The Skies May Be Friendly, But United Sure Isn’t!

Our 40th Anniversary trip starts with a multi-day adventure, known as “getting there”.

For the first leg of the trip, OAT’s proposed itinerary included a stop in Dubai, landing in Delhi after being in transit for 18 hours.  Not what I call ideal, particularly when I saw our return flight would depart at 4 AM.

Letting my fingers flutter over my keyboard, I was thrilled to discover that United has a direct flight between Newark and Delhi for about the same price, but only (!?!) 14 hours travel time.  Best of all, the return flight departed at 11:30 PM.  So, instead of sitting miserably at the airport, waiting to board that 4 AM flight, we’d leave the night before, and would be several hours into winging our way home.  Sweet!  Not only that, but for years, I had been hoarding frequent flier miles for an occasion exactly like this.  Business class, here we come!


When I tried to upgrade on line, I got a message that we were put on a “waiting list”.  How could that be? The flight was five months out, and our flight’s seat maps showed only one seat in business class was occupied.  Clearly not a lot of OTHER frequent fliers had already upgraded on OUR flight.  I thought it was strange that the same seat was occupied, coming and going, so I did a little checking.  Seat 5D  was the only one occupied on every flight that I checked.  Perhaps reserved for a member of the crew?   Well, I was confident that a quick call to United’s customer service would fix everything right up.  Did I mention that I’m a hopeless optimist?

Here’s what happened.  The customer service rep confirmed that we were indeed put on a waiting list.  Okay.  When I asked how many others were on the list, he explained he couldn’t tell me for “security” reasons.  (Security??? I didn’t want to know names or home phone numbers.  Just tell me where I am in line so I can figure the odds of getting the bloody upgrade!)  He also was going to charge me $20 for the pleasure of speaking with him, but after we exchanged “pleasantries”, he thought better of it.

Those frequent flier miles that we accumulate, expecting one day to trade in to make a long trip both pleasant AND affordable?  Well, it appears that United reserves the right to let us know at the very last minute whether or not they are going to allow us to redeem the miles, perhaps because they MIGHT be able to sell the seat we covet for the full price. They just don’t know yet.   By the way, in addition to redeeming 140,000 miles, our roundtrip upgrades weren’t free.  We paid an additional $2,400 for them.  To me, that’s a whole LOT of money!  

United took our money and deducted the miles from our account, which sure felt like we had purchased seats, EXCEPT we couldn’t choose which ones they would be.  We will find out the day of the flight whether or not we get the upgrade, and where we will sit.  There is no guarantee that we will even be next to each other.  Normally that would not be a big deal, but 14 hours is a long time.  Call us crazy, but given the price we paid (in dollars and miles) we’d like to be able to choose who we sleep with.  If we don’t get the upgrade,  United WILL refund our money and will redeposit our frequent flier miles, without charging a penalty.  (Yes, the representative actually did say that.)  If we had paid for the tickets with a United credit card, would they also refund any interest?  I think we all know the answer to that one.

As luck would have it, at the end of December, I received an email “signed” by Sandra Pineau-Boddison, the Sr. Vice President of Customer Relations, asking for feedback on a United flight we’d just taken.  Now that I had a name, it wasn’t difficult to find her personal email, so I shared my tale of woe with her.  How about that?  FREE feedback from a long time former Continental Airlines frequent flier.  No need to hire a market research company or do a focus group to find out how they are doing.

So what happened?  Nothing.  After almost two months.  Not even an automated acknowledgement.  From the SR. Vice President?  Of Customer Relations?  That speaks volumes.

Let this serve as a precautionary tale to all you Mileage Plus Members out there.  United doesn’t care a bit about you or your miles or your loyalty.  Think about that the next time you book a flight or get a solicitation for a United credit card that offers points for “free” travel.

But if anything changes between now and our flight, I’ll certainly let everyone know.  Come on Sandra, do your job!


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I am intensely curious, with a spirit of adventure that is tempered by my very strong aversion to anything with potential to cause pain. I love travel, photography, reading, gardening, yoga, music and propelling myself through space (biking, dancing, walking, dancing while walking). I've never considered a lack of proficiency in any of the previous activities to be a hindrance, counting on abundant enthusiasm to make up for my shortcomings.

15 thoughts on “The Skies May Be Friendly, But United Sure Isn’t!”

  1. The airlines have made using frequent flyer miles so difficult it can hardly be worth the effort. We’ll be traveling east later this year and I hope to use some of ours for the flights. After reading about your troubles, I wonder now… at least we won’t be flying on United. Remember when flying used to be so glamorous and fun?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll be traveling something like 26 hours to get to Delhi, and I arrive there at 11:15 at night. Guess I won’t be spending a lot of time in the Delhi hotel. And my flight home from Delhi leaves at 3 in the morning. Sure wish I’d thought of flying to Newark first!


    1. Do you have an overnight in Dubai? We would have had to spend a couple of hours hanging at the airport, waiting to continue on to Delhi.
      I hope you get a row with an unoccupied middle seat.


  3. Thanks for your post Shelley! I collected Air Canada/United/Star Alliance points for years using my credit card and being a loyal customer. But Aeroplan (the Air Canada frequent flyer plan) has made it so difficult to get reasonable long haul flights – there are lots of direct flights from Vancouver to Toronto and return, but try anything to Europe and there are two or more stops – that I have given up my Aeroplan credit card and use a cash back card now. I figure I can buy a flight with my annual cash back. My points flight back from Costa Rica has me cooling my heels in Mexico City for five hours from midnight to 5 am. Ugh!

    When you’re not in the air, have a great trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hope you get those Business Class seats…with all the points and money you had to put out you might as well have purchased your tickets.


    1. Thanks Marilyn. I checked out the cost for direct purchase of two round trip business class tickets–over $12,000. Way, way more than we could ever pay!


  5. Yowza! I have a Mileage Plus Visa. BUT – I use the points to buy all manner of merchandise (a stand mixer, food processor, 3 flat screen TVs, 2 IPod Nanos, a Bose speaker, a tablet). I’ve never even tried to use the points for free travel or upgrades. Now I’m thinking I’ll just keep on shopping!


  6. Great post about a perplexing problem: trying to use frequent flyer miles on United. I read recently that casual, vacation flyers have little chance of using their miles and United doesn’t care; they only care about the frequent flyers who are businessmen who log many, many miles every month. Sheesh! I


  7. Hi Janet, Continental was great. I never had a problem using miles with them. This was a whole new experience. I’m just infuriated by their false advertising.


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