Update: United's Schedule Change Policy no longer states 25 hours, it says the airline may offer a refund if “The scheduled departure or arrival time significantly changes,” without defining “significant.” That leaves it at United's discretion–buyer beware.
United Airlines Quietly Changed Its Schedule Change Refund Policy to 25 Hours, from the prior 2 hour policy that would qualify for a full refund. This went into effect March 7, 2020, and is a terrible move for passengers, especially as policy seemingly will apply retroactively to previously booked tickets. Most likely many passengers, had they known of this new 25 hour schedule change policy, wouldn't have booked tickets with United. We've updated our Airline Schedule Change Refund Rules to reflect this very negative change.
Here's the new page with the 25 hours language highlighted:
Why United Airlines Has Made This Change
With the coronavirus, many airlines, including United, are cancelling and rescheduling a number of flights, not just to areas where coronavirus cases are increasing, but in general, as fewer passengers choose to travel. United no doubt is anticipating cancelling flights such that passengers may not have another United flight option until the following day. In the past, that would have been an easy call to United to get a full refund to the payment card used to book the flight. Now, with the 25 hour policy, a passenger whose Monday flight was cancelled and is rescheduled for the same flight on Tuesday won't have the right to a refund back to his/her credit card.
Isn't This Change Against United's Contract of Carriage?
Unfortunately, it's not. Here's the verbiage from Rule 24. C., bolding mine:
Schedule Change- When a Passenger’s Ticketed flight is affected because of a Schedule Change that modifies the original departure and/or arrival time by 30 minutes or more, UA will, at its election, arrange one of the following:
- Provided that the dates of departure and arrival must be within 7 days of the originally scheduled dates of departure and arrival, respectively, transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger;
- When a Schedule Change results in the cancellation of all UA service between two cities, at UA’s sole discretion, UA may reroute Passengers over the lines of one or more carriers in an equivalent class of service;
- Advise the Passenger that the value of his or her Ticket may be applied toward future travel on United within one year from the date of issue without a change or reissue fee; or
- If the Passenger is not transported as provided in C) 1) or 2) above and does not choose to apply the value of his or her Ticket toward future travel as provided in C) 3) above, the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request. See Rule 27 A).
As you can see, the 25 hour rule is well within the 7 days of the original departure date specified in United's Contract of Carriage, so you'd have to argue that you specifically relied on the old United 2 hour schedule change rule when booking your ticket, and that the old policy, even though not part of the Contract of Carriage, should still apply.
Getting a Refund for Previously Purchased United Tickets with Major Schedule Changes
If you do have a significant schedule change with a United flight purchased 3/6/20 or earlier, I still recommend calling United first to try to get a refund. If the first agent won't budge, you may want to Hang Up and Call Again, including to an international United call center, to see if your ticket can be refunded. In particular, if it's for a meeting or event where the new United itinerary would mean you'd miss it, it's a trip in vain, and be sure to state this, as it just may help you with getting a refund.
If all else fails, consider filing a DOT complaint and pursuing a chargeback with your credit card company.
Will United's Drastic New 25 Hour Schedule Change Refund Policy Affect Your Travel Plans?
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