United Airlines receiving backlash for poor and possibly illegal refund policy

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. UponArriving has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. UponArriving and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. 

There are three guaranteed things in life: Death, taxes, and people getting pissed off at United.

There’s been yet another customer service bungling with United Airlines that has left a lot of people extremely unhappy.

As I have already written about, United has slashed many of its flights over the past few weeks and going into the near future. In fact, they have reduced capacity by 95% on their international routes which is one of the highest reductions seen by any US airline.

But after canceling these flights, they have not been forthcoming with offering refunds.

Instead, they have tried to rebook customers on different flights and tried to offer them travel funds which have an expiration date instead of a refund.

And when a refund is offered, there seems to be stipulations such as needing to wait for the travel funds to expire in order to receive a refund or just long wait times. 

There also seems to be general confusion by customer service representatives as far as how to process and handle the refund requests when customers call in.

The problem with what United is doing is that it is not aligned with DOT regulations.

The DOT regulations state:

If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets.  You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.  

That explanation is about as clear as you can get.

You are entitled to a refund if the airline cancels the flight even if you have booked a nonrefundable ticket.

When an airline cancels the flight, it is vastly different from the customer canceling the flight (at least in terms of established policy).

So how is United getting away with this and why are they refusing or making getting refunds so difficult?

Maybe it has something to do with their whopping revenue losses or just poor customer service or a combination of the two.

But if I had a United flight that was canceled by the airline and they were refusing to honor a refund, I would be raising hell with the airline, across social media, and would likely file a charge back with my credit card company.

It’s really frustrating and sad really to see airlines like United treat customers so poorly at a time when things like this are going on. But hopefully with enough negative publicity and response, these airlines will start to do the right thing when it comes to their paying customers.


UponArriving has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. UponArriving and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. I’m sure they could get a charge back with their credit card company. I know I would.

    My cruise that was scheduled for next month was cancelled by the cruise line company, and they were trying to get everyone to receive a future cruise credits instead of a refund. My travel agent requested a refund, and the cruise line company stated it could take up to 60 days. And people who get a future credit the transaction is done almost immediately. I’ll be contacting my credit card company if they fail to refund me.

    I hope all the United passengers stand up for their rights!

  2. Right, Death and Taxes u won’t get away with, but just because u purchased a Basic Economy ( $50 fare ) and u can’t get it back Now United is the 3rd guaranteed wrong thing that u couldn’t reverse.
    Let me tell you, United had refunded hundred of customer their money even for the wrong excuse . I don’t know how lame was yours ,but behind every ticket there is a story ,am pretty sure want credible so just leave it as is.
    Next time ,make sure u want to write an article be sure to have also tried to get a refund in Europe, any carrier. They don’t give a sh@$&! ,Europe carrier will really give you an excuse to write something that ur pen will go dry after it happens.
    Be sure, to thank U.S. carriers for calling out 2nd and 3rd last call for boarding , before u ever get on another flight.
    Have a nice …never mind is useless with you.

    1. awesome comment! Doesn’t knwo what he is babbling about. I work in airline industry, and with a travel agent who books cruises. Those companies are bending over backwards to do all we can. this situation has never represented itself, and United has gone out of it’s way to refund, reschedule refund bag fees evern get permission to book on other airlines or issue travel vouchers good for one year from purchase date. AND if smarty butt would really look at vouchers….as longs as you BOOK travel by the expiration date you can still fly up to another YEAR after that. that’s 2 years. you need be thankful people lke us still went to work when we should have been home self quarentining for his stupid butt.

  3. I am shopping to buy 7 Denver to Santiago Chile round trip tickets. United’s fare is ok but I will not purchase if this policy does not change.

  4. I had bought my ticket through Expedia along with the insurance. I called United airlines cause I canceled my flight due to the coronavirus, they’re refusing to refund my ticket. I really need help to get my money back. Thank you

      1. What if You booked a trip with a Debit card and they gave airline credits to be booked by Sept 13,2020 and I had insurance on flights …booking agent Referred to an insurance company & they haven’t answered phone in 2 weeks just a recording..Tickets were from New York to Las Vegas for Aprill 11th to 16th ….Hotel refunded money but not the Airline …Please What can I do???

        1. If you had insurance then you’ll likely need to work it out with the insurance company. Did you cancel the flight or did United?

    1. You need to call expedia, not the airline. They booked your ticket. I have been through this before. When a third party books your ticket. It is much harder to get a refund. Never mind the navigation.

    2. They will give you a credit towards another flight. All airlines are doing credit unless you have a medical note for being sick, then you will get a refund. Stay Healthy!

  5. I had bad experience with United and lost 1000 bucks.booked an international flight and went to the other country but before few days back to the return date United flight was cancelled due to some issue .they made me to book other ticket to come back.When we come back called customer service hell of times but they said refund is not possible in our case.What to do….where the hell customer is responsible for their flight cancel.

  6. I flew United home from Hawaii to Omaha Nebr on March 19- 20. I will never fly United again! In the midst of all this Corona virus, their planes are absolutely filthy! Thank God I had a lot of Lysol wipes and could clean our area. I was just sick at the situation! On the flipside, I also flew Delta flights, their planes were VERY clean. I used my Lysol wipes here also, the wipes still looked clean when I finished wiping down area!

    1. Yes, clean planes are going to be a huge issue going forward. Airlines will not be able to get away with leaving cabins dirty any longer without serious media exposure and hopefully that will incentivize them to clean in the future. It’s too bad they are not already doing that in cases like yours.

        1. I think the airlines are playing a game of semantics with customers right now which is a shame given everything that’s going on.

  7. In my experience recently ( March 6 to 22 ) with Priceline is the worst ever, and I will never use them again. As far as Priceline concern, there is no Covid-19 crises.
    I offered to send the letter from my PCP to state that I am over 60 years old and have multiple condition which makes me very vulnerable to the virus , but they would not accept email or letter.
    Buyer be aware .
    Had very good experience with Expedia, United, Delta and Booking in the same time frame.

  8. Our United flight got canceled to Honolulu next month! They are only offering us 50% refund. Absolute bullcrap. I’m going to fight this, if I cant get ahold of someone. I’m going through credit card company and requesting it back. It’s against the law and I will NEVER fly United again.

  9. Daniel, do you know what United’s Covid-19 policy is for an April 22nd flight they that cancelled that I booked last August using my miles? I can’t seem to get any clarification on that scenario. When I go online to cancel my reservation and re-deposit my miles it says “fees may apply”. They are offering everybody else a refund but they say I have to pay $125 to redeposit my miles???? I will not be rebooking my flight, I just want to redeposit my miles. Can you help? Thank you.

    1. This is another point of contention with United right now from several people I know. They are forcing you to pay a re-deposit fee currently which is ridiculous.

  10. I am thankful for this article. United is being straight corrupt. I had a flight for months that was supposed to leave for Switzerland yesterday with the final destination being London from JFK. I booked it through flighthub.com. They said United was only offering credit for the ticket and no refund. So I accepted the credit and tried to book another flight only to find out the ticket prices between now through Christmas no matter during the week or weekend are double the price! So now to use my flight credit I either half to lose the money altogether and use another airline or pay United twice as much. Disgraceful.

  11. Thank you for writing about United and how they are treating customers. We have international flights booked in May and they will not give us a refund. We also purchased the travel insurance offered at booking and the travel insurance does not cover the situation. I am with everyone that noted when purchasing tickets again in the future, it will not be with United!

  12. I Finally Got My Miles Back Without Paying $125 Fee

    Last August I used my United Airlines frequent flier miles to book a flight for April 22nd. I was waiting for communication from United regarding my flight being canceled, but I did not hear from them until this week. Everything I read regarding rescheduling or taking a voucher only addressed tickets purchased with cash. Vouchers are only good for one year from the date of purchase and I booked my ticket last August. Since I have no intention of going anywhere by August, I went to my account online to see how to get my miles re-deposited back into my account.

    I was given the option to reschedule my flight or take a voucher with no fees, or to redeposit my miles. When I clicked on the redeposit option it said fees would apply, which according to their policy is a whopping $125, even though they waived cancellation and re-booking fees for cash tickets. I then wrote to them via the contact form online to see if I could get the fee waived.

    I got a response a couple days later saying I would have to call the 800 number, which of course takes hours to get through so I decided to wait until United officially canceled my reservation and notified me. Finally on April 2nd I got a very brief note saying “We have made changes to our flight schedule which have impacted your travel plans. We are offering options to re-book your flight or use the value of your ticket for future travel.” Notice they never said the word “canceled” nor did they say anything about a refund or redepositing my miles, therefore nothing has changed.

    The very next day I got a flowery message from United saying how “flexible” they are (a much different tone from the day before): “We have flexible options for you. You can change your flight to a date up to 12 months from your original ticket issue date or cancel your ticket, without the usual fees to change your award flight or redeposit your miles.” I thought, awesome, they are finally doing right by their loyal customers. However, later that night I heard on the news that the DOT was enforcing the law that says they must refund any tickets for flights canceled by them (including non-refundable tickets), regardless of the reason.

    I clicked on the link to start the process and selected “Redeposit miles”. I got all the way to the end and when I clicked on “Submit” I got a message saying I needed to call them to complete the process….grrrr. I expected to have to wait for a long time but miraculously I got right through. The whole thing only took about 20 minutes and only because the agent had to reboot his system because of the volume of calls. He redeposited my miles with no fee and told me my credit card will be refunded the $75 in taxes that I paid for my “free ticket”. So if you are still having trouble getting a full fee-free refund, I suggest you wait until the airlines cancels your reservation and notifies you directly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *