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IRROPS, United's ongoing fare fraud and why you should complain to the DOT

IRROPS, United's ongoing fare fraud and why you should complain to the DOT

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Old Jul 4, 14, 6:30 am
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IRROPS, United's ongoing fare fraud and why you should complain to the DOT

Yesterday's evening flight SFO > FRA was delayed and I was notified early in the morning. I purchased and was seated in global first. I would miss my connection. I called and asked what my options were. When I did, I heard this after being put on hold by the agent:

"I notice that you purchased a business class ticket with an option to sit in global first…" This must be the script they're using to commit fare fraud.

He offered me a few business class options that wouldn't have been much better than the original offer (arriving four hours later at my destination). Some of the options offered did not involve confirmed ongoing seats. Needless to say, I was appalled. Not surprised, but appalled.

I told him that he was mistaken about the ticket I purchased and that I would not even consider being downgraded. I used the word "fraud" to characterize his description of my ticket. I told him to keep looking and to consider LH's 3:00 PM flight. He came back with more options that were unacceptable and I insisted that he consider LH. I had to insist three times before he tried this. I used the term "fraud" when I described the solutions he was offering me.

He put me on hold. After about an hour and a lot of back and forth, I had seats in first on the LH flight.

Earlier in the year, I filed a DOT complaint about United's fare fraud (where they sell what appear to be J or F fares and then put passengers in coach when things go wrong). I'm alleging that United is committing fraud. That the DOT is still (five months later) processing my complaint after several rounds of back-and forth with United suggests that I'm not the only one with this opinion.

It could be that the DOT complaint had nothing to do with how this specific incident was resolved, but my instincts say that in this version of United's Smisek-led war on passengers, I would not have seen this kind of solution without external prodding or the threat of external action.

Just one person's experience. But if you are the victim of United's bait-and-switch fare fraud, PLEASE FILE A DOT COMPLAINT.

One last note: the SFO > FRA flight was so delayed yesterday that I would have missed even the last possible connection to my destination. I'm glad I had the mental and physical energy to fight with United to get an adequate resolution. I'm genuinely sorry that this airline has devolved to this point. If you're not willing and able to gird for battle each time you deal with them, there's a very real chance you won't get what you want, what you paid for or even what you need. I once looked forward to trips on United, but that is a very distant memory now.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 6:42 am
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Originally Posted by embarcadero1 View Post
I used the word "fraud" to characterize his description of my ticket...

Earlier in the year, I filed a DOT complaint about United's fare fraud (where they sell what appear to be J or F fares and then put passengers in coach when things go wrong). I'm alleging that United is committing fraud.
There's a very specific legal definition of "fraud" and I don't think this qualifies. UA is selling fares in the front cabins of certain flights that do not automatically transfer to same-cabin travel on other flights (UA or otherwise) when things go sideways, but I do not think that is fraud. Fraud would be if you showed up for your originally booked flight and they issued you a coach BP and claimed GF was overbooked, when it wasn't. There are several scenarios in which you risk losing a purchased benefit in the event of irrops or schedule change; people flying on award tickets on *A partners run into this all the time.

It seems to me you are buying a one-flight-specific upgrade, whose limitations may not be apparent to you and which UA does not go out of its way to illuminate, but which does not count as fraud because it doesn't turn into a like-for-like upgrade on other flights when changes must be made.

Originally Posted by embarcadero1
It could be that the DOT complaint had nothing to do with how this specific incident was resolved, but my instincts say that in this version of United's Smisek-led war on passengers, I would not have seen this kind of solution without external prodding or the threat of external action.
It is difficult to believe that a phone agent has knowledge of pending DOT complaints.

Originally Posted by embarcadero1
I'm glad I had the mental and physical energy to fight with United to get an adequate resolution. I'm genuinely sorry that this airline has devolved to this point. If you're not willing and able to gird for battle each time you deal with them, there's a very real chance you won't get what you want, what you paid for or even what you need.
Well, I agree with you there. A very difficult and often unpleasant company to deal with, which is openly strategizing against you all the time. Not an airline for amateur customers.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 6:52 am
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Originally Posted by BearX220 View Post
There's a very specific legal definition of "fraud" and I don't think this qualifies. UA is selling fares in the front cabins of certain flights that do not automatically transfer to same-cabin travel on other flights (UA or otherwise) when things go sideways, but I do not think that is fraud. Fraud would be if you showed up for your originally booked flight and they issued you a coach BP and claimed GF was overbooked, when it wasn't. There are several scenarios in which you risk losing a purchased benefit in the event of irrops or schedule change; people flying on award tickets on *A partners run into this all the time.
I disagree, this is very clearly fraud. There is absolutely nothing on the site that would disclose this when buying a fare. I have not seen a big problem with this internationally, but domestically and especially on AA I have seen many, many people complain and I think it's deceptive and fraudulent.

When you go to book, there is a price under the "First Class" column. As far as any reasonable consumer is concerned, that is a confirmed seat in F. Not a KUP, MUP, VUP, XYZUP, instant upgrade, or whatever other crap they want to call it. F is F. And then when IRROPS happen, those people get absolutely hosed.

If they want to sell those kinds of tickets and clearly mark them as "Instant Upgrade", that's totally fine imo. But there is zero disclosure unless you dig through walls of fine print, and that practice should be illegal imo.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:03 am
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Originally Posted by DWFI View Post
If they want to sell those kinds of tickets and clearly mark them as "Instant Upgrade", that's totally fine imo. But there is zero disclosure unless you dig through walls of fine print, and that practice should be illegal imo.
Well, it's the fine print that gets you. Hardly anybody reads or understands the clickable terms and conditions, which is where the language probably resides that makes this a case of misleading-but-not-fraud.

Of course it would be more consumer-friendly if UA put a big red sticker on this fare class warning that it's a non-transferable, this-flight/date-only deal. But UA isn't going to do that if it doesn't have to.

Listen, this is an airline that makes people buy needlessly expensive fare classes just for the chance at upgrading with miles -- and an industry that is lobbying for a "Transparent Airfare Act" so it can conceal the true cost of tickets. There's a lot about airfare pricing and practice that ought to be illegal, but until Congress grows a spine, consumers have to live by their wits.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:16 am
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Originally Posted by BearX220 View Post
There's a very specific legal definition of "fraud" and I don't think this qualifies. UA is selling fares in the front cabins of certain flights that do not automatically transfer to same-cabin travel on other flights (UA or otherwise) when things go sideways, but I do not think that is fraud.
I think it's a bit bait-and-switch. I do expect, when I've bought a first class fare, to be taken to my destination in the class of service I paid for. If UA wants to offer fares that are "F on this flight, J if irrops'd" they should advertise them as such at some point in the booking process.

The particularly sneaky thing they do where they show an "A" fare but if you look super closely at the "view fare rules" link and then fill out a CAPTCHA successfully and finally see the first letter of the fare code … I am really surprised that this thing has not gotten them in regulatory trouble yet. It seems more like a technical problem than an intentional business process and I'm assuming it just hasn't been their biggest bug/feature to work on.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:19 am
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Fair enough, reasonable distinction. Not fraud, but egregiously misleading and deceptive.

Congress growing a spine? Ha, as if. The trajectory of their approval rating is very similar to the trajectory of UA's customer satisfaction.

Doug Parker even had the audacity to urge people to support that Act in this month's American Way...ridiculous.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:24 am
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I read the fine print

Nowhere in the terms and conditions, including the arcane language of the fare code, did United tell me that this was a "business class ticket with the option of sitting in Global First."

That's insane language anyway. If I have the option to sit in a better seat, why would I not always do that?

It's true that I have no way to know whether my DOT complaint has any bearing on this outcome. But I do know that since I filed that complaint, I've been summoned to the ticket counter (because the mobile app won't give me a boarding pass) to have someone say something like "It says here we're supposed to welcome you and wish you a great flight" (delivered in the most deadpan voice you can imagine, doing everything possible to contradict the message and/or let me know I'm being watched).

Is it possible that airlines keep notes on passengers who take action against them? My experience with SHARES makes this seem far-fetched, but if I were in charge of an airline, I might think that a good idea.

While you may not agree, I believe this practice is fraud. And the DOT wasn't willing to buy United's initial feeble claim that I failed to read the fine print, on my prior claim, so I believe others share my view or are at least willing to consider it.

My goal here is to get the DOT to do their job and force airlines to be up front and transparent about what they're selling. Not looking for damages - though the trip on LH in first was much more of a reward than I was expecting. If I were a very wealthy man, I would only fly LH First on long haul flights….but that's another thread.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:26 am
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Originally Posted by BearX220 View Post
It seems to me you are buying a one-flight-specific upgrade ...
That's not how I read the OP. As I read it, he likely purchased an A that was really an UP fare of some kind (P UP, Z UP, etc.).

The handling of these in IRROPS can be a problem.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:30 am
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Originally Posted by embarcadero1 View Post
Nowhere in the terms and conditions, including the arcane language of the fare code, did United tell me that this was a "business class ticket with the option of sitting in Global First."
So, could you tell us what the fare basis code actually was in this case?
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:35 am
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What I find frustrating about United is that there is no way to go back and see the terms and conditions you had agreed to when purchasing the ticket. I've gotten into the practice now of clicking on the T&C, entering in the captcha, and then saving the displayed T&C in pdf form. That way, if there were to be a dispute with United over something like the issue the OP brought up, I can point out what the T&C had stated.

I highly doubt, though, that most United customers save the T&C.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 7:57 am
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And of course the T+C say nothing about how these fares work. The only indicator they're not true J/F fares is the fare basis code.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 8:00 am
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I think they try to downgrade everybody. I was on an F ticket and they initially said my AA rebook would have to be Y. I pushed back and got F.

Same thing with a friend of mine, Paid J and they tried to tell him his AF rebook has to be Y. He pushed and got J.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 8:04 am
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Originally Posted by embarcadero1 View Post
Is it possible that airlines keep notes on passengers who take action against them? My experience with SHARES makes this seem far-fetched, but if I were in charge of an airline, I might think that a good idea.
Airlines (not just United) can definitely compile dossiers on troublesome passengers. If you try to pull a fast one with a phone agent, or are seen as overly argumentative, the agent can notate your PNR and you might find yourself reassigned to 39E next to the lav.

I think UA can also manipulate the CPU system to favor certain passengers. At the end of 2012 I mailed Smisek's office a manila envelope of dozens of boarding passes from other airlines with a polite note explaining why I was booking away from UA. In the first three or four months of 2013 I had some mysterious T-72 CPUs come through when they normally would not have.

Originally Posted by embarcadero1
My goal here is to get the DOT to do their job and force airlines to be up front and transparent about what they're selling.
That is an enormous battle to fight and ultimately DOT's mission is compliance with existing law, not policy enactment -- which is what we really need.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 8:12 am
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Originally Posted by sannmann View Post
What I find frustrating about United is that there is no way to go back and see the terms and conditions you had agreed to when purchasing the ticket.
...
I highly doubt, though, that most United customers save the T&C.
Wow. Yes, I also find this a hostile practice. I mean to save the T&C but don't often remember.
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Old Jul 4, 14, 8:49 am
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Originally Posted by Kacee View Post
And of course the T+C say nothing about how these fares work. The only indicator they're not true J/F fares is the fare basis code.
But if United wants to get all legally and hide behind that, where is it written that the first letter of the fare basis is the "real" booking class? How is the passenger supposed to know that? Technically, I don't know it now - I've inferred it from years of travel.
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