How a United Passenger Got a $10,000 Voucher

Mar 22, 2018

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In all the flight delays and cancellations during the Northeast’s fourth nor’easter in one month, one United Airlines passenger found a bright spot.

Allison Preiss was scheduled to fly from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) at 8:45am on Thursday for a friend’s bachelorette party.

The flight was overbooked, which was not surprising, as the airport was still trying to accommodate passengers whose flights were canceled due Winter Storm Toby. Preiss, herself, found out on Wednesday that her original flight Thursday morning was canceled and was rebooked and confirmed on the 8:45am IAD-AUS. “They started saying at the gate the flight was oversold and offering $800 vouchers, $1,000 vouchers for people to volunteer,” Preiss told TPG. “No one was biting.”

After several attempts to get a passenger to volunteer to step aside, Preiss said the United gate agent announced that because they didn’t have volunteers, they would have to deny boarding to the lowest-fare passenger, and they would pull you out of the boarding line if that passenger was you.

“I got up to the gate and he scanned my ticket, and he said, ‘You’re my lowest fare passenger. Step aside,'” Preiss said. The United gate agents told her this was an “involuntary” bump, and so they went back onto the plane and tried one more time and offered a $2,000 voucher to any passenger who voluntarily got off the plane. No one took it.

Preiss’ original flight took off without her. The United agents told her she would be booked on the next available IAD-AUS flight and given a $2,000 voucher. But she had to sign a document that said she left the plane voluntarily. “I wasn’t going to sign anything that said ‘I volunteer’ because I didn’t volunteer,” Preiss said.

That’s when another United gate agent came over with a pamphlet about her rights as a passenger who had been bumped. That agent told Preiss that she could get four times the value of her fare (excluding taxes and fees) in cash. Excluding taxes and fees, Preiss paid about $163 for her ticket. So she could get a payout of about $652 from United.

“I almost signed the document and said, ‘I just want the cash for the weekend,'” Preiss said. But, before she got the roughly $652 check, the agent let her know something else. “The agent said, ‘You know, I’m authorized to give you more than a $2,000 voucher,” Preiss said.

The agent then offered her a $3,000 voucher. Then a $4,000 voucher. Preiss was hesitant and pausing throughout the negotiation, unsure whether she ever even wanted to take another United flight after this situation.

Then the agent said she could go as high as a $10,000 voucher. Preiss took it. The credit is valid for up to a year for United flights only (not the airline’s partner carriers). Preiss can use it to book for herself or family and friends, but she can’t sell it.

A United spokesperson confirmed the amount of the voucher and that it was legitimate.

Preiss said she isn’t sure how she’s going to use her $10,000, but she has never flown first class to Hawaii or Europe, so that is a possibility. “It was definitely an inconvenience, but I’m happy about the voucher,” she said. “I sort of feel like I just hit the lottery.”

*This post has been updated to reflect that Preiss’ original canceled flight was Thursday morning, not Wednesday.

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