United Makes Another Retroactive Change to Bonus Terms and Conditions

On Monday I noted that United had added language to the terms and conditions of its offer of 5000 miles after $1000 in spend on one of its co-branded credit cards.

The new language — added more than 2/3rds through the promotion period which began August 1 and ends October 31 — restricted eligibility to spending on certain cards from Central and South America (!!).

I noted at the time that the terms of the 5000 miles after $3000 in spend offer had not been changed, though I flagged that with a “yet.”

And indeed Ron emails to let me know that the terms of that second offer have now been changed as well, restricting it, in bold, with:

Eligible card for this promotion is only Standard Bank- Argentina.

They say they can change the terms and conditions of their offer in the terms and conditions. That’s usually just stock boilerplate legalese. But apparently they really mean it. Which, of course, doesn’t do a whole lot for trust in the program going forward, why would you take steps to participate in an offer, relying on them to honor that offer, when they develop a reputation for changing their minds later?

Poor form, United. If you didn’t intend for US cardholders to participate the the rules should have said so. And you shouldn’t have permitted US cardholders to register. Having done that, though, adding these restrictions in October for a promotion that began in August and runs only through the end of October — and after the offer has received coverage and plenty of successful registrations — strikes me as a bad practice. Especially for an airline whose reputation has suffered mightily with its customers so much this year.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Geez, not surprising in the least given what happened to the $1,000 offer, but come on guys! At least make both the changes at once!

  2. Yes, this is very bad form. Luckily I hadn’t yet put any large purchases on my Explorer card, and now I won’t be using it at all. Plenty of other cards out there with richer bonuses.

  3. Shame of United. They just want to play with people or they really have mental difficulties in making a decision?

  4. Ive put $800 on the card in two days. I guess I will use it for the next $200 and then back in the drawer it goes. UA just can’t get a promotion right.

  5. well I guess I dont have to make any extra effort to carry around the UA explorer for now.

    Although I had gotten some other post card mailing for double miles on everything for a period between now and 11/30 – no registration required/

    Basically, it says you get double miles on every $1 spent above $2k each month on non UA purchases up to 50k miles. And you still get 2x per $1 on UA tickets.

    So it looks as though one way or the other, some of us who may have gotten this post card get an offer anyway but how freakin confusing!

  6. Jeez, take it easy on them. It would be one thing if they had advertised this offer, but no one would even have known about this offer if wasn’t all over the blogs. They didn’t change their minds, they just forgot to add in the right terms.

  7. When they change terms doesn’t the CC company have to inform the cardholder of the change. Maybe this isn’t what it seems to be. Since the program is almost over, only the people who have already registered are eligible under the old rules. I’m an optimist. Did anyone check with United?

  8. I never received the offer or an offer code from United. Like just about everyone else, I simply read what I saw on the blogs and entered that code. The code probably wasn’t for me, but I took a flyer on it. It’s not going to pay off. On to the next opportunity. I’m not going to whine about not getting miles that were never intended for me in the first place.

    Look at it this way – you’re still getting your one mile per dollar spent. All you’re out is the difference between the value of that mile and the reward you might have otherwise received by putting the spend on a different card. For $1,000 spend, that’s in the low double digits at most for most people.

  9. More than a PR problem – has to be a big IT problem. Either that or they are even more dishonest than I thought. Once they wrote back congratulating me on being registered, that should have been it. Hope they pay more attention to how they fly their planes!

    Truly bad form.

  10. How is this legal? They can coerce people into using their card and then change the terms at the last minute. We end up losing quite a bit because we could have used another card which offers other benefits. I smell a lawsuit.

  11. I already put 1K spend on my card in full reliance on the terms that were offered me. Under these facts, I am going to forge ahead and send a nice note.

  12. Please, this is nothing. If you want schooling on United’s retroactive changing of terms and conditions, refer to fall 2011’s Months of Miles (aka Months of Misery) promo. United proved then that they are completely unscrupulous when it comes to ditching terms when it suits them.

  13. Anita is right. Although it is nice to go into things assuming what it says is what it is, we all know better now. I had now planned to use my UA card BECAUSE of this gig and would have used it on things I could afford and still make room for other card use, so it would not have killed me to use it over something else, but still, it is very annoying. I have said it hundreds of times over: They (United, and pretty much every company nowadays) need to hire the right marketing and IT people, who have brains and who have pride in their work. But they want to save money so they fail to do this.

    It is just the sad state of things with promos. There’s always a hitch. Always. One more reason what we do does NOT always result in “free flights!”

  14. I took screenshots of the offer pages for both AND screenshots of the page showing the terms and my confirmed enrollment.

    Then I immediately hit the spending thresholds to qualify.

    I suggest everyone who legitimately already spent after registering e-mail united with their claim and request it be honored. Yes, they can change terms — but this is more than adjusting something minor or even ending it early — this is disqualifying probably millions of people because they made a typo or realized later how many people might participate. There is some responsibility on their end to honor this in some way given that they were essentially inducing spending on their card, then removing the benefit — it’s called “Bait & Switch”…

  15. The difference with months of miles is that Chase is de facto involved and has a regulator that takes Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices seriously. If enough complain on the CFPB’s website at consumerfinance.gov there’s a pretty good chance Chase get enough heat to force United to honor this.

  16. UA will lose this one if they take away the bonus from cardholders who successfully registered for it. I agree with Adam S that there are additional issues involved here because it was a credit card promotion.

    The bonus is really pretty minimal; we’re not talking about the type of loss UA would have suffered flying “everybody” to HKG for 4 miles. They should do the right thing and honor the bonus for people who successfully registered.

  17. Wow.

    United turned this into a promotion that was only good for certain cardholders in Argentina who do business with Standard Bank, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Standard Bank of South Africa. Obscure indeed.

    Well played, UA, well played. And insulting to your primary market.

  18. What did you say, you already charged $3000 to the United card; well we are changing the T&Cs to exclude you from the promotion.
    How can you do this so late in the game.
    Well, our original T&Cs says that we can change the T&Cs.
    Okay, I guess you win this time, but I am going to cancel my United card or at least not charge much to it.
    That is fine with us; we are the mighty CHASE/UNITED!

  19. Very bad form 🙁
    I have screen shots of registering successfully and only have a little spends left to reach the $1000….

  20. Yikes. I had actually received an email about the 1K promotion and then read about the 5K one online. I’m so glad I didn’t bother diverting any of my spending to UA cards just because of these promotions. How shady.

  21. THIS IS SO MESSED UP!!! I purposely spend extra on the card after signing up for the bonus and I could have used my Ink Bold to get 5k points for that $1000!!! (6k points to be exact).

  22. I just wrote to UA and attached a screen capture of my successful sign up prior to T&C change asking if they will honor that. Let’s see what they say… if they reply.

  23. PY,

    Please let us know how it goes. I’m also tempted to just go ahead and spend $1k on the card then email United and ask them to honor the original promotion. I have the registration e-mail and the original terms of condition to prove.

  24. Smisek loses sleep over FTers trying to scam his company. Meanwhile the company is running into the ground.

  25. By all accounts it was a targeted offer, and bloggers posted a promotion meant for a limited few. If you want to make sure a promo is targeted at you, log into your account and go to the MileagePlus News & Offers page and see what is there. Once you enroll in a promo there, you will get an email, not just a page, saying you are registered.

  26. All these people whining about something being unfair. Is it “fair” to take a promotion code that you did not receive from United, but rather saw someone post in a blog, utilize it yourself, then feel entitled to get what the people it was really targeted for get and then threaten lawsuits if you can’t get your way? If you did indeed get an invitation from United directly, or if you did indeed get a confirmation email from United directly, then you have ground to stand on. Otherwise, move on. I think we pretend to be very sophisticated when it suits us, and we pretend to be very naive (“oh, I had no idea first class seats to Hong Kong don’t actually go for four miles”) when it suits us.

  27. I think bloggers may be worried just as much if not more about their own reputations as they are about United’s. How many times will people be burned before they wonder about the validity of deals that bloggers post based on sketchy information? I know there’s lots of competition in the blogger community to be first with the latest great deal, or at least not to be left out, and perhaps these don’t get vetted very well: “Hey, maybe it’s legit and maybe it’s not, but better get the word out or others will beat me to it…”

    I’m not accusing any particular blogger of doing something wrong, but suggesting there need to be plenty of caveats when writing enthusiastically about untested deals that seem odd. This one never met the smell test for me. I registered, but why would United suddenly offer 5x spend on all spend up to $1,000 on all its credit cards anywhere? It almost had to be a glitch.

  28. @BobChi here’s what I wrote about the offer — “All statements that would indicate pretty clearly that the offer isn’t targeted. Of course it also says, “[o]ffer subject to change without notice” so there are no guarantees. But it’s worth signing up.”

    So I don’t think I was overpromising here.

    Targeted offers, possible “your mileage may vary” offers, are certainly nothing new to the frequent flyer game.

    I just think it’s pretty weak on United’s part to be writing in new terms and conditions. I think they should have emailed everyone who registered with a mea culpa and offered 1000 miles if they didn’t want to honor the 5000.

  29. Got a “happy” reply from UA CS:

    Dear Mr. XXXX:

    Thanks for taking the time to write to us. We’re glad to hear from you.

    As long as you follow the terms and conditions as stated at the time of enrollment you should receive your bonus miles.


    Cathy Smith
    MileagePlus® Service Center ”

    Looks like those who signed up are good to go.

  30. My wife also got a confirmation from UA that the 5k is valid: “Your are entitle to 5,000 bonus miles after your purchase the $1,000 in spend. Please allow 8-10 weeks after the closing of the promotion for the miles to post to your MileagePlus account. ”


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