Why won’t United Airlines honor its fare guarantee?

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By Christopher Elliott

Chuck Barnes tries to invoke United Airlines’ low fare guarantee. But it doesn’t quite work the way he hoped it would. Is he out of luck?

Question

I made a reservation on United’s website from Tampa to San Francisco for a total price of $180. After completing the reservation I looked up the same itinerary on Orbitz. Much to my surprise, it was $10 less than the price I had just paid on United.com.

United offers a low-fare guarantee. I read the low fare guarantee page to confirm that it covered my fare discrepancy and then I called the United reservations number. The agent I spoke with was polite, but insisted that I had to find the lower fare online at United.com only — Orbitz did not qualify.

But that’s not what the fare guarantee says. I referred her to the page, and she asked if I would “hold.” I waited 20 minutes and then called back from a different phone. An agent said I could cancel the flight if I wanted to, but I said I was interested in the lower fare guarantee.

Finally, I was connected to a supervisor who stated that the time he looked (now over 45 minutes from my booking and Orbitz fare difference) the lowest fare he could find was $177 and he would be happy to refund me the $3 difference. I declined, stating that I felt the delay that has occurred allowed for a fare change. I feel United should honor the lower fare guarantee. Can you help me? — Chuck Barnes, San Francisco

Answer

At the time you booked your tickets, United’s “low fare” guarantee said if you purchased tickets through its site (which you did) and found a published retail price online that’s $10 or more lower (which you did), then United would refund the difference and give you a $100 voucher toward a future flight.

But you have to mind the small print. In order to invoke the fare guarantee, the fare must be found on the same itinerary, same day, same cabin. That’s more or less an industry standard, and yes, it makes it difficult to make a successful claim. (Related: How airlines plan to have their way with fare disclosure.)

I’m not a big fan of guarantees like this. It’s almost impossible to invoke one because of all the terms and conditions. You’re better off finding a great fare than suffering buyer’s remorse followed by the agony of filing a claim that may or may not be successful. (Related: Frustrated travelers start recording customer service phone calls. But does it work?)

One other observation: All this for $10? The amount of time you spent pursuing this claim — well over an hour — is probably not worth your time. I imagine you have better things to do. (Related: Should I help passengers with their United Airlines “zero” fares?)

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If you weren’t getting anywhere by phone, you could have contacted someone higher up at United. Here are a few executives.

Just for incase you’re holding onto airline flight credit and wondering how to get the most bang for your buck, I’ve got you covered with an in-depth guide.

My advocacy team and I asked United to review your claim. An airline representative contacted you, apologized for your experience and offered you a voucher for $150, which you accepted.

Is United's "low fare" guarantee a legitimate offer?

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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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