A tale of two companies

Amazon.com

I have been getting the new-camera fidgets lately. I spent some time reading reviews on the web, and decided on a Panasonic FZ-150. I have had several Panasonic cameras, and have been pleased with them. About midafternoon on Sunday, May 13, I ordered a camera from Amazon.com.

At 6 that evening — this is on a Sunday! — I got an email that the camera had shipped.

I had not specified any form of express shipping, but the camera arrived at my home late Monday afternoon.

I spent Monday evening playing with it, and concluded that it was destined to be expensive shelfware. It was bigger and heavier than my present Panasonic FZ-35, which was a problem for traveling, but not necessarily a show-stopper. The show-stopper was that the macro zoom feature that I love in my FZ-35 (example below) had disappeared (I even went so far as to search the user manual to see if it had just been cleverly hidden somewhere, but no, it’s gone).

I went to Amazon.com, which remembered me, of course. I selected the Returns button: “Which item do you wish to return?” Well, the camera, thank you.

No problem. They emailed a link that allowed me to print a bar-coded mailing label. I packed everything up into the original box and dropped it off at a UPS store. Shipping charges COD, to be deducted from the refund. I can certainly not complain about that. This was Tuesday.

On Friday, I got an email from Amazon with the  full details of the refund transaction. A full refund, less very modest shipping charges.

As you would expect, I am absolutely delighted.

United Airlines

In 2011, I flew over 100,000 miles on United. To go over the max, I spent my own money to fly to DFW (I think) on Christmas day, sit in the airport for two hours, get on the same plane, and fly back. For those who aren’t familiar with the United frequent flyer program, this level is called 1K, or gold status in the Star Alliance. Part of the bennies that come with 1k status is six system-wide upgrades from coach to business class.

It turns out that not all classes of coach tickets are upgradeable. And you can’t tell when you buy the ticket. And there is no way to specify that you want to buy an upgradeable ticket. So much for that March trip to London!

But as it happened, my March trip to Barcelona was upgradeable. So of course, I bid for upgrades. United was very efficient at subtracting upgrade credits from my frequent flyer account. I did not get upgraded in either direction, so I naturally expected United to be equally efficient at restoring the upgrade credits back into my account.

Well, you have to monitor your own frequent flyer account at United. You send them messages, and they respond with a case number (and no information about the content of the message). And nothing happens.

How many times did I ask for the upgrades to be restored? Don’t know, two or three, I guess. On May 31, the upgrade credits reappeared in my account. No email from United, of course, to let me know.

Coach class is so explicitly painful that I thought it might even be worth spending my own money (what a thought!) for a business class upgrade. United offered chances at upgrade for $550 plus 20k miles. For my April 20 flight to London, I sprang for the upgrade options, both directions. As before, United was the very picture of efficiency in charging my credit card and deducting the miles.

I did not get upgraded in either direction. (Need we point out that Amazon.com would not have even charged my account until it had delivered value!)

Now, any reasonable person would expect United to be equally efficient at restoring the miles and refunding the credit card charge, right?

You know where this story is going…  well, surprise! — the miles actually did reappear in my account. As to the money, well… how many times have I written to United? Hard to tell, they don’t acknowledge quickly or with specifics. Here we are at the first of June, and there is no refund in sight.

The year is half over, and the vaunted 1K status has benefited me not a whit.

The ultimate irony is that United’s screens in the airport claim that the United frequent flyer program has been voted the best.

What good is a loyalty program that absolutely and completely pisses off the loyal customers? If there were a good alternative to United Airlines, I’d be gone tomorrow.

PS. I decided not to go to Korea for the OECC conference. There were several reasons, but distrust and dislike of United Airlines was certainly one of them. Sometimes it’s better just not to travel at all.

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About 86dave

World traveler, mostly first and second world Outdoors: hiker, cyclist, photographer Libertarian Author, Gigabit-capable Passive Optical Networks, Wiley, 2012
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