Know what you are confirming before you click that confirm button!

When Karen Shiu tries to adjust her flight via the United Airlines website, she is shocked to find an additional $6,000 charged to her credit card. Can we help straighten out this online flight fiasco?

Question: I recently booked flights from Seattle to the Philippines for my husband and me through United Airlines’ website for our wedding. Shortly after making the reservation, I found that I needed to change the tickets.

Unfortunately, I had trouble understanding United’s website because it lists several numbers in the same font size and doesn’t use a boldface or different font to indicate the final amount due.

I paid $2,000 for the original flights. I expected to pay a change fee of $300 for each flight change, but I found that I was actually charged $6,000 instead of $600.

Although I immediately called United’s customer service to ask for help in straightening out this error, my call was dropped twice. I was forced to repeatedly call back and explain my situation more than 10 times. I also used Twitter to United to ask for help. I was told that my flights were code-shared on ANA, but if I canceled, the original airfares would be credited to the costs of the new tickets.

I tried accepting the credit, canceling the booking and starting over, only to find that I was being charged another $600 in change fees. Then an agent of United emailed me, letting me know that he would refund the change fees and rebook us on our original flights. He asked me to email him back, which I immediately did. But I never heard back from him.

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Why is it so hard to undo a problem caused by a mere click of an electronic button? Can you help me get my booking restored and a refund of the $6,000 we paid for the new tickets? — Karen Shiu, Seattle

Answer: Ouch! $6,000 is definitely a huge error to make, especially for a special occasion when you already have enough to worry about.

Change fees are among the most irritating fees travel companies charge customers. They do it because they can. And the fees are a very lucrative source of revenue for airlines.

Unfortunately, you ran up against another very common e-commerce problem – confirming a  transaction online before you were completely clear about the commitment you were making. Your case is a stark reminder to everyone to go over your paperwork (or the electronic versions thereof) with the utmost caution before clicking the button to confirm your purchase. Otherwise, as you found out the hard way, you might be stuck paying far more money out of your pocket than you intended. It didn’t help that your flights were code-shared, yet another irritating airline customer service practice whereby airlines sell tickets for flights operated by other airlines.

Since United’s contract of carriage provides that refunds for unused refundable tickets will be issued within seven to 20 business days, it’s understandable that you expected an immediate refund of the $6,000, less the change fees.

United’s customer service was particularly lacking in your case. You should not have had to call the airline multiple times, let alone use Twitter, to try to straighten out the matter. And the agent who emailed you should have responded to the contact he asked you to make.

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It’s also not clear why you were being charged $300 per ticket in change fees when United’s contract of carriage indicates that such fees are between $25 and $50 per ticket for tickets purchased and changed within the U.S. and Canada:

UA [United Airlines] will assess a 50.00 USD/50.00 CAD fee to assist with a voluntary change on tickets originally issued via any external ticketing source (travel agency, internet agency, other airline, etc.). The fee is non-refundable and applies in addition to all applicable charges.

Within the 50 U.S. States and Canada, UA will assess a 35.00 USD/35.00 CAD charge for tickets purchased at any airport location, a 25.00 USD/25.00 CAD charge for tickets purchased through Contact Centers, and a 30.00 USD/30.00 CAD charge for tickets purchased or changed through a City Ticket Office. Charges may vary outside the 50 U.S. States and Canada. These booking service charges are non-refundable and apply in addition to all applicable charges.

You asked our advocates for assistance while also using the executive contacts at United on our website to escalate your complaint to higher-level employees with the authority to assist you.

Luckily, your perseverance paid off. You have since notified us that the following day, you received a call from a United employee who apologized for the “huge steaming load of bull” that your case had spiraled into. United has refunded your $6,000 charge, including the change fees, and booked seats for you and your husband on the correct flights.

Have a wonderful wedding trip.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • Jeff W.

    You are mixing apples and oranges when you quote the text about the fees.

    United charges a booking fee on top of the change fee if you need to make a voluntary change to an already booked flight and you need to involve a human. That is what that section of the contract of carriage is referencing. The $25-$50 fees you mention would not apply if the changes were done on the United web site. The booking fee is probably waived if you have status. But not the change fee.

    The change fees have been in the $200 range for quite some time now.

    Ultimately, there was something amiss in the $600 versus $6000 amount. Should not have taken United all of that time and all of those attempts to make it right.

  • VW

    I’ve had to change flights with United twice in the last month. Both times the website was crystal clear on charges, requiring you to select the option you want and requiring you to click confirm twice with charges indicated. Therefore I don’t understand how she did not know what she was agreeing to.

  • Alan Gore

    “United has refunded your $6,000 charge, including the change fees, and booked seats for you and your husband on the correct flights.”

    Thereby admitting that the biggest airline lie of them all is the whole argument that nuisance fees are a vital part of their business model. These are fees that are charged for as long as the public lets them get away with it. And if the public did not, it would be perfectly possible to do profitable business in other ways.

  • AAGK

    I just googled the United number, and had an international reservation agent on the phone in less than 1 minute. I doubt these LWs called. I worry some folks misrepresent their efforts so that Elliott advocates will do the work for them. That may not be the case here, but I have thought this before.

  • AAGK

    Good catch.

  • michael anthony

    I’ve had success too, reaching an agent within moments of dialing the phone. BUT, Ive had just as many instances where hold and wait times were excessive and even having dropped calls. Just because one is able to reach an agent on one call, doesn’t mean everyone can. And it certainly doesn’t make me doubt their story.

  • The Original Joe S

    I won’t fly with Can’t inental…. errrr…. Untied.

  • PsyGuy

    Que Disney theme music… Chris is better than prince charming.

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t either.

  • PsyGuy

    True but this was a simple flight.

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t fly United so wouldn’t know.

  • DAVE

    I understand your dislike for United, but with whom would you fly. We see problems from almost every airline on this site and not every airline fly’s every place at an affordable price. Which airline should we choose?

  • Shirley G

    I’m so sick of this code share crap. Not clear on United’s site. So using my Chase Explorer card got me nothing–no priority boarding, having to pay a fee for checked bag and really crappy seats. Had I know (had United made this clear on their web site) I would never have booked. Code share and affiliated airline do not mean the same thing. So they should use that very language on their booking site. Shame on them.

  • The Original Joe S

    Well, not THEM. Untied screwed their workers out of their pensions and foisted the burden on to the taxpayer. They told the workers that the workers had to buy the company or it’d go Tango Uniform. However, it wasn’t a sale of SHARES, but stock-options, which didn’t get the workers the seats they deserved on the board. Can’t tried the same stunt but the gubmint wised up and stopped it, so they bought Untied, which means that Untied is REALLY Can’t.

    Affordable price? I’ll pay for a good airline. Cheep gets you what you pay for.

    Can’t shafted me numerous times – too many to detail here. If you’ve been on this blog for any length of time then you might have read my recounting of Can’ts betrayals.

    If in CONUS, and I have time [ which I usually do ] I’ll drive. See the country. Sight-see. If necessary, I’ll choose another airline. I had too many duck-ups with Can’tinental now Untied.

    If going overseas, I fly a nice, small, exclusive Asian airline. They don’t advertise; they don’t have to. They’re always full. They are supportive of customers, extra-supportive of long-time customers, the flight attendants are sweet, cute, nice, friendly, not older than my grandmother, not as nastier than a pit viper, not fatter than a hippo, and not uglier than Medusa as are many of the FAs on ‘Murican-flagged cattle-cars, a prime example of which is Can’t / Untied. Food is nice. Seats are comfy. Been flying with them for 15+ years.

  • AAGK

    I agree. However, I called yesterday during the most high volume day bc of the storm.. I have never have an issue reaching an actual airline, not an OTA.

    I don’t doubt the story at all. Sometimes I do doubt whether a LW took basic steps since those steps are usually a pain, and just want the advocates to do it for them. That’s probably not the case here and I doubt a call would have helped anyway.

  • cscasi

    Need to think what Northwest, Pan Am, Eastern, Midway and Eastern did to their employees; not just United!

  • Lindabator

    The $50 assistance fee is for changing over the phone – NOT for the fee for changing an international ticket, which is a standard $300 plus fare difference.

  • Lindabator

    no – they basically cancelled the first (which is what she SHOULD have done) and rebooked the new ticket. Had she done so in the first place, she would not have incurred those charges, so United fixed the problem of her not caring enough to bother reading the total charges which are CLEARLY displayed for you push the button

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