United, Delta, and Amex Fails


Here is a story in The Consumerist that is so common, it has happened to me many times. You call United Airlines, they quote you one price/fee, they charge you another. They claim they never quoted you the price/fee, and when you ask for a refund, they claim that there is nothing they can do.

I won’t rehash this story, as it is becoming more common that stories that begin with “Boy meets girl…”. What I will do is draw several conclusions and recommendations from this story and my other dealings with airlines, United in particular.

Lesson 1: Never Do Business With United Airlines

While there is nothing wrong with their safety record, just about every other aspect of that company is incredibly poorly run. You can see from this story that nobody there knows what they are doing. Their poorly trained, overseas representatives are kept in the dark about all manner of policies and procedures. Whether this is intentional or not, I don’t know and it doesn’t even really matter in the end. I would also extend this rule to include any credit card that gives you United miles, as you will just end up with a similar nightmare. Not convinced? Read more here, and here.

Lesson 2: Never Purchase Travel With A Debit Card

All through the article, I was wondering when they would get to the part where the author threatens a chargeback. Then they slip the bad news in:

“I checked my Debit card statement, and noticed a $150 charge from United.”

If he had been using a credit card he could have threatened a chargeback. With a debit card, asking Mastercard to reverse it was futile. United had his money and they weren’t giving it back. With a credit card, a chargeback threat is usually enough to get a company to back down, and a chargeback, if necessary, is much more likely to be successful. Finally, only a credit card will provide you with protection in the event that the airline goes out of business after you purchase your ticket.

Lesson 3: Record your phone calls with the Airlines, especially when a refund is promised.

Find a device or service that will allow you to record your telephone calls. Better yet, get any promises in writing. Ask the customer service reps to show you where the policy is written before committing yourself to a course of action where you are depending on the airline to make good on a promise. If the author had a recording of the call it would have been easier for him to convince United that they did, in fact, lie to him repeatedly. It would also be easier to obtain a refund merely by threatening to take them to small claims court.

Lesson 4: When the airline refuses to make good on it’s commitments, go directly to the top.

Don’t spend too much time arguing with “customer service” when it is pretty clear that they can’t or won’t fix the problem. Go directly to their head of customer service or CEO in written form, copying web sites like The Consumerist or even your Attorney General’s office. Only then was the author able to get United to do the right thing, eventually.

Lesson 5: Never accept a voucher when you are due a refund

I have to commend the author for not accepting a voucher. This is a sneaky way of forcing you to do business again with the company that screwed you. If I am the victim of credit card fraud, there is no way that I will accept a coupon instead of a full refund. Stand your ground and get the refund you deserve!

New Delta Amex Benefits….NOT!

I got this nice brochure from Delta and American express talking about how wonderful they are since they merged with Northwest Airlines. How exiting. Anyways, I noticed on the back that they claim that:

We’ve added two new featured benefits:

My Credit Score and Report

complimentary access to your credit report at


Entertainment Access

Early access to event tickets before the general public

at americanexpress.com/entertainment

The only problem is that, as of this writing, the links don’t work! That, and by law you are entitled to receive two free copies of your credit report each year anyways.

Little Known American Express Platinum Benefit

There is a little known benefit of the American Express Platinum card that I was previously unaware of . As a Platinum card holder, you are entitled to Starwood Gold status. The primary benefits are free room upgrades and late checkouts when availibility allows, as well as a priority check in desk at some locations.

There is only one catch: You have to ask for it!

If you are not already a member, sign up for the the Starwood Preferred Guest club (free).

Then, call 1-888-625-4990 and mention code SN to enroll!

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