United Airlines, why do you hurt me?

All I want to do is go visit my family.

I haven’t been back in my hometown since at least last January, probably before (suffering from a case of oldbrain right now). So I’ve been planning a trip to coincide with the wedding of one of my cousins. We’ve been hashing out our travel plans for the first half of 2011, and the rest of the planning (a short trip to Spain and our annual visit to Mexico) went along very smoothly. I had every expectation that this trip would follow suit, so I started searching for fares and schedules and what I found set my teeth on edge.

United was the carrier offering the best price/schedule.

We’ve had issues with United before. Not earth-shattering, trip-ruining issues; mostly, it’s unprofessionalism, disorganization or a combination of the two. Examples include lost luggage, delayed flights resulting from shoddy maintenance and causing missed connections and a general lack of patience and maturity in the desk staff. This time, they managed to be frustrating while trying to book the flight.

Let me clarify that: I wanted to give them money and they didn’t make it as simple as possible for me to do so.

I don’t blame the automated phone system that I tried to use, nor the customer service agent with whom I ended up speaking. I wanted to do the whole thing online and that wasn’t an option because they don’t allow for purchases without a U.S. based billing address. We don’t live in the U.S. and neither of us want to use our families as a dummy address for a U.S. based card. I know that people do it, but I’m just totally uncomfortable with that. Too much potential for something to go wrong. And I imagine that it’s against the T&C of most credit card companies.

USAirways allows a foreign billing address. So do AA, Delta and Continental. And these are specifically their U.S. based websites. Even North-America-only carriers like Southwest and JetBlue accept credit card payment from outside of North America.

And when I went to the German site for United, they didn’t offer the same schedule and the prices were much, MUCH higher – to the tune of 200€ more.

You run up against this problem of businesses not wanting your money from time to time. I usually deal with it when attempting to buy goods from the U.S. because the businesses there often don’t want to deal with foreign shipping and customs weirdness. It makes me mad, but I get why they do it: the manpower and time that they don’t dedicate to more complicated tasks saves them more money than they would potentially make on foreign customers.

But the very nature of travel is different. It seems like one would have to have a wider scope of who the customer is and where they are. And if ALL of your competitors are willing to serve this market segment, what possible benefit is there to blowing us off?

4 thoughts on “United Airlines, why do you hurt me?”

  1. annonamoose

    Count me as one of the people who use the family address. It was my last US address before moving here and as a result it’s my tax address (state as well) for-basically-ever as far as the US government is concerned, and it’s where we stay when we’re in the States. I don’t sweat it.

    I’ve done some looking and can’t find anything online indicating that this is a problem. With options for having a US telephone number available, I might ultimately resolve some of the few hiccups we’ve had about that, but we haven’t done that yet.

  2. Yelli

    Had the same problem with KLM (though I have my own problems with United). When I finally booked, I ended up booking through German site because THEY couldn’t figure out a way to help me.

    I also had a problem trying to get back while in the US. They made me call the German KLM…which cost extra money of course- the fee and calling Germany from the US.

    I won’t book through German sites anymore and I definitely don’t feel bad anymore using my US acct with dummy address.

    It always amazes me that when we are trying to give them money, they don’t seem to want it! sigh. Let us know how this was resolved.

    1. Sarah

      I ended up having to do two things that really chapped my ass:

      1) I went ahead and bought the United flights, since it’s a complicated itinerary and they’re the only ones doing the route with just one layover, but

      2) I bought from an consolidator (CheapTickets, to be exact).

      After our last bad patch with United, we managed to not have to fly with them for about 2.5 years, but given the immense amount of airline industry contraction, we no longer have the plethora or options for travel that we once did. So, in spite of my above-chronicled fit of pique, I went ahead and booked with them.

      We had also been doing really well for a while with buying directly from airlines and not through consolidators. If something goes wrong, it’s easier to get help from the airline if you’ve bought directly from them as opposed to a third-party, so we’d been trying to buy direct. But after researching this trip for going-on 6 weeks, I just wanted to get it over with. So consolidator it was.

      Man, talk about First World Problems…

  3. Jen

    I wonder if it’s because they want to get more money out of you by forcing you to go through the German site.

    I agree about the suckage of United. And Delta. Bleah. But no worries, soon we will have one UnitedAmeriDeltaContinentWest airline which should simplify things. :-D

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