The United Airlines Frequent Flyer Miles Litigation?

The list of reasons to dislike airlines is long and familiar.  Ticket change fees, checked bag fees, bumped flights, false imprisonment on the runway, and the inevitable delays.  Now, a disgruntled United Airlines passenger is adding another item to his list: finding himself robbed of his frequent flyer miles.  A Maryland man has filed suit against United in federal court in Illinois claiming it shorted him on frequent flyer miles by using the straight line distance, rather actual distance, to calculate the credit for miles. Of course, litigation is necessary to resolve this dispute.

The lawsuit alleges that United breached its frequent flyer contract by not awarding them for miles actually flown.  According to the lawsuit, the passenger’s flight from Dulles Airport to Beijing International Airport actually measured in 7,276 miles.  However, he was awarded only 6,920 miles, which is the shortest straight line distance between the two airports.

A quick scan of the official rules for United Airlines’ frequent flyer program reveals no information as to how miles are calculated.  However, there is some vague language about being able to modify the “currently recognized” means of accumulation without notice.   When asked by The Cleveland Plain Dealer, a United spokesperson declined comment on how the miles are calculated, but we expect United will argue that the rules essentially allow them to calculate miles however they please.  United did state that it believes the lawsuit to be merit-less.

Given the low monetary value of the “missing” miles, the suit certainly appears frivolous.  It is not unreasonable for United to credit for a straight-line distance between origin and destination.  Other airlines apparently calculate miles the same way.  However, the question is, why doesn’t United just spell it out in the program rules?

In our litigious society, United should have seen this one coming from a “mile” away. Don’t sue us for our pun.

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