Bay Area couple fights for frequent flier upgrade

March 15, 2013 8:22:44 PM PDT
It's getting easier to rack up frequent flyer miles, but it can be hard to use them. A San Francisco couple saved up miles for three years so they could fly business class to Europe and when it came time to book it, they hit a wall.

Frequent flyer miles are not what they used to be. You can rack up thousands of miles, but airlines are putting more and more restrictions on using them, especially for upgrades. This couple had plenty of miles, they booked nearly a year in advance, and still couldn't get roomier seats.

Marston and Sandra Nauman of San Francisco have fond memories of their cruise down the Danube River. It was a smooth ride from Budapest to Prague, with only one hitch -- the flight back home.

"We had saved these miles specifically for this long trip," said San Francisco resident Sandra Nauman.

The couple used 200,000 miles from their United Mileage Plus account to book two seats in business class on United Airlines.

"Basically we wanted to have business class so we could have a little more comfort," said Marston.

United confirmed business class seats for all legs of their trip, except one -- the 13-hour flight home from Frankfurt. For that, they were put on a waiting list, even though they'd already used extra miles for the upgrade.

"They took all our business class miles and allocated them for the whole trip, despite the fact we were waitlisted," said Sandra.

"Representatives from United, they all assured us, 'Oh, you won't have any trouble upgrading, just call,'" said Marston.

They did call repeatedly, but couldn't get off the waiting list. They flew off to Europe, took their cruise and on the way home ran into a little anxiety.

"We got to the airport at Frankfurt and there was great confusion," said Marston.

"We were bumped by a full paying passenger, that's what we were finally told," said Sandra.

The couple did not get to sit in business class, but did get seats with extra leg room in economy plus. They also got a promise for a refund for an upgrade they never received.

"So when we got home, we started to call and got nowhere," said Marston.

The Naumans called and wrote to United. They said the airline would not reimburse their miles because they flew back in economy plus.

"We were told by a friend to contact 7 On Your Side," said Sandra.

We contacted United Airlines which looked into their case and weeks later, the airline reimbursed 40,000 miles to their account.

United tells us: "Because an upgrade wasn't available on the return, we placed them on a waitlist, and an agent offered complimentary extra-legroom Economy Plus seating. After the Naumans returned home, another agent mistakenly delayed reinstating their miles. We have since reinstated those miles and apologized for the inconvenience."

"We were very happy to get our miles back, thinking that it would never work. You came to our rescue," said Sandra.

United's Mileage Plus policy says you can use miles for an upgrade, but only if there are seats available in the business or first class sections. United says it does hold back some premium seats for passengers booking at the last minute.


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