We know now that United doesn’t plan to honor the 4 mile award redemptions. I don’t really blame them. There were millions of dollars on the line.
I do think it’s a sticky situation for folks that already started their trip, and may already be in Hong Kong or beyond. Are they stranded? Will United honor their return? I have to think that those tickets won’t be cancelled.
What about folks with travel in the coming days? Remember that United hasn’t actually contacted folks who booked the tickets yet, they’ve only posted on frequent flyer forums, they do not know whether any particular flyer is aware of their decision nor does any particular flyer know what will happen to their ticket. And since they’ve said that everyone will be given the choice of cancelling without penalty or flying for the correct number of miles, they shouldn’t cancel tickets outright. So folks should be able to fly in the coming days before they’re contacted or during the period of time they’re given to make a decision. But what about folks who then fly but do not have sufficient miles in their account for the award…
Some sticky situations remain, United should resolve those in favor of the person making the bookings I think if only because it’s easier to do so than to deal with the ramnifications of stranding folks.
But what about just honoring the tickets? At one point yesterday it seemed like United might. The longer the situation went on, the more likely that seemed. And when agents had gotten a memo saying they were still working on how to handle the tickets, it seemed like they might be honored in some form or fashion, most likely with no changes permitted.
Here’s the scenario I thought about had United wanted to honor the bookings in some manner.
First they would be non-changeable. You fly what you ticketed, period, or you cancel. Many would cancel.
Second, one trip only. When Priceline had a glitch that allowed folks to book the Parker Meridien Palm Springs for $25, that’s what they did (though if I recall correctly they didn’t give folks a choice, they honored the earliest booking date only and cancelled the rest).
One other potential was to honor the flights but only in coach. “Everyone gets to fly” but just not squeezing out higher revenue tickets.
The problem of honoring for coach travel only is that some of the awards were booked on partner flights where coach award space may not be available. So forcing folks into coach would have been a challenge, or more expensive than honoring the premium cabin.
My thought experiment variation on this was to say that awards booked in saver/partner reward inventory would be honored as-ticketed.
But award trips booked in United standard/EasyPass inventory would be honored only in economy.
One downside to this approach would be reworking the itineraries, one at a time, which is labor intensive — to flag each one for no changes, to downgrade folks on United metal in standard booking classes down to standard (or saver) coach.
But it’s the only way I would have honored it, in United’s shoes, without a pretty firm belief that the government would come down with a hammer more costly than failing to honor.
I suspect, for what it’s worth, that United was likely in touch with the Department of Transportation over this which may have delayed their response somewhat.
It would be nice if United is going to flat out cancel tickets for them to provide a $150 voucher for future travel, one per passenger, since after 24 hours if we wanted to make changes on to ticket we booked we would be on the hook for a $150 change fee…. That would be a wonderful gesture, I think.
But I won’t be going to court, won’t be complaining to the DOT, and just consider myself fortunate that on a portfolio basis — across all of my participation in mistake deals — that I’ve come out way ahead.
Update: USA Today covers the Hong Kong award issue. My quote:
Gary Leff, a BoardingArea.com expert, bought two of the round-trip tickets. “I basically just grabbed a lottery ticket,” he says.
He figured it was probably a mistake but decided to take a chance anyway. “I didn’t expect them to honor the tickets, but sometimes these things work out wonderfully,” he says.