Man gets United credit card, but no free bag benefit

July 5, 2013 8:06:23 PM PDT
Many airline passengers try to avoid checking bags so they don't have to pay fees. One Bay Area man thought he found a better solution -- a credit card that lets you check bags for free. So does it really work? 7 On Your Side has this story.

Some airlines offer perks for their frequent flyers and this was one of them. An airline credit card lets passengers and their companions check one bag for free. However, our viewer says, instead of saving him money, the credit card wound up costing him more.

Greg and Dawn Graves of Belmont were about to see their twin son and daughter off to college for the first time.

"They're twins, they've never been apart from each other," said Dawn.

The family flew to Hawaii to move their daughter into her dorm room, then to Seattle to move their son into his. You can imagine the luggage.

"Clothing, school supplies, computers, and speakers. For her it was curling irons. He had his rock climbing gear," said Dawn.

They had nine suitcases in all. That's why Greg signed up for an United Airlines Explorer Card. It would let Greg and Dawn each check one bag for free.

"I'm taking three flights in two weeks, that could be very handy," said Greg.

So he booked the flight using the explorer card, went to the airport, and then the big letdown.

"He says, 'I'm sorry, I'm going to have to charge you for this,'" said Greg.

Greg didn't get his one free bag. Neither did Dawn. They were told to pay $25 for the first bag and $35 for a second one. It was either pay up or miss the plane.

"You don't want to miss a flight because you're haggling over a bag," said Dawn.

The couple had to pay for the bags on their return flights too. When they got back, Greg called United Airlines and asked why didn't he get his first bags free?

"He said, 'You need to use your Mileage Plus credit card to get this benefit.' So I'm thinking to myself, 'Duh, that's why I got the credit card and I charged the flights on the card,'" said Greg.

Agents kept telling him it wasn't on the reservation.

"It was aggravating. I did everything right and their response was, 'Well next time do it right and there is no refund for this time. It didn't work,'" said Greg.

Greg was upset because he pays $90 a year for the Explorer Card, just to get the free bags, then wound up paying for them anyway. He kept asking for a refund, but United kept saying no.

"The TV is set to Channel 7, I click it on and wake up with my news and my traffic," said Dawn.

The couple saw me on our morning news show and contacted 7 On Your Side. We contacted United Airlines. The company tells us, "The information required to receive the free checked bag benefit was not in Mr. Graves' reservation. We've reached out Mr. Graves' to explain the policy."

It turns out Greg had booked the flights through Orbitz.com, and United said his Mileage Plus number was never attached to the reservation. However, after our calls, the airline agreed to refund $200 in benefits he would have received.

"Wow, son of a gun, now it worked," said Greg.

"It really pays to wake up with Channel 7 in the morning," said Dawn.

United Airlines says it may be easier to claim the benefit if customers book the flight directly with the airline. The bottom line is it isn't enough to use a rewards card-- you have to make sure to follow procedures and follow through. As this case points out, it isn't always simple to do that.


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