Should I help passengers with their United Airlines “zero” fares?

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By Christopher Elliott

At 2:47 p.m. today, I received the first email from reader Nancy O’Neill. She wanted to know if a “zero” fare she’d just found on the United Airlines website would be honored. I’m sure it won’t be the last one.

O’Neill already felt a little beat up by United Airlines’ incomprehensible fare rules. She was trying to make a change to a flight from Houston to Louisville, but the $200 change fee would eat most of the value of her ticket.

“I decided to look at canceling my entire trip and just booking one way return from Louisville to Houston,” she says.

That’s when United quoted her the zero fare, not including $2.50 in taxes. Wow.

“My question is: will United Airlines honor this ticket when I show up at the airport?” she asked.

Probably not. (Here’s our guide to booking an airline ticket.)

United Airlines is reportedly considering it. I think it’s well within its rights to cancel all of the tickets.

But should I pressure United Airlines into honoring these fares? I mean, it offered them online. Shouldn’t it have to honor these prices? (Related: What do airline passengers really want — besides a good fare?)

We’ve had this debate a time or two. O’Neill is one of the honest ones, for which I’d certainly consider going to bat.

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The ticket thieves who found out about this fare glitch on one of those bottom-feeding loyalty program blogs or discussion forums and took advantage of this? Less inclined to help them.

What do you think? Should my advocacy team and I get involved if necessary?

Should I help passengers with their United Airlines "zero" fares?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in São Paulo.

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