Airline redefines “day” and refuses to honor fare, until …

One of the secret loopholes that most air travelers don’t know about is the 24-hour grace period. Airlines like United will allow you to cancel your itinerary for a full refund if you find a lower fare within a day. But how do airlines define “day”?

We’ve seen some pretty interesting airline definitions of time in the past. So Vivien Hui’s story of reserving a United Airlines ticket will probably come as no surprise.

The ending, however, might.

I bought a roundtrip plane ticket from Denver to Frankfurt for for April 1 to 12 for $616. I wanted to change the ticket but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to change it to so I was able to put two reservations on hold — for seat and for fare — last night on United’s site.

Both was for Denver to Orlando; one was for April 9 to 12 and the other was April 10 to 12, $416 and $259 respectively. I subsequently received two separate e-mails from confirming that the reservation was held until tonight at 11:59 p.m..

So today I called United’s reservation line today to change my original itinerary to the held April 10 to 12 Orlando itinerary along with a $250 change fee. I should still have a credit and I assumed they would then mail me a voucher. But when I called, United told me that the held itinerary was canceled automatically because the computer scanned and figured out that I would physically be in Frankfurt at that time. I never received an e-mail notifying me of this cancellation and I was able to put the fares on hold and received a confirmation e-mail.

Today the fare for the same route is $469.

I called and told reservations and customer relations my situation and neither of them would honor my held fare.

Very interesting. So United’s computers figure Hui is in Frankfurt, so for her the deadline has already passed. But she’s actually still in Denver, leaving her plenty of time to pay for the reservations. What a fascinating glitch.

Related story:   Can you imagine this travel future?

I suggested Hui contact someone at a higher level at United. She did, but a day later still hadn’t heard from the airline. She was about to make another reservation, when …

I just got an e-mail confirmation from United confirming my held reservation fare! I was on the last page on Travelocity’s site doing a flight/hotel combo when the e-mail came through. You have no idea how happy I am!

Lesson learned: Be extra careful when a fare is on “hold” and be sure that you pay attention not only to the amount of time you have, but also the time zone.

United did the right thing by honoring its reservations.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

%d bloggers like this:
Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.