recently few ORD->BOS on a first class ticket. Unfortunately, the Premier Kiosks do not have barcode scanners for Passbook and the confirmation number is not displayed with the barcode. I found the Premier employees very unhelpful and I wrote about my experience on the United website (also reminding United that jetBlue and American also fly ORD->BOS). I received a response THREE weeks later with them apologizing and wanted me to give them a second chance. I am not sure why they expect ME to pay United again to in order to give THEM a second chance. The following week their computer system melted down.

  • DavisCalifJr

    I had a confirmed round trip on SQ to Japan in April in business class on the A380 with UA connections to get me to my local airport (at the same time you got yours last July when SQ released all the seats). After 5 changes to the itinerary on UA’s part, I finally cancelled the award flight last week. The final straw was when UA bumped me out of my biz seats to economy and my connecting flights resulted in an 8 hr and 5 hr layovers at LAX). It just wasn’t worth the aggravation since UA is so unreliable. I’ll never fly UA for any flights again. I still plan to use Star Alliance partners but will book positioning flights on other airlines.

    Good luck with your trip and hopefully UA is not part of your trip. SQ didn’t change anything, but do make a backup plan just in case something happens like what happened to Brian.

  • Zilawapinski

    I had a B ticket to tel aviv , via Vienna , and I had no problem at all. However, this was with Austrian airlines. Next spring, I have another B ticket to Madrid, this one by transferring chase points and Marriott points to united. This ticket is with united, and now I am all worried about.. Is there anything proactively to make sure that my ticket is honored? Perhaps going to a ticket counter in an airport will help?

  • RP

    United, I sure hope you fix this soon.

  • Justin

    TPG did you confirm the flight with LX beforehand, get a PNR for their system, log in online, select seats, etc? Also, did you try to OLCI?

  • TravelBloggerBuzz

    I am finding being a blogger has increased the quality of the treatment towards me from airlines and hotels:-) For them to blow it so much against you big time blogger is just…ludicrous!

  • Rupert

    I recently used UA points for an SQ ticket and there were no issues ( other than a flight cancellation by SQ and subsequent scheduling problems, all SQ issues not UA).
    If you are worried, call the operating carrier and ask them to assign seats and send you an email confirmation with their confirmation code. If they can see it in their system and action the ticket, you are pretty safe.
    Sorry to hear about the UA saga with the MIA ticket. I’ve seen/heard similar. I am currently Global Service with UA and found their on-ground service to be awesome – the difference to the regular service is night and day! They are going out of their way to take care of elites and their GS staff is much more empowered to take care of you than SQ or LH who typically can’t look past their very thick rule books!

  • AKold

    I fixed a ticket within 1 hour with @united on Twitter last night. They even called me at my convenience to get a CC number (had to pay extra taxes). Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.

  • Rm14

    I travel just enough to be silver on a single airline any given year. I was going to shift my miles to United from US Air next year since United should still recognize my Star Alliance Silver status and 50% of my flights were on United code-shares anyhow. However this post has convinced me otherwise. Perhaps AA would like my business?

  • PointChaser

    United responded to one of my tweets recently regarding a terrible experience a relative had flying First Class. Basically, I booked First for the lie-flat seat, but the seat + seatbelt were broken on the flight. Not to mention there were service issues at the airport and onboard. They asked me to DM my info, I did, and never heard back. I’ve since DM’d them twice more and they simply respond with “We’ll have customer service contact you.” On the other hand, when I complained about a Delta flight a year ago, they immediately emailed me back and offered to make it right. I’m starting to see why everyone I talk to about travel has something negative to say about United.

  • Chris

    To all those haters (of bloggers), this just goes to show that they do NOT (always) get special treatment. This is outrageous treatment for any UA flyer – especially a UA Platinum elite. And to ignore a high profile blogger is just downright idiotic. Glad I’m an AA flyer.

  • http://twitter.com/Peachfront Peach Front

    Wow. What a scary experience, and it does not sound like they intend to make it right. Reminds me of the old-time 1990s Continental Airlines — service with a snarl!

  • bikeman

    Booked LGA-HKG on Asiana using UA miles and US miles. A few months before the trip, the Asiana segment using UA MP miles just disappeared. Yes, I had confirmed, chosen seats, etc. The same Asiana segment booked with US miles was unaffected.

    Multiple calls with UA reps were unable to change things. Apparently “this happens sometimes with Asiana.” Great. Not acceptable. We were able to salvage the trip only after an amazing UA CSR worked some magic and rebooked on us other flights, but not without much pain, extra $$, etc.

  • Lively

    I remember when this happened to you because we were thinking about booking United flying on SA metal. It scared me when I read your first post on this subject. I’ll chime in with the rest of the commentors and say depositing your original points back into your account is not enough. Keep us posted.

  • Tjs2003

    I had the exact same experience but actually with Avios miles and ended up using my “backup” UA miles ! This was with a flight on LAN Airlines in Colombia. I had a ticket number and was at the airport and Lan could not check me in and had no response. BA said they had ticketed it properly so I was stuck in Limbo at the airport. Thank goodness for my backup miles w/ UA. Upon returning to the US I called BA, got an apology and my miles back promptly. I am yet to get my taxes back on the ticket or anything else.

    The point to all readers and TPG is that this issue can and does happen on more than one carrier. What I do is go on the website of the airline I am flying and pick my seats using the airline’s actual record locator. This has not failed me after the incident, after all, how can you be assigned a seat and your reservation be loaded on the carrier’s own site and not be a valid ticket? ( fingers crossed!)

  • thepointsguy

    Good to hear.. hoping for similar follow through with my request!

  • thepointsguy

    Hah I never included the fact that I was a blogger in my complaints, but I was tweeting them directly, so they could have figured it out. I’m not sure at this point if they just want me to go away, but that isn’t going to happen!

  • thepointsguy

    I was able to select seats, but not check-in online, which I didn’t think was that weird since that has happened to me before with partner awards

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks.. My main concern is bringing it to their attention so they can at least fix it so no one else has to deal with what I went through. The fact that there has been no acknowledgement is frustrating (and a bit scary!)

  • thepointsguy

    I haven’t actually looped in Chase, because it really is a United issue. I’m hoping to get a response back soon, but if they continue to ignore the situation, I will log a complaint with Chase since it was Chase points used to book the flight.

  • tale

    I agree that lack of UA response is not professional. However if you are looking for a resolution UA wont be able to do anything about it, Swiss would. You need to ask a refund from Swiss as they have your money.

  • Bil

    I remember seeing your twitter feed when it happened–basically a carbon copy of my experience. I had booked three tickets on Swiss with United miles, they took the miles, I had a confirmation number, etc.

    In Rome (the tickets were FCO-ZRH), the Swiss counter said the tickets were never ticketed. They acknowledged the reservation, but said United never actually had them ticket it.

    United was not too helpful, trying to Skype with them back in the US from FCO. So we bought the tickets on the spot from Swiss.

    Eventually, after a lot of phone calls and emails, we got the miles & taxes refunded, and compensation (United vouchers) for about 80% of the price of the Swiss tickets.

    I decided that was close enough and gave up.

  • http://twitter.com/reykjeff Jeff Kay

    Well, it helps being a famous travel blogger!

  • Lauren

    This is truly unbelievable that they would not respond to you. Please keep us posted!

  • RakSiam

    Maybe one of those travel columnists like Christopher Eilliott could get some results.

  • smartcooki

    I had a similar experience, but was able to fix it in time.

    I booked a Saver Economy award to Croatia on Lufthansa to fly also in September, one-way, sometime in May/June. About 3 weeks prior to the trip, I noticed that the flight stopped showing up in my Upcoming Flights list. I called United and they basically told me that Lufthansa dropped me from the flight and there is nothing they could do, especially since the short leg from Germany to Croatia was now sold out of Economy seats and there were no more seats for miles on both flights.

    I then called the Premier line and pretty much made them call Lufthansa while I was on hold to fix the situation since no one ever notified me and I do not accept that their partner can just drop your seat. Plus, my friend’s ticket which she booked at the same time with her miles (and she is NOT a Premier member) was fine. After a bunch of back and forth, Lufthansa reinstated my ticket and put me in Business Class on the short leg since Economy seats were sold out.

    I’ll add that I don’t give up in these situations very easily, so I fought pretty hard until they gave me in.

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  • Andrew yvR

    Any updates 7 months on?

  • Greg

    Any further update?

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