If At First You Don’t Succeed…

by Nancy Bestor

exasperationA friend of mine recently made three separate calls to United Airlines customer service in an attempt to change an airline ticket from one weekend to the next, and got three completely different answers regarding the cost of the change. During the first call she was told that she could not make any changes to her tickets, at any price. According to this representative, she had to use the tickets for the weekend she purchased them, or lose them.

So my smart friend hung up, and called United right back. On the second call, she was told she could change her tickets by paying a $100 per ticket change fee. Unfortunately, she wasn’t ready to make the change at that time, as she had to confirm the availability of her lodging.

When she called back a third time, ready to change the tickets, the United customer service representative quoted her a price $650 to make the changes. When she told this representative that 20 minutes prior she had spoken to a United agent who had given her different (and much better) information, this United employee told her there was “no such thing as a $100 change fee.” So she asked to speak to a supervisor, and after waiting an hour on the phone, was given the $100 per ticket change fee that previously “didn’t exist.”

This has happened to me as well. It doesn’t seem like an airline’s fee policies are set in stone and one just needs to talk to the “right” person in order to have changes made in your favor. On two occasions I’ve arrived early to the San Francisco airport for flights to Medford, Oregon, and have been able to catch an earlier flight home. In both cases I was told that the “fee” to change my ticket and catch the earlier flight is $100, but both times the gate agent waived the fee. Other times I’ve tried the same thing, insisting very nicely that the gate agent let me on an earlier flight that has seats available, only to be told in no uncertain terms that they would happily put me on the earlier flight, as long as I was willing to pay $100.

While the end result most often works in a consumer’s favor, this policy (or lack thereof), still seems wrong. Not all consumers know not to take no for an answer when it comes to airline fees, and not all consumers have the time to spend hours on the phone talking to different representatives. Some people are paying one price, while others are paying another.

The lessons I have learned are two-fold. If a deal sounds too good to be true, take it—immediately! Because if you hesitate even a little, it will likely be gone before you know it. My second lesson is to be tenacious, and ask as many different airline employees as you possibly can the same question. There’s a good chance you might get the answer you’re looking for. There was the one time however, that I didn’t like the answer I got from a United telephone representative, so I hung up and called United right back. Can you believe I got the exact same representative on the phone again? And, not surprisingly, he gave me the same answer he gave me before, and since he knew it was me calling again, a little angrily this time. No worries though, I just hung up and tried again.