Down and Out in Denver

United Airlines: Denver Deal of the Decade?

Posted in denver, travel by Blake on February 5, 2010

Alastair and I both love to travel, which is also a euphemism for saying that we like to leave Denver with some frequency.  And like most Coloradans we find ourselves flying on United and Frontier quite a bit because they have hubs at DIA and thus lots of available flights to get out of dodge.  In my 3.5 years here in Colorado I have racked up quite a few miles on both airlines and I am now a Premier member with United’s Mileage Plus Program, which sounds much fancier than it is; the one benefit that I actually appreciate is that I am in Seating Area 1, meaning that I don’t have to worry about finding a place in the overhead bin for my roller bag.  I could get into a long discussion here of the relative merits of United and Frontier, but suffice it to say that I know that both airlines certainly have their critics (Alastair tries to avoid United at all costs).

As a Mileage Plus Member I received an email from United in early January advertising what they were calling their Deal of the Decade: buy one roundtrip ticket originating anywhere in Colorado before February 14th for a flight before March 5th and you’d get another ticket free.  You were also promised two upgrades on other flights.  2 for 1, in other words, with a few restrictions.  Not bad at all, I thought to myself, especially as I have been flying back and forth to San Francisco to see my Gentleman Friend pretty regularly and was planning another trip before the end of February.

A few days ago I tried to take advantage of the Deal of the Decade.  I had previously figured out which flight I wanted to take and priced it at $221 on the United website.  So I registered myself, wrote in “Denver” in the Electronic Promotions and Certificates box (both steps necessary in order to get the deal and tag one’s Mileage Plus number, thus allowing one to redeem the free flight) and searched again for my flight.  Well, this time around it was $556, more than double the first price for the very same flight.  I checked my steps and re-searched, convinced that maybe I had inadvertently claimed there were 2 people flying instead of 1.  But no, I had done everything correctly.  So I called United to figure out what on earth was wrong.  And the operator with whom I spoke clearly knew what was up.  She explained somewhat hesitantly that the deal was a promotion to encourage travelers to purchase a particular class of tickets.  I explained that it thus appeared there was no deal at all, no 2 for 1: I would just be purchasing two tickets up front instead of waiting to buy a second one later.  There seemed to be no incentive whatsoever to do this, save perhaps the two upgrades or, I supposed, the possibility that my second flight would be longer and theoretically more expensive than the relatively short flight to San Francisco.  She confirmed all of this in vague language that never admitted that there was no actual deal, but also made it perfectly clear that she understood what I was saying and could not offer any justification for it.

I was pissed.  So I wrote United a little letter on their website, in which I said much of what you have now read.  I explained what I had done and that “one does not, in fact, receive a ‘free’ flight; one just buys two flights at the beginning and pays double. What kind of promotion is this? It’s disingenuous and insulting to your customers.”  And last night I received a response from a customer service representative, which I shall quote in full here:

Thank you for being a loyal Premier member.

I am sorry for the disappointment related in your e-mail. We do realize that there are instances when things do not go as they should, such as in the situation that you expressed in your email. We continually review all areas of our operation, and customer feedback to identify specific problems and take corrective action.

Thank you for your patience.

They are sorry for my disappointment and apologize that things did not go “as they should.”  Is this an admission that they actually did something wrong or is this just deliberate vagueness that admits of no culpability?  Unclear.  I’m irritated either way.  When I get promotional emails from United or any other airline, I know the drill.  I can fly to Bozeman or Durango or some other thoroughly undesirable and underselling location for $89 or whatever the price is.  But the terms are clear and I need to go to one of these scary places in order to take advantage of them.  I’m not saying that offering up two flights for the price of one necessarily is a wise business decision but I’m not a businessperson and I figured that maybe sales were down and flights were empty and this was a way to get people to at least buy one ticket.  Instead it’s just a ruse. Does United really believe that its customers are so stupid that they won’t figure out this sort of trickery?  Not if the DOD boys have anything to say about it!


7 Responses

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  1. ej said, on February 6, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    The last time I flew to Europe, United was promising 50,000 free miles if I booked within a certain time and flew to London. So I did. And then took the chunnel to France. When the specified time went by and my miles didn’t show up in my account, I called, and was told that the free miles were only for people in a more expensive ticketing class than mine.

    So it seems as if all of these promotions are really just a way to get people to spend more money. I guess they are corporations, so we shouldn’t be surprised. But it is irritating nonetheless.

    • Blake said, on February 6, 2010 at 4:44 pm

      True enough; they are corporations whose goal is to make money. All I really ask is that they don’t lie to me! In your case it was the fine print that did you in. In this case I’m not actually sure that there was ANY way to get the real deal. But either way: disingenuous.

  2. Jane Kirby said, on March 19, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    I too took advantage of this “Denver” promotion, because we are from Hawaii, and want to visit his mother, and my mother in law, as she is aging, and we do not believe she will live through the end of the year. I called to try to make a reservation, and they told me that the free certificate needs to be used with an L class ticket, and low and behold there are no L class fares to Hawaii. I am so upset about all of this that I am thinking about seeking legal counsel. Do you still have a copy of the original “denver” promotion? Jane

    • Blake said, on March 20, 2010 at 10:57 am

      Hi Jane. So sorry to hear about your United woes. I checked my email and it looks like this is all I have:
      The Denver deal of the decade: fly free, with upgrades too!

      Purchase a qualifying domestic or international flight originating from any city in Colorado by February 14, for travel completed by March 5, 2010, and earn a free* domestic or international ticket valid for future travel.

      There’s no limit to how many free flights you can earn, and as a special thank you, you’ll receive two complimentary North America upgrades after your first flight is complete.

      Registration is required. Visit for complete details. To find eligible fares, enter DENVER in the box labeled “Electronic certificate or promotion code”.

      All of the rest of the details seemed to be on their website and not in the email itself. And if you click on the link they provide it seems to have moved and then directs you to another website that doesn’t load for me:

      Good luck!

  3. someone said, on April 26, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I should really be cooking. But I can’t leave this site

    • Blake said, on April 26, 2010 at 10:28 am

      Welcome, Someone! We’re glad to have you even if it means that you’re avoiding other work. What do you think we’re doing when we write these entries?

  4. […] over to the forces of evil. That is, United, and their terrible customer service.  Even as they continue to disappoint me with their silly promotions.  There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is the […]

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