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United Airlines is Fighting the Wrong Battle with Award Tickets Right Now

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Written by Charlie

United Airlines is choosing a battle with award ticket refunds that is just wrong and a completely wrong fight to have against customers.

No question about it – airlines are hurting financially and so are the employees that work for them. This is why the airlines are doing some creative practices in getting people to book now with the promise of a credit later if the customer wants to cancel. Some airlines are even going beyond “creative” and are on the total wrong side of how to handle customers. With award tickets, United Airlines is in the lead on the wrong way to handle this.

United Airlines Won’t Reinstate Miles on Award Tickets for Canceled Flights Without a Fee

I have already written about how United Airlines started this out with a negative policy on schedule changes that gave them more freedom in regards to your money. Then they made another change that allows them to keep your money for a year if they make a cancellation and you don’t want to rebook.

Below is from Dustin, a former contributor here and popular YouTuber.

Those moves are all about money – they need the money and they would rather give you an IOU in the form of a flight credit for the future. But, with award tickets, they are behaving in a really wrong way that is only angering customers.

United Airlines is on the Wrong Side of Award Tickets

The normal deal is this – award tickets can be canceled and redeposited but it will cost you a fee to use those miles again. Depending on the status you hold, it can be no fee at all or $125 per ticket if you have no status. Currently, their policy on older tickets is that if a flight is canceled, they can allow you to rebook for free (ahh, thanks, United??) but you need to pay the redeposit fee if you want to get the miles back to use them for something else.

So, they cancel the flight (in fairness, it is due to the global pandemic and not something that they just decided they wanted to do) but they will not let customers use the miles for something different without paying the fee.

United is Missing the Opportunity to Let Customers Waste Those Miles

Here is why this is so shortsighted and absolutely wrong by United. First of all, many customers are worried about what airlines will look like when this is all over. Some of the less travel-savvy of those customers are hurrying to use their miles for things like toasters and other product redemptions (you should never do this as it is a horrible value for your miles).

Why would United NOT want to get the miles back to customers that may waste their miles in this way and take away the greater value of award travel? So, United is kind of kicking themselves on this one just with this. Better to return the miles to customers – even give them a discount if they use them for something like an iPod Touch (where United is making a killing on the value of the miles). But, no, they aren’t thinking that way.

United is Not Making a Play for Cash Here

The next thing that makes this a stupid move is that returning miles to a customer’s account for a flight that was canceled costs United NOTHING. It is simply a button press by the customer in their account and it takes no time at all from United’s agents. It is literally the easiest, cheapest thing that can be done.

And returning the miles to the customer is not taking money out of United’s pocket, unlike if they were to refund a cash ticket. These are miles that are only worth something if the customer uses them. United is better off letting the customer get them back to make sure that the customer actually does fly them in the future.

Plus, the customer may decide to use those miles for another trip that costs more miles. That means United makes money on the customer buying miles (bad idea), transferring points from Chase, or spending on a United credit card. No matter what, United will make money on that.

Bottom Line

Sure, United could count the money on the redeposit as something that can help them but they are being extremely shortsighted because this is not about some customer that spent $300 on a flight. This is about a customer that has accrued anywhere from 25,000 miles to 140,000 miles or more to redeem for a flight. Giving the miles back is not going to make the customer go spend with a competitor like giving money back would.

United is letting the other airlines be the good guys in this and United is eventually going to have to let customers get the miles back for free. In the meantime, they are just being very foolish in letting this bad mood towards United build within their customer base.

United needs to remember this – air travel will come back and the customers will come with it. Does United really want their customers remembering how they were treated when things were bad for everyone?

United, we have long memories and many options – just remember that.

I noticed that I keep using this featured image for United – maybe it should just be my go-to for them now?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • @ Charlie — I haven’t lost anything from their policy, nor will I, since I have no tickets booked with United at the present time. However, I will NEVER buy another ticket from them if I have another option. Do they really think people will forget if they steal from them?

  • and how do we know you don’t personally have skin in the game, say speculatively making tons of award bookings of flights that span a few days, all being the same city and pair and direction, with intention to only fly one single flight, and now wanting UA to change their policy cuz you got caught flat footed ?

    • Nice try but I have no award tickets at all right now with United. Also, that kind of thing would have been covered if award tickets had been made during the waiver free time. This is about tickets booked long before any of this ever happened. I am writing about what is happening with others but I have no skin in this one at all.

  • I had some flights booked ORD-CPH using miles for July and called this weekend and they redeposited with no fee. Seems like the official policy is they will charge the fee. I have a feeling in this case a little HUCA would probably result in no fee being charged. But obviously YMMV

  • Please provide more info on how you got them to waive the fee? I spoke to a supervisor who insisted he was the final line of defense and had zero authority to waive the fee, repeating time and time again the corporate policy. I gave him no less than 8 chances to waive it and finally hung up without doing anything because i still have a month until the fee goes up, so I’m hoping they reconsider their policy.

  • Sigh. Another Scott Kirby gem. I used to joke that he’d squeeze a silver dollar until the eagle screamed but this isn’t just being a soulless bean counter, it’s viewing the customer as an actual adversary. With him at the top, expect lots more moves like this.

  • I have 6 award tickets to C2 for early June. I am not okay with paying $750 in junk charges, just because UA hates their customers.

    • Six of us booked a flight from Cairo to Jordan using united miles for March 14th. We booked these tickets in December. They waived the fee and deposited our miles and the taxes. No problem at all.

  • If the flights on the booking are cancelled, can’t the customer redeposit, pay the fee and then dispute the charge with the credit card issuing bank?

    • They could but it would be good to take screenshots of everything showing the canceled flight since United would likely point to their terms regarding redeposit fees.

  • I booked a trip on 1 May 2019 to SYD on 30 Mar 2020 using United miles. United cancelled all of my initial flights via IAH and “rebooked” me on flights via SFO for the same day. On 22 Mar I called United and asked what to do since Australia will not allow me to enter the country. The agent said she would cancel my booking and that the miles would be redeposited. This did not happen. I followed up on 26 Mar and was told that, because my flight was never cancelled, they weren’t obligated to redeposit my miles but would happily do so if I paid $125 for each. They said I could always use the miles if I traveled by 1 May 2020 and they would waive the change fee. Now – I wonder what my odds are of using 40,000 miles to start any travel by 1 May?? How’s that for working with the customer???

    • Just to update – United finally redeposited our miles and have not charged a fee. It took a lot of work but it finally happened.

  • what about all the taxes (airports taxes) I paid with the miles ($120) – will I get money back? or no and then the cost of the canceled ticket + re-deposit of 50K miles will be $120+$125 = $245?

  • I have been with United for decades and have been Premier 1K for several years except 2020. Still Gold, I have booked several flights which keep getting cancelled or partially cancelled by Unite. And yes they just cancelled two tickets, both of which were award tickets, within 2 weeks of the first flight. AND THE CANCELLED AWARD TICKETS WERE ON FLIGHTS THAT ARE STILL FLYING & I AM NOR GETTING BACK OVER 140,000 MILES I SPENT ON THEM! I can book the same flights for purchase, same route. This is the final straw. I am leaving United after decades of being a loyal customer. This is Incredibly crooked, unacceptable.