Should United reimburse me for my rental car?

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By Christopher Elliott

Weather delays caused Linda Oliver’s flight from Seattle to Denver on United to be delayed, causing her to miss her connection to Wichita. She had to rent a car from Hertz and drive home.

Linda Oliver’s frustration doesn’t solely stem from the seven-hour drive from Denver to Wichita. Her frustration stems from United initially offering to cover her rental car expenses but later retracting that offer in writing, which has left her displeased.

It’s essential to assess the situation carefully to determine if there are grounds for reimbursement and if her assumptions were reasonable or if there might be a misunderstanding in how the system works.

Let’s take a closer look.

The first flight

Oliver’s first flight, United 695 from Seattle to Denver, experienced delays related to bad weather on Oct. 2. After missing her connection. Oliver says she waited in a two-hour line.

She says, ‘We managed to convince another gate attendant to help us get on a flight to Kansas City, but after two hours, that flight experienced a delay, and subsequently, the flight crew was grounded. We called
United back and they told us to get back in the customer service line, which had now doubled.”

The line was now about four hours long. Yikes.

“We called United and they said they would cover our car rental from Denver to Wichita,” she says. “They transferred us to Hertz and they concurred that United would cover our car rental.”

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

OK, time out! A United representative transferred Oliver to Hertz and not one, but two employees confirmed that this was on United. (Related: Is this a completely lost cause?)

“United canceled our flight to Kansas City and gave us a refund of around $78 for each ticket,” she says. “I believe our refund should have been to our original destination of Wichita.”

When she returned the car, she asked United for a refund. Here’s what it said:

I am sorry to hear about the difficulties you experienced on October 2,
with your return flights from Seattle to Wichita.

If a flight irregularity prevents you from reaching your destination, our agents will help to arrange alternate transportation for you.

Sometimes an alternative city will have a sooner flight option and we are glad to reroute your ticket for you, as we did when you were rerouted to Kansas City, after missing your Wichita connection.

When we make a change like this, due to a flight delay or cancellation, we take the value of your original ticket and apply it toward the new airport.

We do not calculate or charge a fare difference, it is processed as an even exchange. Therefore, when you received a refund for the unused ticket to Kansas City, it represents a refund of the portion of the airfare from your original ticket, for Denver to Wichita.

I am sorry for the cancellation of that United Express flight to Kansas City, and I regret if the soonest available option for you to get home at that point was to rent a car. We can appreciate that sometime our customers will need to make alternative plans than what we have available; however, United does not reimburse any extra expense this may create.

You should be able to count on us for reliable transportation, and we let you down this time. Although I am unable to reimburse your rental car expense, I would like the opportunity to make things right, and as a goodwill gesture, I have requested a $150 electronic travel certificate for both you and Ms. Oliver. These will arrive together, via an email, within 1-2 business days.

We thank you for your business as MileagePlus members, and we look forward to another opportunity to deliver the experience that you deserve.

Unacceptable

Oliver appealed to United’s executives. Listen to your call center recordings, she urged the airline.
And, predictably, here’s what it said:

Your file has been escalated to my attention. I appreciate having another opportunity to review your case. Let me start by saying your business is very important to us. I truly regret your unresolved disappointment and any negative impression this situation may have left you with.

I truly regret any possible miscommunication or possible misunderstanding. We can empathize with the disappointment you have expressed. I understand that our goodwill offering cannot compensate you for the unpleasant experience throughout this incident.

Nonetheless, the certificates were offered as a token of goodwill and an expression of our regret over what transpired when you traveled with us, and our gratitude for your interest in United Airlines.

I’m sorry we will not be able to meet your expectations at this time. Our continual goal in Customer Care is resolving your concerns by receiving your feedback and sending it on to appropriate channels for review corrective action. This ensures we continually learn from these experiences and grow to become the World’s Leading Airline. With the feedback you provided, we will definitely make strides to reach that goal.

We understand the value of your decision to fly with us and will make every effort to leave a better impression when we have the privilege of serving you again. Please accept my apology and allow us that opportunity.

Thank you for choosing United Airlines.

Nice form letter

I think United owes it to Oliver to review the recordings. If it promised her a refund on the car, it should do what it said. Doesn’t matter what United’s policy is. Doesn’t matter what the rules say. You do what you say, right? (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

Then again, what if Oliver, you know, “misremembered” (to quote a famous politician)? Maybe that’s what United is actually saying. Maybe it already reviewed the recordings and made a decision based on what it knows to be true.

Should I take Linda Oliver's case?

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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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