Help! United charged me an extra $3,800 for my flight

When Cole Jennings upgraded the frequent flier tickets she and her husband were using to go to Australia, from business class to first class, it should have cost her 20,000 frequent flier miles for each ticket. Instead her credit card was billed $3,800. What?

Question: My husband and I were booked on a United business class ticket on Jan. 7, 2017 from Baton Rouge to Sydney, Australia, with a return Jan. 26, 2017, from Auckland, New Zealand.

On Nov. 21, 2016, I called United Airlines to upgrade the Auckland to San Francisco leg from business class to first class after there was a plane change. I was told by the United agent that it would be an additional 20,000 miles each, a $75 change fee each and a few extra dollars in taxes. This was agreed upon and the change was made by me giving her my credit card number.

A little while later I looked at my credit card statement and saw the above charges were made along with a charge for $3,838 from United. After a little research I discovered this charge was for 102,000 miles. I never discussed buying miles with the agent, wanted to buy miles or needed miles to upgrade my reservation. I had plenty of miles in my account and would never spend that amount of money for the mileage amount.

I’ve spent hours on this and cannot get anyone to help me get my money back. I don’t know why this agent made this mistake but it had left me with no proof of what happened at a huge expense. Can you help?– Cole Jennings, Baton Rouge, La.

Answer: It became instantly clear to our advocates that you had worked hard to get this matter resolved as a self-advocate. Within an hour you’d discovered the charge and immediately called United and eventually spoke with a supervisor who promised to fix the problem.

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“I don’t have much of a paper trail as all of my contact has been by phone,” you said. “I trusted the supervisor to refund my credit card and thought it had been done, I didn’t think to get her name.”

But you did get a reference number from the supervisor you spoke with, which should have been tied to the supervisor’s notes on the case. And what paper trail you did have made it very clear that you were in the right here. United’s frequent flier rewards chart confirms that the change should have cost you 20,000 miles for each ticket, plus some fees. But it looks like the rep tried to redeposit the miles from the business class tickets and then reuse them for the first class tickets, but the miles did not instantaneously reappear in your account so the rep charged the card to buy the additional miles.

But despite all the evidence, your refund wasn’t immediately forthcoming.

“Every time I call United I’m told something different. Today I was told that I bought these miles through the website, which I didn’t and have no clue as to how to even do that. I was also told to submit a claim to United online, which I’ve done.”

You also tried to request a chargeback from your Chase United credit card, but were told you didn’t have adequate documentation for your claim without the name of the supervisor.

There is an important lesson here: Make sure you get a name when someone at an airline makes you a promise. And request an email confirmation of that promise. If you find yourself getting the runaround as Jennings did, our advocacy site provides contact information for airline executives.

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I’m happy to hear that after our advocates contacted United on your behalf, you got a call confirming that the fee would be credited to your account. And that as it turns out, since United also lost a piece of luggage on the way to Australia, you were each offered a $300 travel voucher as well.

Dale Irvin

Dale Irvin is a semi-retired writer and editor, now living in south Florida after three years roaming around North America in an RV. You can read about those adventures at

  • Johng

    There aren’t many stories that annoy me but this one does. If the facts as set out above are true (and there is no reason to think there are not) then the actions of the representative are outrageous and wrong on so many levels.

  • Bill___A

    You’re right, this is a very bad episode. Glad it got sorted but should have never happened in the first palce.

  • PsyGuy

    I can see that happening. What I am guessing happened (and this is guessing), is that the CSR who processed the transaction couldn’t redeposit the miles that fast so charged the card to buy the miles, complete the transaction, and then the next day when the database actually reconciles all of the accounts and the miles were deposited would then refund the card and balance the miles, without anyone knowing (our travel concierge does this at times too). The problem is the LW checked her account immediately and then became a game of saving face, not getting fired, etc.

    As far as the name issue is concerned regarding always getting the supervisor’s name. 1) Most CSR’s used made of names, it’s a security issue. 2) Next time just make up a name, didn’t get the supervisor’s name or they won’t give it to you, just say their name was Steven, or John, or Brad, or Jennifer, or Casey, or whatever.

    In regards to email confirmations, that’s too funny, most CSR’s will claim they don’t have the ability to do that or they just won’t do it. Better to just make your calls through Skype of GV and record the audio (make sure you live in a single party

  • PsyGuy

    As I posted above though, I can see how it would happen. Why would they do this, because otherwise the upgrades might not be available and then the PAX would be even more upset.

  • PsyGuy

    This is true, the CSR just needs more training.

  • GEMDlady

    So what you are saying, there is no way to properly document anything a CSR says and it’s a crapshoot that you can get what is promised or get it resolved.

  • PsyGuy

    I’m saying that experienced CSR’s learn how to get things done instead of saying no, of course it doesn’t always work out.

  • Shirley G

    And all she got was what she should have. They didn’t give her anything extra for all of the trouble and effort she put in to get this resolved. She’s doing this on her own time. United employees are at work. There is a difference. They should have, at the very least, not charged her $ for the change. That’s a pretty meager amount ($75) but at least it would have been something for her inconvenience and all of the aggravation. And shame on Chase. I wonder if she had the rep’s name if it really would have made a difference.

  • Skeptic

    Agreed. And the $300 voucher for lost luggage is totally irrelevant to the story. It comes across as if the writer wanted to make United look less bad than the company comes across based on the facts that do actually pertain to the unauthorized, unexpected credit card charge.

    While I can see how the lag in mileage redeposit might have created the situation, how hard would it have been for the CSR to call or email the traveler asking for permission to make the charge? The CSR could have to explained that the mileage purchase was needed to ensure that the first class seats could be booked while still available, and that the charge would be refunded as soon as the miles already in the pax’s account were released from limbo.

  • Lindabator

    you can ask for a first name and location – that they are required to give you.

  • Lindabator

    United will give you a first name and location – that is allowed. And I agree that is probably what happened – the client just jumped too fast

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