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United promotion includes unwelcome price hike

Kudos to Arnie Weissmann for his recent “From the Window Seat” column in the travel trade publication, Travel Weekly, taking United to task for a Mileage Plus promotion which was disingenuous at best, downright sleazy at worst.

The promotion in question was direct-marketed to selected Mileage Plus members, offering them a 2,000-mile bonus for their next United flight. What the offer neglected to disclose is that the fares displayed when using the promotion code are as much as twice as high as those available through normal channels. In many cases, travelers would spend less by buying the cheapest ticket and purchasing 2,000 bonus miles for $94.13 than by earning 2,000 bonus miles and paying the higher fares.

Bottom line: a consumer who didn’t compare the prices keyed to the offer with prices independent of the offer would probably significantly overpay for his ticket in order to earn the bonus.

In response to Weissmann’s queries, United argued that by displaying both the lowest available fare and the fare linked to the offer, the consumer enjoyed transparency. Weissmann’s idea of transparency (and mine) differs from United’s: “To me, transparency would be a display saying that you can pay $208.80 for a ticket, $208.80 + $94.13 for a ticket plus 2,000 miles or $484.80 for a ticket plus 2,000 ‘bonus’ miles.

“Which would you pick?”

Which indeed.

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