Letters – April, 23 2007

Letters – April, 23 2007

I Am A Frequent Flyer Addict
United Airlines instituted a $15 per ticket charge if you must use a live agent on the telephone. For those of us who are Internet savvy, it seemed like a perfectly normal concept. If you want to have a live human assist you, pay for the service. United issues discount certificates when they make big mistakes or two-for-one travel coupons if you have a Mileage Plus Platinum Class Visa. To use these coupons and certificates, you must call and speak to a live sales representative at United who will make the reservation. The coupon gets sent to Dearborn, Michigan. That should be fairly easy.

During February 2006, I made a reservation by phone to use a $150 coupon on a ticket to Hawaii and a second phone reservation to use my two-for-one coupon issued by the Mileage Plus Visa. In both instances, friendly and knowledgeable agents booked the tickets, took my credit card information and assured me there would be no booking fee. The coupons were sent to Dearborn. A few weeks later, my Visa was charged a $15 service fee for the Hawaii ticket and $30 for the two-for-one ticket.

I called United and they admitted their mistake. Our refund number is 1-888-551-6881. I called it between 8 and 4 central time. After I waited 15 minutes, a representative told me it was a service fee, thanked me for calling and asked if I needed a rental car. When I mentioned the refund, he put me on hold for 45 minutes and I got the supervisor. She barely spoke English, but her comment was there was too much static on the line and I should call back.

This evening I called United and a friendly salesperson once again agreed there should be no booking fee. It sounded like this is a frequent call to the reservation center. But he still referred me to the toll-free refund number, which is probably in some third world country where the staff is paid on how many refunds they don’t issue. Quite honestly, the refund call was so offbeat, it should be in a Saturday Night Live skit. (Give it a call if you want a good laugh!)

The right thing to do would be to call Visa, dispute the $45 and stand my ground. Unfortunately, I envision arriving at the airport only to find the ticket voided with a $100 change fee if I still want to travel.

Then there is the practical side. I am out $45. It should be considered educational expense. I’ve written United and explained the situation. The ball is in their court. If there is no acceptable reply from United, here’s the plan. With all of the identity theft these days, it is probably best to cancel the Visa. Save $140 a year. Get a different Visa (AAdvantage?) with the first year’s fee free. (I’ve earned back my $45 already.) And this might be an excellent time to escape the shackles of Premier Executive membership. Everything from buying groceries to restaurants to vacation packages to paying my income taxes seems to be tied to the United Premier Executive membership. The $45 in service charges has cured me of this disease. Thank you.

My name is Neil Johnson and I am a Frequent Flyer Addict.

Service Fees
I wrote about two weeks ago about massive service fees associated with coupons from United Airlines, including the two-for-one coupon with the Platinum Class Visa. I wrote the United VP of Customer Loyalty commenting that various charges were assessed to my credit card when I cashed in the two-for-one coupon. A massively cheerful letter basically told me to try to call the 1-800 number in India. I contacted Chase tonight. In addition to the above unauthorized charges, I had purchased $3,000 in United tickets recently and received no United Premier Qualifying miles from those purchases. Chase said the 5,000 Premier bonus for United purchases was only valid during the first year. I don’t want to sound like the passenger at the counter upset that he didn’t get upgraded; maybe it is better to be the quiet passenger in the background who will fly (consistent, reliable, no problems) Southwest next journey.
Neil Johnson

Legal or Not?
I know that Delta Air Lines recently lost a class action lawsuit because its frequent flyer program made too few seats available.

Do you have more information on this? Would you be so kind as to inform me where I could find it??

Thank you very much for your cooperation.
Facundo Della Torre
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Editor’s Note: I think you might be referring to a lawsuit filed in 2003. Haas v. Delta Air Lines is the last class action lawsuit we are aware of related to “too few seats” being available.

It was a bit complicated because it really was not about “too few seats” being available. My understanding of that case is it all started when someone (and I’m thinking it was more than one person) got busted selling their miles. As we all know — but perhaps do not agree with, Delta along with all the other major programs — prohibits the buying and selling of their awards.

The basis of their case was to explain to the judge that they were forced to try and sell their awards because of the difficulty in trying to use their awards.

I do not believe that Delta has lost any recent class action lawsuit regarding their awards since it is clear they have for some time operated a two-tier redemption program which allows every seat to be available for both awards and revenue purchase.

No Return?
The following is a letter to SkyMiles which we were included in:
Delta SkyMiles Service Center
Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing to express my utter frustration at the un-helpfulness of your staff in correcting an error caused by Delta’s own error.

Back in June of 2005 you were running a promotion that promised to extend by one full year anyone’s silver status, by purchasing and flying certain routes. At that time, I was a silver member whose status was set to expire (if I took no other flights) in February 2007. By purchasing a qualifying ticket, and taking a qualifying flight, I was supposed to have my silver status extended through February 2008. So I bought a ticket for this express purpose on 6/19/05, for travel on 7/6/05, ticket no. 00623119890212, purchase price $272.40.

I was later twice assured by phone, by your managers in Salt Lake City, that my silver status had indeed been extended through February 2008.

However, I discovered to my great chagrin, in March of 2007 (i.e. a month ago) that my silver status has expired, after all. Two lengthy conversations with your phone representatives in India have been utterly unhelpful and frustrating.

I am asking you please to correct this regrettable error right away, and to reinstate my silver status with an expiration of February 2008. If you are unwilling to do this, then I ask you at least to refund my $272.40, which was otherwise a complete waste of money and time (note that the trip was a classic “mileage run”: as soon as I got to ATL, I turned around and came home).
Ignat Solzhenitsyn

Editor’s Note: This is certainly the most frustrating part of being a mileage junkie and we share your pain as we’re no strangers to similar situations. Hopefully this will be satisfied to your benefit into 2008.

No AAloha Spirit
If you have an opportunity, please let American Airlines frequent flyer program know how disappointed Hawaii residents are with their recent change in using miles to upgrade class of service. Now, in addition to being charged the miles, we must pay $300 for round-trip upgrades! I’ve been a loyal AA frequent flyer for many years, but this will absolutely drive me to another carrier. It’s too bad that they didn’t consider dropping the $300 surcharge for Hawaii residents as it really penalizes us. (Although I think the $300 excessive for anyone, given the level of service on Hawaii flights.)
Pamela F.

Editor’s Note: You certainly aren’t alone. A few months back we commented in a similar manner about these new surcharges for awards that American AAdvantage has instituted. We’re not happy and it is clear you are not either. This is a program that we have often praised for the manner in which they have managed the program — for once they have let us and many other members down. Some good news is that other programs seem to manage better and have not decided to follow suit. Perhaps our voices can be heard so if not to cause a reconsideration at AAdvantage, then at least to the benefit of members of other programs.

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