Frequent Flyer Miles Fiasco

February 11, 2018

in Odds & Ends Stories

Saving your frequent flyer miles for a special trip? Making financial commitments based on flights booked on miles? BEWARE!!!

I am a million mile flyer on both United Airlines and American Airlines and also A-list on Southwest. I learned that an airline can change the flight schedule rendering your reservations useless, and refuse to offer to accommodate you on a new flight if seats are not available for miles on the new flight.

I booked and received a reservation that was “ticketed and confirmed” on December 18, 2017 using United Airlines frequent flyer miles for my husband and myself from San Francisco to Deer Lake, Newfoundland, Canada. The flight was to meet a 12-day Globus tour of Newfoundland and Labrador, so I would lose our deposit if I cancelled the trip.

On February 2, 2018 I received an email telling me to call a United phone number. When I called the number, I got a long recitation of a flight schedule that made no sense, because the flights were not in sequence. The recording did not offer speaking to a representative as an option, but I asked for one and was transferred. That was the beginning of a more than 3 ½ hour ordeal trying to get the flights rescheduled.

Three airlines were involved: United whose miles I used and who operated two of the three flights, and Air Canada, whose partner, Jazz, operated a flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Deer Lake. Jazz shifted the departure time of that flight so that it was 4 hours and 10 minutes earlier – before our flight to Halifax left Newark.

The change notice I received from United did not provide a booking that would work, and it took over 3 ½ hours and a great deal of creativity and flexibility on my part to get any reservations that would take us to Deer Lake. United kept telling me to call Air Canada and Air Canada refused to rebook me.

Air Canada said I should expect further schedule changes, and told me to ask for certain flights and a routing that then was not available through United. United told me to call Air Canada back and ask to be escalated to a supervisor. United’s position was that it was an Air Canada schedule change, so Air Canada should “accommodate for the schedule change.” Air Canada claimed they didn’t have supervisors who would speak to customers and refused to provide any assistance.

The solution required leaving San Francisco 24 hours earlier so that we could get a first thing in the morning flight from Halifax to Deer Lake. That of course adds the cost of spending the night in Halifax, and transportation to and from the airport, to the cost of the journey.

If you are using frequent flyer miles to book flights that involve partner airlines, think twice and have a backup plan. Star Alliance partners do not work well together when you are using frequent flyer miles.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

reader February 12, 2018 at 1:35 pm

I quit accruing miles on United once they started charging a fee for using miles I'd earned — and if using miles for an upgrade, stopped guaranteeing the upgrade.


James February 12, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Same here. Plus they required a higher fare class for the chance to be upgraded.


Jennifer April 19, 2018 at 9:30 am

Air Canada is the worst airline in Canada. They are notorious for their extremely bad customer service.


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