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Old Aug 13, 12, 12:52 am   #1
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: HKG, ORD, and BOM
Programs: 1K
Posts: 108
Remarkably erratic change fee quotations and glitches

So I accidentally woke up at 9AM today for my 10:30AM flight HKG-EWR-ORD. I called and asked for the next available flight, was told that next day would be a total of $715 including $150 penalty. I balked at that and asked for something cheaper, not necessarily next available but maybe just the same flight next day. Then he offered me $630 total. I had meanwhile quickly gotten on the website, and checked the options to switch to next day. Plenty of availability for the next day's flight at a fare $320 higher than my purchased fare. I clicked on that and got a page saying that the change would cost the fare difference plus $0 ("waived") change fee. Meanwhile the guy on the phone still couldn't find anything less than $630, including a $150 penalty, even though I was telling him the flights and fare codes, he said no availability. I didn't even bother to ask why he was charging me a penalty, and the website not, as I figured this was probably just another computer glitch. Unfortunately, when I clicked the final button to charge my card and pay for the flight change online, I ran into yet another problem, an error page giving saying please call United.

Also, strangely, even though I clicked on the same HKG-EWR-ORD routing, the change confirmation page came up as HKG-SFO-ORD. That was no big problem with me, I was kind of looking forward to trying UA116 pmCO business first (I had a confirmed GPU) but I save a little time in the air, whatever - just another way that the website seemed to be malfunctioning.

Agent connected me to web support saying he could not find the fares I was talking about in his system. I told the story to Web Support guy as a very simple story of "I am getting xyz error message while booking a flight change." He immediately asked if the system was showing any change fee, and I told him no, it's showing zero. He seemed to be expecting this, saying OK sir, in that case if the system is waiving the change fee I can waive it also, the total charge to you will be $293 (actually less than the website quoted). He changed it and confirmed my GPU on the new routing, great..

This whole thing really only took only about 8-10 minutes on the phone+computer, an hour and a half before my flight while lying in bed. Service was great (I'm certainly not complaining) but holy cow these people really need a better computer system. For one of the world's largest companies to be quoting three different prices, with no two out of three people able to replicate the same behavior on the system, is just remarkable. For people that are not at a computer trying to negotiate this, and/or not technologically proficient, must be a mess. I do some low level programming myself, in far less complicated systems, and I wonder if this is one of those stories where the system has just become so complex, with so many workarounds, that it has essentially become unfixable, kind of like Windows. But Windows is an unfixable mess because it has to interface with tens of thousands of third-party devices, provide backward compatibility to tens of thousands of software packages, etc. The United IT system managers have no such excuse: They are dealing with a few dozen to at maximum a few hundred external interfaces, and generally a much simpler task. It strikes me that this really must be a management problem, because competent technology managers should be able to have SHARES fixed rather quickly. They just need to hire some really smart process people and get the darn thing fixed and/or chuck it and start over.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 6:50 am   #2
Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: NYC
Programs: AA EXP, UA Plat
Posts: 306
Agreed the systems have "issues" to say the least. However, don't forget the "flat tire rule" in instances like this. It's an official policy and with 1.5 hrs until departure - I would think you'd have no issue getting to HKG within the allotted 2 hours window.

The real question is - how much is it worth to be able to confirm your flight changes from bed.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 8:14 am   #3
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: HKG, ORD, and BOM
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Posts: 108
That's really funny, I was actually thinking about that blog post and considering a dash to the airport and back to potentially save the change fee. But my place is in Shenzhen across the border, and that would have possibly entailed losing a day of productivity plus the annoyance of having to trek across Mainland-HK immigration and back if I couldn't get on a same-day flight. I figured they might have been likely to put me on the same day direct flight HKG-ORD a couple hours later, but I was unsure of two things, even though I had read that blog post a few weeks back:

1. I have lost the upgrade and probably been in economy, and possibly would not have made a same-day flight at all

2. Is this supposedly official flat-tire policy written down anywhere by United? I would not enjoy the prospect of trying to convince an agent in the US, much less HK, that something I read on a blog meant I should be put on the next flight standby without a charge!
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Old Aug 13, 12, 9:16 am   #4
Join Date: Apr 2008
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Posts: 270
Similar experience last week.

Booked on a late flight MSP-ORD-LAX, and had a last minute meeting pop up so I needed to try and change to take an earlier flight. It was within 24 hours, so I jumped online, and used the check in function, to see the options for changing. There was an earlier flight through DEN, but the layover was quite long. Looking at booking a dummy reservation to see what fare buckets may be open, found there was an earlier connection from DEN that was a legal connection from the same exact MSP-DEN flight, and it had my fare bucket (H) available, but that connection did not show via the web change at check-in list. Also of note, the web check in list displayed a few options (none of which were early enough) that all had different routings. There was an MSP-IAD-LAX, an MSP-IAH-LAX, and an MSP-CLE-LAX flight option, all zero dollars.

Called the 1k (premiere) line, and agent said it would be 926 dollars to book the DEN-LAX route that worked best for me - funny thing was, when I was looking at dummy reservations to find that connection the fare was only 680.

She said well, it's because I am changing my outbound, and my routing that the whole ticket needs re-fared, and there would be a 150 dollar change fee.

I explained that I can change via the web to the same MSP-DEN flight, with a later connection from DEN for 0 dollars on the web, and that changing routings is allowed under the new 24 hour rule, and that I just wanted to see why the earlier connection DEN LAX was not available at that time.

She started to repeat the line that I was changing the routing and need to rebook the entire ticket, etc. Knew it was not going to go anywhere, so I nicely said thanks and called back.

Second agent initially came back with the same quote of 926. When I explained what I saw online, she called the rate desk. 7 mins later - booked - with zero charge

It really is amazing that there is such a mess with rules, and fares. What bothers me more, is that customers who don't take the time to read all the rules, and don't know their options (same day change, flat tire rules etc) will get completely ripped off!
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Old Aug 13, 12, 9:57 am   #5
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: HKG, ORD, and BOM
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Posts: 108
Exactly. The rules are complicated enough (and in some cases, eg. the flat-tire rule, apparently intentionally unpublished) such that I'm not even sure whether I should have been charged, and it is hardly worth my time to figure it out. Humans should not have to figure this stuff out at all: If the rules were well defined, and the computer system worked reasonably well (eg. 99.9% reliability, which does not seem that hard to achieve) then this company could cut their support staff by 75%, and save the customers time and massive annoyance as well. It's just amazing the outcome is currently based on how much or how little time one is willing to spend trying to first understand and subsequently avail oneself of the change rules.
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Old Aug 13, 12, 9:58 am   #6
Join Date: Dec 2009
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Posts: 1,910
you snooze, you lose
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