Skip to content

Uh oh: United updates its policy on mistake fares, gaming the system

Feb. 21, 2023
5 min read
Uh oh: United updates its policy on mistake fares, gaming the system
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Mistake fares generate a lot of buzz, but good luck getting them honored on United Airlines.

The Chicago-based carrier updated its contract of carriage document on Friday, Feb. 17, with some significant changes for those who purchase mistake fares.

Effective immediately, United "reserves the right" to cancel mistake fares, which the carrier now defines as "tickets priced at a zero or close to zero fare."

The airline also added a provision that it would reimburse any "reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the purchaser in reliance upon the ticket purchase."

That means that if you purchase a nonrefundable hotel, car or tour package in conjunction with a mistake fare, the airline will make you whole by covering that cost when it decides to cancel and refund the ticket.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

In addition to the updates regarding mistake fares, the carrier also added some additional language around what it considers an "improper reservation." In particular, consider yourself warned if you buy United flights that "are or likely will be delayed" and then "make a claim or receive a benefit" from United.

In those cases, your ticket is subject to cancellation, and United may also close your MileagePlus account, take away your miles, void any future flight credits, ban you from flying with the airline and assess you for any amounts owed in conjunction with these fraudulent practices.

While United didn't define what it means by booking a delayed flight and then making a claim or receiving a benefit from the airline, I'd imagine that this update is potentially targeted at travelers who purposely book last-minute delayed flights to collect compensation.

United often gives future travel vouchers or miles to travelers who experience lengthy delays, and compensation is a legal requirement for flights to and from Europe under the EU 261 regulation.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

When a long-haul flight to or from the European Union is delayed by at least four hours or canceled due to an issue within the airline's control, you're entitled to 600 euros (about $640) in compensation. A similar rule applies to flights to and from the United Kingdom, as well as a few other countries, including Israel.

United seemingly doesn't want passengers gaming the system by booking delayed flights to collect compensation. In fact, a last-minute walk-up fare for a delayed flight between the U.S. and Europe could cost less than the amount of compensation that you'd receive under the EU 261 regulation.

While United didn't share with TPG the reasoning behind these contract of carriage updates, it's theoretically possible that some travelers have taken advantage of these rules and requested thousands of dollars in compensation. Now, the carrier is putting an end to that practice with these new provisions that could lead to a lifetime ban (and other punishments) from the airline.

PEOPLE IMAGE STUDIO/ SHUTTERSTOCK

Meanwhile, codifying a mistake fare policy into the contract of carriage doesn't actually change much from a passenger perspective.

That's because U.S. airlines must follow the Department of Transportation policies, which actually include a similar provision around mistake fares.

In the early 2010s, the DOT required airlines to honor these tickets as part of its prohibition on post-purchase airfare increases. However, honoring mistake fares seemingly wasn't the intention of the rule.

In 2015, the agency revised its policy to allow carriers to cancel and refund mistake fares after demonstrating that they are indeed mistaken. As part of the updated policy, the DOT also requires airlines to reimburse out-of-pocket expenses incurred upon reliance on the ticket purchased.

As you can see, United's update around mistake fares mirrors the DOT's, though this is the first time that the airline has codified the rule into its contract of carriage.

By purchasing a ticket with United, you must agree to abide by the airline's contract of carriage. Without checking the box that you agree, you won't be able to move forward in the purchase process.

So, whether or not you like the new rules, you must abide by them to fly with United. If not, consider yourself warned — you might lose the ability to fly with United, participate in the MileagePlus loyalty program, or worse ...

Related reading:

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

NEW BENEFIT! TAKEOFF15!
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
2XEarn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.
1XEarn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles50,000 Bonus Miles
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

Build your loyalty to Delta by applying for the carrier's mid-tier card option, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card. The annual fee is quickly recouped by the card's travel perks, such as an application credit to Global Entry or TSA Precheck, annual companion certificate and so much more. Plus you can fast-track to elite status simply through card spend.

Pros

  • Earn bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and an Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) waiver when you hit specific spending thresholds with your card within a calendar year
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year
  • Statement credit for TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee (up to $100)
  • First checked bag free

Cons

  • Doesn't make sense if you don't fly Delta
  • SkyMiles aren't the most valuable airline currency
  • Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights. Plus enjoy Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding and settle into your seat sooner.
  • New: Card Members get 15% off when using miles to book Award Travel on Delta flights through delta.com and the Fly Delta app. Discount not applicable to partner-operated flights or to taxes and fees.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy a per-visit rate of $50 per person for Card Members and up to two guests to enter the Delta Sky Club when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
2XEarn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.
1XEarn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.

    Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles
    50,000 Bonus Miles
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Build your loyalty to Delta by applying for the carrier's mid-tier card option, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card. The annual fee is quickly recouped by the card's travel perks, such as an application credit to Global Entry or TSA Precheck, annual companion certificate and so much more. Plus you can fast-track to elite status simply through card spend.

Pros

  • Earn bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and an Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) waiver when you hit specific spending thresholds with your card within a calendar year
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year
  • Statement credit for TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee (up to $100)
  • First checked bag free

Cons

  • Doesn't make sense if you don't fly Delta
  • SkyMiles aren't the most valuable airline currency
  • Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights. Plus enjoy Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding and settle into your seat sooner.
  • New: Card Members get 15% off when using miles to book Award Travel on Delta flights through delta.com and the Fly Delta app. Discount not applicable to partner-operated flights or to taxes and fees.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy a per-visit rate of $50 per person for Card Members and up to two guests to enter the Delta Sky Club when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees