Just when I think I have seen it all when it comes to award bookings, something new happens that leaves me completely speechless. Let’s first set the scene for this $2,558.50 fiasco.
Original Award Booking
About three weeks ago a client contacted me to inquire about the possibilities of upgrading the outbound leg of an economy class United award booking to Europe. An economy class award booking to Europe with United requires 30,000 miles each way or 60,000 miles roundtrip. Since this was a two-passenger award booking, the original booking required a total of 120,000 miles.
There was indeed outbound business class availability on the same date as the original outbound with United’s Star Alliance partner Lufthansa. For some reason, the United web site was not displaying these options so I already knew that any modification to the original booking would have to be done over the phone.
A business class United partner award to Europe requires 70,000 miles each way. Since our client had already redeemed 30,000 miles for their outbound, they needed an extra 40,000 miles per passenger or 80,000 miles total to be able to upgrade their outbound to the aforementioned business class option (as well as a $75 fee per passenger since she did not have elite status with United).
The client proceeded to request a transfer of 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points so that we could process the modification. The points immediately showed up on her United account.
Call to United to Modify Award
I then proceeded to contact United to modify the award. The agent had no trouble seeing availability for the Lufthansa flights that were not available on the United web site. In less than ten minutes the original booking had been modified as requested (or so I thought).
United’s $2,558.50 Mistake
After informing her that the award had been modified as requested, the client asked me what the difference in taxes and fees was versus what was originally booked. I did not write said number down during my call to United, so I searched for the e-ticket receipt online to locate the same. After identifying the extra amount charged for taxes and fees, I noticed something odd. The last transaction noted on the receipt described a $2,558.50 charge in connection to a “Mileage Purchase Fee”. I almost fell out of my seat when I saw that number. No such transaction was mentioned, authorized or even necessary.
I figured that maybe the agent had made a mistake in the way she had described the transaction, but that no such transaction had actually been processed. I informed the client what was happening and she was able to confirm that the only related charges on her credit card were those related to the award modification fees and the additional taxes and fees required.
Then a few days later I received an understandably frantic email from the client indicating that a $2,558.50 United charge was now showing up in her credit card transactions.
What Exactly Triggered this Charge?
At first I could not figure out what had happened. I had different theories, but none of them made mathematical sense as far as the erroneous miles purchase was concerned. It was not until I spoke to a fourth different United agent that we were able to figure out what had happened.
It turns out that when the modification was processed, the return, which was supposed to remain intact, was re-booked at the standard level instead of the saver level. Therefore, instead of requiring 30,000 miles per passenger, the return was re-booked at a rate of 65,000 miles per passenger or 70,000 more miles than required at the saver level. Since the client only had 2,000 miles in her United account, a purchase of 68,000 miles was automatically triggered.
I have no idea how such a large transaction can be processed without anyone even mentioning it, let alone receiving authorization for it, but that is exactly what happened here.
In order to get the $2,558.50 refunded, we first had to re-book the return at the original saver level. Once this happened, we had to contact United via email to request that they reverse the 68,000 miles purchase and provide the corresponding refund. We spoke to seven different people in four different departments over a span of two weeks before finally getting the $2,558.50 refund.
Not sure how a mistake like this could have been avoided. The only obvious step you can take is to make sure that everything is re-booked at the saver level whenever modifying a United award. And definitely always keep an eye out for unauthorized airline charges.
Has an airline ever mistakenly charged your credit card without your authorization?