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United Airlines Customer Submits DOT Complaint Claiming Carrier Incited Him to Buy Award Miles For a Flight it Couldn’t Sell Then Refused to Refund Him

United Airlines Customer Submits DOT Complaint Claiming Carrier Incited Him to Buy Award Miles For a Flight it Couldn’t Sell Then Refused to Refund Him

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A United Airlines customer has submitted a formal complaint to the Department of Transportation (DOT) claiming the Chicago-based carrier incited him to purchase nearly 200,000 miles for an award flight only to then claim it couldn’t sell him the ticket and refuse to refund the miles he had purchased.

Mike Borsetti was looking for flights on United’s website last October and found award availability for round trip flights between Chicago and Singapore which were quoted as requiring 110,000 award miles.

When Borsetti went to buy the flight, United told him he was required to purchase at least 192,105 miles through the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program in order to complete the transaction.

Rather than purchasing the miles directly from United, Borsetti says he decided to transfer his Chase Ultimate Rewards points into MileagePlus miles – a popular transfer method that is often used by passengers.

Borsetti transferred enough Rewards points to buy 193,000 MileagePlus miles and then went to buy the award flight he had found on the United website. At this point, however, Borsetti received a generic error message preventing him from purchasing the flight.

Not to be outwitted, Borsetti attempted to buy the tickets using a different internet browser but yet again received the same error message.

Borsetti then called United’s reservation call center to get an agent to book the flights for him but to his surprise, the agent told him “in no uncertain terms” that the flights, despite showing as available on the United website, weren’t actually available and there was no award availability for the flights he was looking at.

During the conversation, Borsetti continued searching the United website and found the same flights still being advertised with award availability, although there was no way to actually book these flights.

In the end, Borsetti gave up trying to book the flights and instead requested United transfer the MileagePlus miles he had just purchased back to his Chase Ultimate Rewards account.

United, however, said it was unable to transfer the miles back to Chase.

Borsetti is now calling on the DOT to take action against United’s ‘unfair and deceptive practices’. He says he is buoyed by the DOT’s recent crackdown on unfair practices by airlines and a new willingness to take enforcement action in cases involving frequent flyer programs.

In his written complaint, Borsetti admits that “United may not have intended to program its systems to make misleading offers” but argues consumer legislation negates the need to prove intent.

View Comments (2)
  • This same exact situation happened to me with transfering AMEX points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan and being unable to complete a purchase of an advertised flight from Milan to Chicago. Air Canada did return the miles to my AMEX account. It is possible, and United lied to Mr Borsetti when they said it is not possible.

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