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Given the current status of global airline travel, we’ve seen various announcements from airlines over the past week but none more than United Airlines as they have introduced 5 different refund policies in just one week. They changed it so many times that I stopped writing about it after their first (& outrageous) version.
However, the newest announcement may take the cake for most infuriating!
A RUNDOWN OF ALL THE CHANGES
ORIGINAL POLICY: Up until March 6, United offered refunds if they changed your schedule by two hours (or more). Minor schedule changes didn’t create the right to a refund on non-refundable tickets, but if the airline wasn’t really delivering on what they promised when they sold you the ticket you’d get your money back which, personally, I see as fair.
REVISION #1: Then they said that if they change your international flight by 6 hours (or more) they will give you a credit for the amount of your ticket. If you don’t use the credit within a year then you’re eligible for a refund.
REVISION #2: Then they said they would not give refunds at all unless the change was 25 hours (or more) and this would include tickets that had been purchased under the original 2 hour policy.
United Airlines claimed they were allowed to do this under their Contract of Carriage, however it contradicted a policy they marketed to customers on their website and was possibly illegal. However, many people don’t know their rights when it comes to airline cancelations, schedule changes, and rebookings so very few people will complain to the Department of Transportation. Regardless, while any claim worked its way through the system United would still get to hold onto cash.
REVISION #3: After some serious backlash, United first said they would consider refunds on a “case-by-case basis” and then revised the policy and went back to CHANGE #1 which said refunds were available for schedule changes of 6 hours (or more).
Admittedly, that was better but still bait-and-switch for customers who bought tickets under the published 2-hour rule.
REVISION #4: Now United has gone and changed the policy again stating, for international itineraries, a 6-hour schedule change only entitles you to a voucher, and that voucher can be refunded for cash after a year.
Here’s the new policy:
Our goal remains to automatically re-book as many customers as possible within 6 hours of their originally scheduled flight. For any customer whose international travel is disrupted by more than 6 hours because of schedule changes resulting from government restrictions, they will retain a credit equal to the value of their ticket. That credit an be used towards any flight to any destination for 12 months from the time of purchase. If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they will receive a refund to their original form of payment at the end of that 12 month period. Importantly, this new way of helping customers manage through changing flight schedules also applies to residents from other countries that effectively can no longer travel to the U.S. because they would face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival as well as customers impacted more broadly by government-mandated travel restrictions or quarantines. In addition this change also maintains our ability to manage our business through this evolving and difficult set of circumstances.
The airlines are desperate right now and this is United’s way of holding onto your money even when you’re really entitled to a refund.
Arguably the most infuriating part of it all, United describes this as a “new way of helping customers.” WHAT??
At this point, I’m not completely sure how this is all going to play out since we’ve never seen this type of challenge before but United is going about this in the worst possible way.
What do you make of United Airlines’ decision to use your money as a personal loan for a year?