Q: My husband and I recently bought tickets from San Francisco to Lihue, Hawaii, on United Airlines.
I wanted our daughter and granddaughter to fly to Hawaii with us, and since we had enough miles, I decided to book award tickets through the United website. But the site kept crashing before we could complete the transaction, so I called the airline.
I gave a representative my exact dates and specific flight information over the phone. This person was an outsourced agent, for whom English was not a first language, and we were having some trouble communicating. I never received an e-mail confirmation for the award tickets.
When we got to the airport, my daughter and granddaughter did not have tickets. The outsourced agent had booked tickets, for a week later, and therefore they were unusable.
A desk agent found two empty award seats on the outbound leg of the trip and gave them to us. Unfortunately, the airline could not find available award seats in the coach cabin for the return leg. It had two seats in the first-class cabin, but that cost us 120,000 miles. Can you help me recover the extra miles?
A: I think this could have been avoided. When you pay for a ticket, you should receive an e-mail confirmation from the airline. You didn’t have any confirmation for the award tickets booked for your daughter and granddaughter. Don’t assume that you have a ticket unless you get an e-mail confirmation. Also, you should always take the confirmation number for the ticket to the airport with you.
You sent an e-mail, which was a good start, but you needed to appeal this to someone at a higher level. I shared a few executive contacts with you, and you sent another e-mail. The response: another rejection.
United, like many large companies, records phone calls with customers for “quality assurance purposes.” Your case would be easy to prove — or disprove — simply by reviewing the call. Incidentally, I believe customers should have access to their conversations with any company representative. If you’re being recorded, then you should be able to get a copy.
I normally wouldn’t miss an opportunity to rant about the questionable value of frequent-flier miles, but in this case, your miles bailed you out. It’s a shame United didn’t consider your loyalty to the company when it sent you repeated rejections.
I contacted United on your behalf, and it returned the extra 120,000 miles.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com.