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United's back to issuing refunds for 2-hour schedule changes

June 06, 2020
3 min read
United's back to issuing refunds for 2-hour schedule changes
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Well, we've come full circle here. "Back in the day" — that is to say, before the pandemic — United Airlines would allow customers to request a full refund, to their original form of payment, for any flights impacted by a schedule change of two hours or more. Then, as the mass cancellations began, "Flyer Friendly" went out the window, with United changing that requirement to 25 hours — yes, more than a full day later.

Following significant backlash, the carrier finally relented, adopting a 6-hour policy. According to United, you could only collect a refund if your flight was canceled and the new itinerary had you departing or arriving six or more hours after the flight you had originally booked. Any less, and you'd be stuck with an Electronic Travel Certificate (ETC), if you chose not to fly.

That led to lawsuits, and an "unprecedented" spike in complaints to the Department of Transportation (DOT) — which responded in kind with a stern warning, insisting that “carriers have a long-standing obligation to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger when the carrier cancels the passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight schedule and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.”

Long story short, as of today, June 6, we'll be back where we started, with the original two-hour refund policy that had been in effect before this mess. As a United spokesperson explained:

We are continually looking at ways to better support our customers, and as part of that effort, we’ve updated our guidelines for handling refunds when our flight schedule changes. We have always provided refunds for refundable tickets, and these updated guidelines will offer additional flexibility to our customers requesting refunds for non-refundable tickets when flight changes occur. If our customers would like to check on their refund eligibility, they can go to united.com/refunds to submit a request.

There's more good news to report, too. This change is retroactive, so if you previously were left with no choice but to accept an ETC, you can now request a refund to your original form of payment, assuming your itinerary had been impacted by a change of two hours or more, and you haven't already redeemed your voucher.

The Department of Transportation is clearly pleased to see United correct its refunds policy, as well. According to a DOT spokesperson:

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The Secretary of Transportation has called for increased flexibility by air carriers for passengers impacted by flight changes and for full refunds when flights are canceled, especially during the public health emergency. This policy change is an improvement towards the goal of better protecting passengers.

As for how long it'll take to actually get your refund? Officially, the airline is quoting longer-than-normal processing times — up to 21 business days, as of this writing. In my experience, "refunds" to Electronic Travel Certificates take considerably less time, however, so if you're planning to book another flight soon, that may still be your best bet.

Featured image by United's upcoming changes will impact staffing in some Polaris cabins. Photo by Zach Honig.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023