2008-06-16

a challenge. with love, united airlines

Can you make this work?
Your outbound flight was in July 2007 from Phoenix to Paris via Washington Dulles, on United Airlines. You booked seats using "mileage plus miles" (i.e. "free" tickets). Even though the tickets were free you had to pay $700 in "taxes" to book your seats. When you booked United said to book a return in October 2007 (even though you weren't coming back until at least late June 2008) because they couldn't find any award seats on a flight from Paris to the US between June 13th and July 7th, 2008. So you booked to come back in October knowing you would change your return flight later, and you came to France. Because, they said, "more seats will open up." Now it's time to go back.

Your challenge is to now get back to the US using the return segment of your "free" ticket on United Airlines. You want to fly from Nice to Phoenix. The last day of school is July 3rd. Here are the rules you must follow:
  • If you don't fly by July 2nd United Airlines will cancel your tickets. All of them.
  • You can't fly out of Nice, even though it's 20 minutes from your house. You must instead fly out of Paris, which is 600 miles away. Of course United has multiple partners that fly from Nice, but they won't let you take one of their flights.
  • You must fly from Paris to Washington to Phoenix. If you instead fly from Paris to Washington to Chicago to Phoenix, or any other flight combination, you will pay a penalty.
  • There are no award seats available on flights from Paris to Dulles to Phoenix between June 13th and July 6th. Not one.
  • You can fly out of London instead and then go to Washington, but you must take a flight to London the night before, spend the night in a hotel with your children, and then leave early the next morning. The cost to do this is a $100 penalty levied by United Airlines, plus it costs $850 to fly to London from Nice. Per person.
  • You can fly out of Frankfurt to Washington, but you must take a flight to Frankfurt the night before, spend the night in a hotel with your children, and leave early the next morning. The cost to do this is a $100 penalty levied by United Airlines, plus it costs $963 to fly to Frankfurt from Nice. Per person. And the flight, with stops, takes 9 hours.
  • You can fly out of Amsterdam instead and then go to Washington, but you must fly to Amsterdam the night before, spend the night in a hotel with your children, leaving early the next morning. The cost to do this is a $100 penalty levied by United Airlines, plus it costs $184 to fly to Amsterdam from Nice. Per person.
  • The ticket agent then tells you, on June 13th (perhaps the fiftieth time you've called) that there have actually never been any award seats available on flights from Paris to the United States. Never.
Your challenge is to get back to the US using your "free tickets". It's now the middle of June and you still don't have a seat. What would you do? Has anyone else had an equally positive experience with an airline? I could use some help as we try to navigate "the friendly skies".

4 Comments:

Blogger The Telfers In France said...

Gee, thanks for the reminder that we have to change our return tickets (from December to the middle of January), so I had better start working on it right away!

We had to pay an extra AU$5000 or so to get here, when we were delayed after my surgery. That was the difference with the extra fuel surcharge, increased taxes, plus the change from low to shoulder season. I am hoping our travel insurance will cover the extra cost...

What were the original return seats you had booked?? How could they book you if they don't, and never have had, any award flights from Paris to the US?

I think by this stage I would be having trouble remaining polite to the airline representative!

16.6.08  
Blogger Sue said...

I would be talking with them about how they treat/interact with their obviously very frequent flyer who had enough miles for seats TO and BACK from France. Surely they want to be extra nice to you. Keep asking to speak with a supervisor...just keep going up the supervisor ladder. :)

17.6.08  
Anonymous Husband of La Vie Echangee said...

They originally booked us on a return flight in October, because that's what was available at the time, and I kept changing the date (i.e. pushing it back) until last week when I wasn't able to change it anymore because there were no seats. The last day they had seats available from Paris was June 12th, and that's nearly four weeks before school lets out. So June 12th was never going to work.

Over the course of 10 months I changed the return date like eight times. I was always looking for a flight at the end of June but - when they never had one - I would just book the latest thing that they had available at the time, even though those days were never going to work and I knew that. It was the only option I had at the time.

In the end, I paid an extra USD2000 in penalties and cost of seats fly to Amsterdam, plus a hotel in Amsterdam for the night before the flight to the US. A total joke.

So in sum I paid about $3000 for my "free" tickets to Europe and back. Cheaper than having bought them directly but come on. You've got to be kidding me.

17.6.08  
Blogger La Vie Échangée said...

Caro, I don't think you'll have a problem changing to the middle of January. Usually there is inventory at that time, at least to the US (I don't pretend to be an expert about flights to Perth!). The problem you'll have is whether or not you'll want to go back. Here's to betting you won't!

17.6.08  

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