United Airlines made a mistake and it cost me $1,550!

Marcus DeGruttola says United Airlines’ mistake didn’t just cost him $1,550. It also left him and his wife, Holly, stuck in Africa. He needs some help unraveling a very complicated case and getting a refund.

DeGruttola was flying from Boston to Johannesburg on four different airlines; he used United Airlines frequent flyer miles to book the flights. Along the way, two airlines canceled his flights for various reasons. He had to pay an extra $1,550 to set things straight. Of course, the three airlines are now pointing the finger at each other, and they want DeGruttola to pay for their mistake.

I don’t know if there’s any lesson to be learned from this case, other than maybe to keep your flight itineraries simple and to never pay for your ticket with miles, which seem to be a second-rate currency. But if I said that, I would probably get run out of town with torches and pitchforks by airline apologists. So let’s just pretend I never said it and get on with the story.

A complicated flight — and a complicated problem

Here’s DeGruttola’s full itinerary:

Whoa, my head is spinning! But it gets even more complicated.

I’ll let him pick up the story:

When we arrived in Johannesburg Airport on Sept. 16 to fly to Cairo, we were told by EgyptAir that our tickets for both MS840 on that day and for MS787 had been canceled.

We had just arrived from Botswana earlier that day (on a separate airline ticket) and were stuck in the Johannesburg Airport international transfer desk area with no options so we ended up repurchasing our tickets for both MS840 and MS787 for 23,007.00 ZA Rand ($1,550 plus a $46.50 foreign transaction fee).

Despite having repurchased our tickets for MS787, we ran into the problem again when we arrived at Cairo airport on Sep 24 when we were told our tickets had again been canceled.

Though in this case, EgyptAir was willing to uncancel our tickets so we could get home.

Wow, that’s five airlines and flights booked with funny money. What could possibly go wrong?

How to fix this United Airlines’ mistake — if it even was United Airlines’ mistake

So, the question is, how do we get a refund of the $1,550 and the $46 foreign transaction fee he had to pay for the new tickets?

I’ll let DeGruttola explain what he did:

After several months of working with United to try to resolve the matter, we were told by United that we would need to seek our refund directly from EgyptAir.

On contacting EgyptAir, they told us that we needed to seek our refund from United. So we are not sure what to do at this point.

We suspect that our EgyptAir tickets were canceled because of an additional flight that was included on the EgyptAir itinerary on Sept. 5, 2018, on MS839. The Sept. 5th flight was never part of or shown on our United itinerary.

My wife and I were actually aware of and concerned about this extra flight on Sept. 5, so we contacted United before we started our trip to make sure this “ghost leg” would not be a problem. We were told by United that it should not be a problem.

When I challenged with “are you sure,” the agent checked with her supervisor and confirmed that it should not be a problem.

Wait, what’s a ghost leg? I’ve heard the term used only in the context of a hidden-city itinerary. If you want to go down a rabbit hole on ticketing ethics, check out this story on the legalities of travel hacking.

I’ll wait here.

DeGruttola just wants his money back.

“In addition, it took us hours to resolve the situation at both Johannesburg and Cairo airports, causing both my wife and me considerable stress,” he says. “It would be nice to have some kind of acknowledgment by EgyptAir or United that this should not have happened.”

How we straightened this one out

Here’s how I see it. United Airlines is happy to take DeGruttola’s money and to give him miles, points, or bottle caps. It will allow him to book a Frankenstein itinerary to Africa. But when it comes to standing behind that itinerary, it will defer to every partner airline rather than take responsibility. I think that’s wrong.

Our advocate Dwayne Coward recommended that DeGruttola contact executives at both United Airlines and EgyptAir.

He did, with mixed results. United called and left a message saying it would help with EgyptAir. But EgyptAir then said it had no record of his second ticket purchase in its system.

“I think they are suggesting I need to communicate with the EgyptAir South African office directly,” he told Dwayne.

After Dwayne contacted United, the airline had a change of heart and agreed to a partial refund of the miles (110,000 miles out of the 225,000 miles used for the tickets) plus $1,200 in travel vouchers.

“So finally a happy ending,” says DeGruttola. “I have no doubt that your advocacy helped.”

Perhaps. But this case was madness from start to finish. It shouldn’t matter which partner airline you’re flying. The airline that took your money should also take care of you. United left DeGruttola high and dry. Should he have been messing around with a “ghost leg”? Probably not. But that’s no way to treat a loyal customer.

Did United Airlines do enough for DeGruttola?

View Results

 Loading ...
Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.