Know what you are confirming before you click that confirm button!

When Karen Shiu tries to adjust her flight via the United Airlines website, she is shocked to find an additional $6,000 charged to her credit card. Can we help straighten out this online flight fiasco?

Question: I recently booked flights from Seattle to the Philippines for my husband and me through United Airlines’ website for our wedding. Shortly after making the reservation, I found that I needed to change the tickets.

Unfortunately, I had trouble understanding United’s website because it lists several numbers in the same font size and doesn’t use a boldface or different font to indicate the final amount due.

I paid $2,000 for the original flights. I expected to pay a change fee of $300 for each flight change, but I found that I was actually charged $6,000 instead of $600.

Although I immediately called United’s customer service to ask for help in straightening out this error, my call was dropped twice. I was forced to repeatedly call back and explain my situation more than 10 times. I also used Twitter to United to ask for help. I was told that my flights were code-shared on ANA, but if I canceled, the original airfares would be credited to the costs of the new tickets.

I tried accepting the credit, canceling the booking and starting over, only to find that I was being charged another $600 in change fees. Then an agent of United emailed me, letting me know that he would refund the change fees and rebook us on our original flights. He asked me to email him back, which I immediately did. But I never heard back from him.

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Why is it so hard to undo a problem caused by a mere click of an electronic button? Can you help me get my booking restored and a refund of the $6,000 we paid for the new tickets? — Karen Shiu, Seattle

Answer: Ouch! $6,000 is definitely a huge error to make, especially for a special occasion when you already have enough to worry about.

Change fees are among the most irritating fees travel companies charge customers. They do it because they can. And the fees are a very lucrative source of revenue for airlines.

Unfortunately, you ran up against another very common e-commerce problem – confirming a  transaction online before you were completely clear about the commitment you were making. Your case is a stark reminder to everyone to go over your paperwork (or the electronic versions thereof) with the utmost caution before clicking the button to confirm your purchase. Otherwise, as you found out the hard way, you might be stuck paying far more money out of your pocket than you intended. It didn’t help that your flights were code-shared, yet another irritating airline customer service practice whereby airlines sell tickets for flights operated by other airlines.

Since United’s contract of carriage provides that refunds for unused refundable tickets will be issued within seven to 20 business days, it’s understandable that you expected an immediate refund of the $6,000, less the change fees.

United’s customer service was particularly lacking in your case. You should not have had to call the airline multiple times, let alone use Twitter, to try to straighten out the matter. And the agent who emailed you should have responded to the contact he asked you to make.

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It’s also not clear why you were being charged $300 per ticket in change fees when United’s contract of carriage indicates that such fees are between $25 and $50 per ticket for tickets purchased and changed within the U.S. and Canada:

UA [United Airlines] will assess a 50.00 USD/50.00 CAD fee to assist with a voluntary change on tickets originally issued via any external ticketing source (travel agency, internet agency, other airline, etc.). The fee is non-refundable and applies in addition to all applicable charges.

Within the 50 U.S. States and Canada, UA will assess a 35.00 USD/35.00 CAD charge for tickets purchased at any airport location, a 25.00 USD/25.00 CAD charge for tickets purchased through Contact Centers, and a 30.00 USD/30.00 CAD charge for tickets purchased or changed through a City Ticket Office. Charges may vary outside the 50 U.S. States and Canada. These booking service charges are non-refundable and apply in addition to all applicable charges.

You asked our advocates for assistance while also using the executive contacts at United on our website to escalate your complaint to higher-level employees with the authority to assist you.

Luckily, your perseverance paid off. You have since notified us that the following day, you received a call from a United employee who apologized for the “huge steaming load of bull” that your case had spiraled into. United has refunded your $6,000 charge, including the change fees, and booked seats for you and your husband on the correct flights.

Have a wonderful wedding trip.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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