Compensation Clinic: United Airlines Mileage Plus Award Booking & Ticket Change Woes

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Our weekly Compensation Clinic makes a stop a United Airlines Mileage Plus where I had a bit of trouble with an award ticket change last month that saw my seat reservations for the entire trip erased.

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When I wrote a couple weeks ago during our Fabulous Friday series about the opportunity to select Thai Airways First Class seats on a Business Class booking (see here) I had no idea what troubles that would bring when dealing with an award reservation through United Mileage Plus.

However I had to make a simple change to my return flights and the way United apparently does it is by cancelling/resetting the entire reservation and creating a new one under the same reservation record even though that doesn’t make much sense.

In the process of that all seat selections will get lost which is exactly what happened to me. The seat which I carefully selected in the First Class cabin on my Mileage Plus Business Class award was gone with no other seats available. My suspicion was the the old reservation still blocked the seat (2A) but the Thai Airways office was certain that another passenger picked it (impossible within the short window in between).

The old seat was even displayed before I initiated the change (cancelled one segment) on the United website.

This is how the transactions then showed up on the mileage account:

The seat was gone and since I didn’t believe the Thai Airways office that it was taken during out almost 1 hour phone call I just went to the airport where they first told me again it was occupied, however 10 minutes later I had my boarding pass with seat 2A as I presented them with my 2 week old reservation that indicated the seat.

I complained to United about their booking mechanism on the website and the trouble it caused, especially since I paid a change fee for it (which is fine as long as these changes are being done properly and without causing hardship for the customer).

On Friday (after 4 weeks) I got the following reply:

I’m sorry it’s taken longer than usual to get back to you.  We’re working as quickly as possible to address concerns from our customers. Now that I’ve received your email, please let me help you out as much as possible.

I was saddened to learn of the trouble you encountered while making a change to your ticket on our Web site.

Our intentions are to make the information easily accessible for customers. I’ll pass your feedback along. Thanks for letting us know your thoughts; your feedback helps us to make your online experience as simple as possible.

As a way to say we’re sorry, I’m depositing bonus miles into your MileagePlus account, which will reflect in your balance within a few days. We hope this gives you a future opportunity to receive the service you deserve.

Followed by a separate confirmation email:

Thank you again for taking time to let us know about your recent experience with United Airlines.

10000 bonus miles have been added to the MileagePlus account.

To be honest I was blown away by the high amount of bonus miles compensation for an issue such as this. I’d have expected a $100 voucher or 5000 miles maximum.

Conclusion

The amount of time it took them to process this might have something to do with the generous compensation but still I’m quite surprised it even came to that. United has gotten relatively stingy compared to the ‘good old days’ around 2008 when the $300 vouchers were pretty much just flying into your wallet.

The seats for sectors that are untouched by a change shouldn’t be subject to change. Especially if the pre-reserved seats are even displayed right before the ‘confirmation’ button. I should have just booked each one way as a separate reservation and will certainly do so in the future. It costs the same after all and there is no benefit to book a round trip anymore since Mileage Plus has eliminated the stopover benefit.

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