Monday, March 23, 2009

United Drops Complimentary Refares

A long-standing benefit for frequent United Airlines travelers was the ability to, at no cost, refare ticket prices in the event the airfare drops after the initial purchase. With no notice to customers, United ended this benefit on March 20, 2009. The policy previous allowed customers to monitor their existing reservations, and if they find the fare dropped at any point prior to travel, they could call United and ask for a travel credit for the difference in price. There was no charge for this benefit. Now, United slaps on a $150 "administrative fee" for this service. The policy is effective for tickets purchased from March 20th onward; if you have tickets purchased before this date, and not yet flown, you may continue to refare these at no charge.

As a frequent beneficiary of this service, I have mixed feelings of the recent change. From a business perspective, few companies let you purchase a product then return it at any point up to a year later should the price go down, which is effectively what United was allowing customers to do. It was a generous benefit indeed! But I question how many people even knew about this policy - it was certainly never anything United marketed itself on. From a travelers perspective, Southwest Airlines again stands apart from United and many other airlines which charge for refaring, in that they do not charge to reprice an airline ticket if the fare drops. So if you were going to purchase a ticket between San Francisco and Orlando, for example, and the cheapest tickets were $300 on Southwest and $275 on United, you could have confidence in your Southwest ticket purchase that if the airline decided to have a sale, you could reap the benefits of the lower price. On United, you are stuck with that higher fare (unless you pay the new $150 fee), even if they drop their prices at a lower date.

Don't get me wrong, there are many great reasons to fly United Airlines. But based on this recent policy change, there is now one less reason to consider them a preferred carrier.