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Lacking class

December 09, 2007|by Catharine Hamm

Question: My husband and I bought upgradable tickets and used miles to get into business class for an overseas flight on United. With about five minutes' notice, we were taken out of business class and put into economy because of what they said was an equipment change. They put the miles back into our account, but they did nothing about adjusting the higher fee that it cost us for upgrading. What is the best way to handle this?

Sandie Knopf

Woodland Hills


Answer: The best way to handle this? Hit your head against the wall several hundred times and then stop because that's the only relief you'll get.

The Knopfs aren't going to get their money back because mileage upgrades aren't guaranteed.

But good luck finding that bit of information on United's website.

"You can redeem your Mileage Plus miles to upgrade on United Airlines to the next cabin of service with your paid ticket on select fares," its upgrade awards page says.

I read that sentence over several times, and I don't see anything that says you probably can or perhaps you'll be able to redeem your miles. It says you can.

"This really doesn't pass the sniff test, and if I were in the position of the [Knopfs], I would feel that this is a bait-and-switch thing," said Tim Winship, editor at large for and the publisher of

"It's just common sense if there is an explicit or implicit promise to get something for paying extra, you should be refunded that extra."

But Robin Urbanski, a representative for United, explained it this way in an e-mail: "If someone pays more for a refundable ticket so she has the flexibility to change her travel plans but does not end up changing anything, we don't refund the difference between refundable and nonrefundable tickets."

It's true that refunding the money would be cumbersome for the airline, operationally speaking.

But it's also true that making a promise and knowingly breaking it flat-out stinks.

And that, fellow fliers, definitely fails the sniff test.


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