Here’s the story — a man is involved in a near-death plane accident on a private jet and suffers from PTSD. He also happens to be a frequent United flyer, a 2-million-miler Global Services member. Going forward, whenever he flies he books a corresponding award ticket for his wife. On the day of travel, if he feels up to flying by himself he will cancel his wife’s ticket. If not, she will accompany him for emotional support reasons. He has flown over 220K miles on United this year, cancelling the award tickets for his wife about a dozen times over this period. One day, with no notice, United shuts down his account, garnishing his 500K award miles and taking away his lifetime status earned through over 2M miles of flying. United claims he broke the rules by buying tickets “with no intention of flying”.
That’s his side of the story and I know United may spin the facts differently, but I am immediately sympathetic to the man for two reasons. First, he offered to provide United a note from his doctor explaining his condition and the medical necessity of having a companion to travel with if needed. Second, he is a 1K/Global Services member and a published benefit of that status is the ability to cancel and redeposit award tickets without fee. There are no stipulations limiting this. Delta, for example, does not even exempt Diamond Medallion members from its policy that awards must be cancelled or re-deposited within 72 hours of travel or else they lose all value. That’s fair — unsold seats that go to upgraders or employees at the last moment represent lost revenue to the airline. But United has no such rule and most egregiously, did not even give this man a warning.
Warnings are not necessary for blatant program violations, but there is nothing here to suggest the man was manipulating program rules (i.e. for lounge access or other benefits) but rather these last-minute ticket refunds were for a bonafide reason.
All the Way to the Supreme Court?
As for using the law to fight this decision, the battle will be an uphill one. I wrote about the Northwest Airlines v. Ginsberg case and although the cases are not analogous, the man here must be careful should he proceed to court — the case cannot seek to compel United to operate its MileagePlus program in good faith, it can only argue that it violated its own rules.
Two provisions come into play here (bolding mine).
The United Contract of Carriage states:
UA reserves the right to cancel bookings and/or reservations which it deems abusive, illogical, fictitious, which are booked and/or reserved with no intention of flying, or for which the passenger makes a misrepresentation without notice to the passenger.
United.com also contains this warning:
Without limitation, User shall not make any speculative, false or fraudulent purchase or reservation, or any reservation in anticipation of demand. In the event United determines that an individual has confirmed such reservations to one or more destination(s) on or about the same date(s), United reserves the right to cancel all confirmed space associated with the multiple reservations without notice to the passenger or the person making the booking.
And of course United reserves the right to suspend to terminate any MileagePlus account at anytime for any reason at its discretion.
Thing is, if this man’s story holds up, his wife did intend to fly every time — if she had to. The speculation was not “in anticipation of demand” but because her husband could not fly without her if he was not calm.
I mentioned United could prove it has turned over a new leaf through smalls acts of compassion and this case seems like a tremendous candidate. If this guy was Global Services flyer, he likely spent tens of thousands of dollars on UA tickets each year. He also was loyal on a long-term basis by virtue of his 2MM status. Seems to me United should have reached out to him before shutting him down. They could have told him to stop and he would have — he had no idea he was doing anything wrong and I don’t think he was doing anything wrong…
You can read the discussion here and chime in below with your thoughts on whether he should have been booted from United or not.