A Surprisingly Painless Interaction with United Reservations

Anyone who has had the pleasure of dealing with United’s reservation agents since they shipped the majority of calls overseas knows that it’s generally one of the most unpleasant experiences imaginable. I’ve had countless problematic interactions with some Indian agent conveniently named “Mark” or “Mr Smith” or anything else generically American in the past, and I’ve rarely left the call feeling satisfied. In fact, I consider it a victory if I find an agent that I can actually understand, so when I had to call the reservations line this week, I braced for the worst. Shockingly, it turned out very well.

I only called into reservations because I had no other choice. When I decided to hit the road for a cross-country trip last November, that left me with a $242 United ticket that I wouldn’t need to use. Subtracting the hefty $150 change fee, I still had a meager $92 left. And thanks to a phone call I received this week, I was able to put that $92 to good use and even have some credit left over.

How is that possible? Well let me back up. I received a call from Southwest saying that I was actually one of the two winners in their contest to build the best schedule. (Seems unrelated to United, I know, but stick with me) They offered to fly me out for a celebration, and considering that I would have the chance to meet founders Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett, I certainly couldn’t say no. (“Giddy like a school girl” is probably a good way to describe it.)

But after Dallas, I still needed to come back to Phoenix for the aviation symposium. Southwest would get me to Dallas and back to Phoenix, but I had to get back home to LA at the end of the week. That would be the perfect way to use my United credit. I looked and they had a ticket for a mere $59 one way (thank you, slowing demand), so I was ready to go. Just one problem. You can’t use your old credit online. I had to call reservations and that always means trouble. Would they charge me the $25 phone reservations fee even though there was no other option? I braced for the worst.

The agent that answered the phone had a slight accent and tone that led me to believe he was Filipino. First victory: I could understand him. I told him my situation, and he surprisingly didn’t have to ask for clarification. He pulled up my reservation, said that the $25 phone reservations fee didn’t apply, and quickly took care of it for me. Then he took my address and said the remaining $32 of the credit would just be sent to me in the mail for future use.

Let’s forget about how ridiculous it is that United can’t handle this transaction online and just appreciate the fact that the airline actually, adequately served me via their phone reservations team. Good work. It’s amazing how well low expectations can frame something as a win even though it should be routine, no?

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20 Comments on "A Surprisingly Painless Interaction with United Reservations"

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Andrew
Guest

I saw the title and I think the earth must have stopped spinning. Incredible. Of course, now that this is published, Tilton will read it and realize that you wern’t charged a fee at all. Tomorrow’s news: “United adds $15 fee to receive credit in the mail for future use – in order to combat rising fuel costs.”

David
Guest

Looks like Cranky is cleverer than we give him credit !

AN
Guest

Unfortunately you got the one good United experience this month, so the rest of us are screwed.

Jeff K
Guest

My new practice for changing a res with UAL is to book the new one I want on-line and put it on ‘Hold’ so when you call them (agree, no fun) you can just tell the agent to match your on-hold res.

So it streamlines things so you can just sit back and wait to be spanked $150 for the change…gotta love Southwest !

JM
Guest
Don’t hate me, but I actually had a good experience with a United call center reservation agent about 6 months ago. United had cancelled a flight from Portland to Chicago and I was notified by e-mail that I was subsequently “automatically rerouted” on a transcontinental odyssey. The new routing would return me to Birmingham, Alabama, from Portland via Seattle, the North Pole, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, and Marilyn’s Massage Parlor & Fun Shack in Tempe, among other places. I called United reservations and got a very understandable, pleasant, and helpful call center in India (from the sound… Read more »
Randy
Guest

So what routing did you put your three 737’s on for WN? I’m surprised I had never heard of the contest given how much I read online about the industry. I have never read their blog, but I would have thought it would have popped up elsewhere like your blog.

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist

Only three birds? Shucks, I figured they’d stretch the field a little bit with at least 10!

David
Guest

Randy – you think that Crank having decided to enter the competition with a prize on offer that he probably really wants , would be naive enough to encourage lots of other people to enter as well, and thus wreck his chances of winning ? :-)

Randy
Guest

Cranky afraid of a little competition from an old United scheduler? OK, it’s nerdy Southwest scheduling trivia, but they can’t push an aircraft on the west side of terminal one at LAX for twenty minutes after a scheduled Air New Zealand 747-400 departure from Terminal two. The alley is too narrow to slide a 737 which makes for interesting scheduling challenge for WN.

Bobber
Guest

Perhaps I am the only satisfied United passenger, but I have NEVER experienced the sh1te service that United is often ridiculed for on these pages and many others. I don’t doubt ‘UAL management’ is an oxymoron, but for me United are always courteous, professional and (98% of the time) on time. Perhaps it’s because I do predominantly fly internationally (mostly in economy plus), and I’m not exposed to a sub-par domestic service.

Anyway, no doubt I’ve just completely jinxed my forthcoming flights. Cool.

pony86gt
Member

Good news is that I’ve heard they are relocated their phones to U.S.
I live in Maui & use my miles to go inter island & cannot book online so must use call center in India or wherever & pay operator fee. That was very difficult due to geographic proximity, language, etc. So now I just go to airport for all my United bookings other than ones available on-line & I get a real knowledgeable person face to face—-works for me.
Aloha, Dave

Bobber
Guest

I know, Cranky – but I even find their call centres bareable. They even called ME(!) to tell me my upgrade had cleared (months in advance) which considering I am the lowest tier of Elite status was impressive (well, it impressed me). Call centres suck anyway, regardless of the industry involved – the UA ones in India are no worse and no better than any others (in my experience).

Randy
Guest

Yep, haven’t made the jump to Twitter quite yet. Will check that out eventually. After much non-revving on UA in many various classes, I have seen the best and worst on display and most of the time the crew had no clue who you are when you first got on. On average is is decent and business like, but not as friendly as I have seen on Air New Zealand or Virgin Atlantic, regardless of class.

enplaned
Guest

Giddy as a school girl, not giddy like a school girl.

The Global Traveller
Guest

You are right that depressed expectations keeps us happy about service that should be standard not the exception.

My WN schedule very similar. I had slightly longer turns and had the 737-300 o/n in LAX instead of SLC (in order to allow for cross-connecting flights at LAS).

Ron
Guest
I once bought a fully refundable ticket on United and then had to change the date. After a 45-minute phone conversation, the agent said he couldn’t change the date, only refund the ticket. I took the money, and eventually flew on a different airline. To be fair, part of why it took so long was that the agent had to split the reservation first (it was originally a reservation for 4 people, and I was the only one who needed to fly on a different day). Throughout the phone conversation there was the sound of a lot of typing on… Read more »
Brad
Guest

Good Luck getting that check. I had United tell me once that they were going to send a check after a flight to London was canceled, and i rebooked domestically. Anyways, it took me 2 hours and 12 different agents to actually get them to put the check in the mail. Also, if you scream at the automated agent, it hangs up on you.

Mark
Guest
I booked a flight using miles with United on the telephone because it was an open jaw ticket and their web site would not allow that. I was told that because it couldn’t be done on the web site, they would not charge me the telephone reservation fee. Later, the phone reservation fee showed up on my credit card. I called and complained. After 15 minutes or so, they agreed to refund the phone reservation fee. They said they would do it in 7-10 business days. I waited 10 business days. No refund. Called again. Another 15 minutes on the… Read more »
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