Uber’s Response

[This is a follow up to my earlier post about this issue.]

Over the weekend, Uber’s escalations team replied to the ongoing email thread, though the reply was basically the same as all their others. At least this one did not try to say that it was because I had explicitly opted not to use the credit, but their position is still “tough luck – we changed it, didn’t tell you and we don’t care.” Not a great bit of customer service.

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Uber’s Amex Credits Scam

One of the benefits that comes with my American Express card is a monthly $15 Uber credit. I don’t use it often, but on our recent trip to Florida, the timing worked perfectly for us to make use of it for both our trip to the airport at the very end of September and on the return about 10 days later in early October.

It appears that during our trip Uber made a change to the way this scheme works (although at least some of their support people seem unaware of that).

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EasyJet vs Eurostar

As part of our recent trip to the UK we took a three day excursion to Paris to let the kids experience something a little different, and see a new country. It is also a city I love having spent a year living there back in the 1990s.

For various reasons, it worked out simpler for us to fly into Paris from Gatwick on Easyjet, but on the return we had a choice of flying back or taking the high speed Eurostar train. Given that the kids have not experienced high speed rail before, I opted for the train. The timing was also a little better for the kids, getting them home before their normal bedtime, even with the train ride from St Pancras across London and down to East Grinstead, the nearest train station to where we were staying.

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Virgin Economy Delight

Our recent (extended-)family trip to Europe meant booking a group of eight people, including two small kids, for flights from San Francisco to London. Virgin Atlantic has recently split their economy class into three tiers: Light, Classic and Delight. Since eight Premium seats was not an option, we thought we’d try the Economy Delight, and using miles to pay for part of it made it basically the same price as Classic.

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Jeep Compass

While in Hawaii, we rented a Jeep Compass from Hertz. Partly because when traveling with a three year old there are lots of extra things to lug around, and partly because it was priced so competitively. Sadly, the week we had with it only served to convince me I would never buy a Jeep Compass.

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Hilton Waikoloa Village

We have stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, on Hawaii’s Big Island, three times now, and it is always a great experience overall, though not a cheap one. And where else can you stay in a hotel/resort large enough to justify both a train and a boat for getting between buildings?

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Review: Virgin America

I am writing this from my seat in the main cabin on Virgin America’s VX321 from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles. The first leg of my journey home. I have seen mixed opinions of Virgin America, but my previous flight with them, shortly after they launched, was pleasant enough that I booked this business trip with them flying SFO – LAX – FLL (on a red eye), and the same route back.

Booking 

I booked the flight on their website directly, and the process was simple, and the options for different cabins or other upgrades were clear. The one thing I would have liked would be a more detailed receipt breaking out the upgrades from the base price, though I suspect there as many, perhaps more, people who appreciate them being hidden for when they submit their expenses.

Check In

At the appropriate time an email arrived in my inbox with an invitation to check in. Tapping the button in the email took me straight to the online checkin page with all my details completed. Since I was flying with just one carry on bag, I chose the no bags express checkin option, and that was that. The next page had two buttons, one for each segment of my flight, to load my boarding passes into Passbook on my iPhone.

At The Airport

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Traveling Light

As I write this the view out of the window next to me looks similar to the photo on the right (snapped with my iPad camera moments ago) and I am writing this on my iPad seated in 3A at the front of the main cabin of an Airbus en route to Los Angeles from Fort Lauderdale.

Unusually though, even though this was a business trip, I do not have a laptop with me. Normally I would have my trusty 13″ MBP in my bag, but this was a quick trip (I was in Florida for a little over 24 hours), and I did not need to present anything at either of the conference sessions I was speaking at (both were panel sessions).

Instead, I brought just my iPad, my TwelveSouth Compass stand, and a Bluetooth keyboard in case I needed something more than the on screen one.

So how did it work?

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United In-Flight Entertainment

Two planes, two different in flight entertainment systems, and two completely different experiences. On the way from San Francisco to Houston last week our flight was on a new 787 Dreamliner. Today’s return (where I am writing this) is on what appears to be a relative new 737. The in flight entertainment systems on the two aircraft were completely different.

Dreamliner

The 787 is obviously designed as an international route aircraft, and its in flight system was filled with a great selection of movies, new and old, as well as TV programs. While there was also audio, I did not check that out on our flight.

The large seat back touch screens made for a very simple selection process and there was no fee for any of the programming, or the flight information/map. There was also a USB power outlet right there under the screen in case you needed to charge anything up (as well as 110VAC outlets between the seats).

The only real negatives I have for the system were the headphone jack being located under the screen instead of in the armrest, leaving the wire permanently in the way, and the lack of any tilt option left the screen at an angle when the person in front reclined their seat. It was still viewable at that angle unlike some of the earlier seat back screens which suffered from very limited viewing angles.

B737 DirecTV

The system on today’s 737 is a DirecTV one. As on the Dreamliner, there are reasonably large seat back screens, which tilt in this case, but they are not touch screens. The controls are located in the arm rest. In addition to a range of DirecTV satellite TV (live), there were also a handful of current movies and an in flight map channel on the system.

Unlike the Dreamliner system though, this one would have cost us around $8 to enable for our almost 4 hour flight (over $2/hour). There is a discount for enabling three or more screens, but still that is an expensive option for some in flight TV. Even more bizarre, the map is not available unless you pay the fee either; only the United Welcome channel, essentially a stream of ads, is available without payment.

The other negative, and I can only assume they never tested this system with real passengers, is that the controls have been inexplicably installed on the top surface of the armrest, almost exactly where my elbow rests. That means I am frequently pressing one of the buttons on the controller. While having the controls on the side of the armrests is not idea from the perspective of people seeing them, placing them on the upper surface of an armrest is even worse. The controls themselves are tiny, and could easily have been located next to the screen where they would be simple to use and not vulnerable to accidental elbow presses.

We do also have power outlets located between the seats on this aircraft, though no USB outlet under the screen, so you’ll need to pack the USB charger too if you want an in flight refueling for your electronics.

United Accounting

We recently called United Airlines to see if there was any way to get an award ticket that had been issued with a return via LA changed to one that was a direct flight since the traveller was a teenager who has never flown alone before & was not confident of changing planes in an unknown airport.

The representative we spoke with was very helpful, and said he had managed to move her return to the direct flight without it costing any more money or additional miles (something we had asked several times). He confirmed that the total number of miles needed for her round trip would still be 25,000. The same as the original booking with the plane change.

We also received a receipt confirming the booking, the direct flights and the cost (both the $5 fee and 25,000 miles) just as the representative had stated on the telephone. That receipt is still visible in the web portal too (I have blocked out all the personal info):

However, when we next happened to be logged in to the MileagePlus website, we noticed they had refunded the 25,000 miles for the original booking and debited 37,500 for the new itinerary – taking 50% more miles from the account than their customer service representative had stated, and 50% more than the receipt / confirmation they had issued for the booking stated the trip would cost:

Misunderstanding

OK, thinking it must have been a misunderstanding, we called, only to be told there was nothing they could do. It was a mistake they had corrected. You might expect somebody to call and confirm that deducting more miles was OK, or at least send an email. Or even issue a new receipt with the corrected amount. But, no. They did none of those things. They just took the extra miles, presumably hoping we wouldn’t notice? Also notice the activity doesn’t show the correction as a separate transaction – it seems to suggest that they actually deducted 37,500 at the same time they issued a receipt for just 25,000. I wonder if they are that lax with all their financials? If we’d been paying money for this, could they have just billed the credit card 50% more than they show on the receipt?

Anyway, I contacted the Twitter support team (having found that social media support groups are generally more responsive at other companies). They took all the info (over private DMs) and after a bit of back & forth, came back with this:

Sounds promising. At least they can see that the receipt still shows 25,000 and something is amiss. But then, 21 minutes later, they came back with this:

No explanation for the mismatch between the receipt and the amount debited from the account. Just a repeat of the statement that they can’t honor the receipt / confirmation they issued (and still show online). Wonder what would have happened if the miles were not there. Would they have called, or just quietly canceled the ticket and let us find that out at check in time?

Customer Service

Most companies, if they made a mistake like this would simply apologize and refund the difference. But not United it seems. They would prefer to upset a customer (and I should note that the customer who booked the flight in this case is a gold card holder who travels all over the world with United for work) over 12,500 miles.

Of course, you could argue that we are still getting a free flight, and the miles were in the account, but the miles in question were coming from another family member’s account as a favour & he only had 25,000 spare (the remainder being ‘reserved’ for a trip later in the year). Now we are left trying to sort this out; most likely we will just cancel the ticket entirely and see what other options there are. Ideally that would be on an airline that actually cares about their customers, and especially their most loyal ones, and doesn’t make promises they can’t keep. Can’t see myself trusting United again after this.