Friday, February 17, 2006

United charging $10 for phone reservations -- a story about a ticket exchange

I called United yesterday to book a flight.  Normally I only book online, but I had a ticket that I had cancelled and there is no way on to apply a previously purchased and not used ticket to a new reservation.

As I proceeded through using the IVR phone system, I was never once given the opportunity to tell the system that I was trying to do a ticket exchange.  Finally at the end of the IVR system and I arriving at the correct combination of flights, I had to say “speak to an agent” about 30 times before the system finally transferred me to a human.

Surprisingly the human that I spoke to sounded non-Indian, so we were able to converse quite easily.  I gave the agent the ticket number of the ticket I was trying to exchange and then was put on hold for 5 minutes.

When the agent came back, he told me that he would have to charge me a $100 change fee, which I was fine with, and then $10 for a phone booking.  I requested that he instruct me how to do the ticket exchange on the website and I would be happy to not take any more of his time on the phone.  He replied that there was not currently a way that I could do a ticket exchange on, so I informed him that there was currently no way that I was going to pay $10 in addition to a $100 change fee if there was no other method for exchanging my ticket — he put me on hold again.

Five minutes later, the agent told me that he had spoken with his supervisor and the supervisor agreed to waive the $10 phone booking fee.  I completed my reservation and immediately received my new flight receipt by e-mail.

United offers some pretty cool bonuses for booking on like receiving 1000 miles for every booking; to be honest, I would have rather done the whole process described above on, but United has not added that feature.  I can totally understand that United is trying to push as much of their bookings to their website — if they can convert some percentage of people per year to online bookings then I’m sure they can reduce overhead costs in their call centers.  However, it is absolutely ridiculous that United is attempting to charge people $10 when they have no choice but to call in a reservation because does not contain the features that would have prevented the phone call needing to be made.

If you need to call United for a reservation because their website does not support what you are trying to do, I suggest that you refuse to pay the $10 fee; obviously they have empowered supervisors to waive the fee in certain situations (or maybe I just got really lucky).

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