Can he get a United Airlines waiver?

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By Christopher Elliott

Thomas Pettit wants a change fee waiver from United Airlines. His grandson, who is in the military, can’t get leave during Petit’s visit to South Korea. And now Pettit wants to cancel his planned trip to Seoul. Can he negotiate a lower fee from the airline?

Question

I recently purchased two round-trip tickets from Hong Kong to Seoul on United Airlines to visit my grandson. A few months later, our grandson, stationed in Seoul, informed us he could not leave the base during the time of our visit. So we canceled the trip entirely.

United said we could use the base cost for future travel plus any difference in fare. A few weeks ago, we decided to use this canceled ticket cost to travel to Green Bay, Wis. I tried to use United Airlines’ online system to make the change and followed their directions, but the popup screen told me to contact their online support agent, which I did.

However, in addition to the difference in fare — approximately $117 — United charged an additional $200 per ticket as a change fee, adding $400 to the ticket.

I understand additional charges may apply for changes in addition to any fare rules listed, but to book the flights to an already existing record and charge $200 per ticket, essentially negating the value of the original tickets, strikes me as egregious. I hasten to note, the United agent in Manila was extremely courteous.

I’d like to get the change fee of $200 per ticket waived. Can you help?

Thomas Pettit, Penn Laird, Va.

Answer

Well, it sure was nice for United to be nice about taking your $400. But given your circumstances, it shouldn’t have taken anything at all. Not a penny.

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Why? Your grandson’s circumstances changed because of military orders. Airlines routinely grant waivers or refunds for passengers whose orders change. United might extend those benefits to you if the purpose of your visit to Seoul was to visit your grandson. (Related: What is a United Airlines forever ticket?)

And I agree with you. That $200 fee per ticket is out of line for any passenger. Airlines argue that you’re paying for a missed opportunity cost, but as I’ve noted so often, they won’t allow passengers to pass along any missed opportunity costs to them. It’s a double standard. (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

Congress wants to rein in these outrageous fees, which routinely negate the value of a ticket credit. But so far, they’ve had no luck.

A happy ending for this United waiver case

Our advocacy team wanted to give United an opportunity to do the right thing. And it did. I shared our United Airlines executive contacts with you. You contacted United, and it waived your change fees.
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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.

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