My United Airlines tickets expired — can you make them unexpire?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Susan Chibnall and her husband cancel their tickets to Switzerland, United Airlines promises them they can use their credit for a year. So why have their tickets expired?

Question

My husband and I paid $3,000 for round-trip tickets on United Airlines last year from Washington to Zurich, Switzerland. We also took out a travel insurance policy. Because of a post-surgical medical issue, my husband could not travel. At that time, we contacted United and were told we could reuse the tickets as long as we flew before Dec. 24.

We are now planning a trip abroad for this December. My husband called United Airlines to rebook our tickets. Much to our shock, the agent told my husband that we had to fly before Dec. 24, but we had to have booked our tickets by July 19, the one-year anniversary of our initial purchase date.

At the time of this discussion, they did not inform us, but the agent would not budge. Essentially, he said, “Too bad. It’s our policy.” Both of us have been frequent United Airlines flyers for more than 10 years; my husband, in particular, has been flying with them for over 15 years and has accumulated approximately 500,000 miles over that time.

Even if the “one year from date of purchase applies” (which, again, we had no idea about this policy), we called less than two weeks after that. Additionally, our frequent flyer status and the fact that the agent we discussed the rebooking policy with last December did not mention the one-year-from-date-of-purchase policy have created a situation where we believe United Airlines should at least be willing to compromise (especially since they are currently rated the second worst airline in the country). — Susan Chibnall, Fairfax, Va.

Answer

I apologize for the expiration of your tickets before you could use them. United should have told you about the deadline. Instead, the representative you spoke with either wasn’t clear or you didn’t understand what the employee said.

I’m a little bit surprised you weren’t aware of the policy, which is an industry standard. You and your husband frequently use United Airlines as customers, and this can’t be your first canceled flight. Still, the burden was on the airline — not you — to be clear about any rules. If an employee told you that you had a full year, United Airlines should have been true to its word. You shouldn’t have to research an employee’s promise to ensure that it’s the truth. (Related: Denied boarding because I didn’t pay a change fee.)

You say you reached out to United’s CEO, and while that’s a good strategy, you might first try a few lower-level contacts who have more direct control of customer service issues. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on this site.

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.

After I furnished you with additional contact information, you got in touch with the right person at United. Not only did United Airlines allow you to use your tickets, but it also connected you with a ticket agent who helped you book your trip to Switzerland. The agent was “gracious, calm, polite, and reassuring,” you told me. “Truly excellent customer service.” That’s what I like to hear.

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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 Panamá City.

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