I was reading through a popular airline forum this morning and was shocked the read the story of a United Airlines frequent flier, who was extremely frustrated by “hidden fees” the airline had imposed on him, and was desperately seeking advice on how to resolve the matter without further aggravation. Here’s Phil’s story (reproduced with permission):
“I purchased a ticket to Amsterdam last weekend with my miles. I booked over the internet and paid a $100.00 booking fee, along with the taxes on the flight.
I had to change my plans because of my mother’s surgery this week. So I called United and they said that I can do one of two things, hold my ticket without returning my miles -OR- pay an additional $150 to have my miles returned to my account.
Oh yeah, just to get the miles put back into my account and forget the hell about all of this, it’s an addition $150.00. I don’t get it, those are mine! And all they have to do is hit a button on a computer and wham, they are back into my account. God, I’m so mad. I don’t get frustrated with airlines that much, but this is ridiculous!
So I opted to save my itinerary. I was told on the phone that I could use my ticket to Amsterdam anytime I wanted, and there would be no fees charged as long as I used the same itinerary.
Well, problem with that is, their award tickets only come with certain seats and flying OKC-ORD-IAD-AMS and return the same way, is difficult to find.
I DID however manage to find, (after searching through tons of blackout dates) I found the same routing, with the available dates for me.
Now, they want to charge me $150.00 booking fee, for a change in itinerary (which was originally promised to not happen) and on top of that they want to charge me a $100.00 transaction fee, or something, not sure what that is.
The tax on this ticket was $125.00 of which “so kindly” they said they would waive for me on the new booking.
In total, I would have spent $400,00 on what was supposed to be a “free ticket.”
Now here comes the weird part, in my exploration to find new dates that weren’t blacked out, I called United several times….but I have a hard time understanding some of them (call center employees), and I’m usually good at it, and they weren’t understanding this entire predicament.
First, I was told that they would waive the $100.00 fee, but I would still have to pay an additional $150.00 fee, then I called back, and they would not waive the fee. It just got so frustrating that I hung up.
Does anyone work with UA that can either 1. Help me with this, or 2. Explain this to me?
I’ve spent so much money on United in the past year, and while I’m not anything but Elite status, it’s a lot for me. All my travel with them has either been in First Class or Business, to SE Asia (Bangkok) and Hawaii.”
There were ample replies to this appeal, some suggesting that Phil speaks “nicely” to the call center staff to get a fee waiver, or that he personally goes down to the airport to speak with a United Airlines agent in-person, to strike a better understanding and may be something can be done about it. As expected, some urged the passenger to read the fine print, where all of this fee is stated within twenty pages, in 8-point font.
But here’s what sums up the sentiments of a number of frustrated fliers today:
“Understand that airlines that are going broke, or close to it, the customer is the enemy. If you get that in your head, it will make what happens understandable. You are not a valued customer. Your are the foe.”
How sad it that?
Penny wise, pound foolish
Here’s a frequent flier who has probably spent something in excess of $20,000 with United Airlines in the past year alone, and probably would have spent a similar amount in the coming year. But because the airline tried to nickle and dime even the big-spenders, they’re likely to lose these customers. Brand loyalty? What brand loyalty?
Why not learn from RyanAir? Be transparent.
I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that most airlines around the world learn how to earn ancillary income from RyanAir. Fine. But at least learn it fully! Despite all the “cheap tactics”, something RyanAir does very well is that it comes clean on all its charges on its website. There’s a simple table of charges that customers can browse through, to get an idea of additional charges they might encounter. On most US “full-service” carriers, these exists somewhere within the 10,000 word agreement that the passenger “ticks” before booking the flight. I don’t think even the United Airlines’ sales reps have read it!
A lot of frustration can be prevented by being transparent about these charges. And transparency is something large US airlines lack. For a start, why not just have a simple table of charges on the website? So that even a 65 year old can understand it?
But before anything, I think United Airlines in particular needs to get its act together and figure out what it stands for. Is it a budget airline? Or a full-service carrier? If it’s the latter (as it claims to be), then why are even frequent fliers treated like this? I wonder.
What do you think? How can this situation be improved? What can airlines do to not upset their most cherished customers through these charges? Do you have any experiences to share that might be of help to Phil?