Why Would Anyone Fly United Airlines, Under Any Circumstances, Ever?

alaska from plane

This is not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.

Some background: I flew United Airlines last summer for the first time in years. The company offered a reasonably-priced flight to Anchorage that helped make my week-long trip affordable and convenient.

At least that was the plan. But then they proceeded to lose my luggage, including my tent and all of my camping gear, forcing me to scramble to find last-minute replacements.

Inexplicably, United refused to refund my $25 baggage fee, but instead offered a $100 voucher good for future travel. Since I’ve been trying to get into the travel voucher game, I thought the voucher would be a good deal in the long run.

I wrote about receiving the voucher back in December. Eight months later, I still have not used it. I now have just one month left in which to redeem it, or it’s gone.

The biggest reason I haven’t used the voucher is because United’s prices are simply not competitive.

They’re so outrageous, in fact, that even if I were to use the $100 voucher, United’s flights would still cost more than flights on Southwest and other airlines.

Possible uses for my United voucher

I’ve checked United’s flight prices from Chicago to all the cities on my wishlist, but most of them are crazy expensive.

I travel to Pittsburgh a lot to visit family, so I figured I could easily use the voucher to go back to the Steel City. But the going rate on United for a one-way flight is $233. Compare that to the $69 to $89 I normally pay with Southwest.

Who on earth is paying $233 for a one-way ticket from Chicago to Pittsburgh? Somebody must be doing it, otherwise the daily flight wouldn’t exist. But I can’t fathom any human being actually booking that flight at that price.

My next thought was to find a short flight to some random city that costs exactly $100, thereby getting the flight for free after the voucher discount.

But the only flights in the $100 range from Chicago go to cities like Louisville, Indianapolis and Detroit.

I could visit each of those places on Megabus for literally just a few bucks. In fact, I recently booked a Megabus round-trip to Indy for $2.50. Yes, that’s two dollars and fifty cents.

I don’t want to waste the voucher on a city that I can get to on Megabus merely by scrounging up the loose change in my couch.

departure board

Other cities on my wishlist are just as expensive on United: Houston ($370), Atlanta ($290), and New Orleans (a staggering $391.) Keep in mind that these are one-way prices!

After quite a bit of research, I’ve discovered only three cities I have any interest in that seem to offer affordable United flights from Chicago: San Francisco ($169), Seattle ($181), and Las Vegas ($189.)

Unfortunately, all three are places I’ve been hoping to visit with my friend, and when you factor in full price for the return flight, spending money, and the cost of lodging, a full week-long vacation at any of these places is still going to run at least $1,000, and that’s not in our budget right now.

United does offer weekly specials for last-minute flights, but they’re usually nothing to write home about.

During a recent week, the company’s “great deals” list included Quebec City for $358, Pittsburgh for $161, Memphis for $157, and Tampa for $321. Sorry, but those are not deals. Southwest’s regular prices are much cheaper.

I have one last option, and that is to sell my United voucher. But I don’t believe that is allowed according to the terms of service. If I want to get my $100 worth of savings, I have to get my ass on a United plane somehow, somewhere.

Back to that original question

I’ve written before that I don’t complain about airline prices. And that is true when it comes to the industry as a whole. But when one airline’s prices are so much higher than those of other major airlines, something is seriously out of whack.

And it’s not just their prices that are a problem. United consistently earns some of the worst scores when it comes to customer service.

Remember, this is the airline that breaks guitars and kicks people off flights for taking pictures. And it’s not like United offers any special amenities – they don’t have tv sets and outlets on each seat like Air Canada and JetBlue.

So why would anyone fly United, under any circumstances, ever? Obviously the airline must have some redeeming qualities or it wouldn’t have lasted all these years.

Surely there are some cities in which flying on United is affordable, right? I just don’t know which cities they are. Clearly, Chicago is not one of them (even though Chicago is the home of United headquarters!)

Do you travel United? Have you ever gotten cheap airfare on United? If you have an opinion on the airline, pro or con, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below!

Edit: After I wrote the final draft of this post, I received a letter from United informing me that I accumulated enough mileage points from the Alaska flight to earn 1-year subscriptions to Afar and People magazines. So, um, there’s that.