I'll take "Sticking it to United" for $49. cc @unitedairlines

I have to move my flight back to NYC on Sunday, so I called them today to cancel and try to recoup the fare, at least as credit. The fare cost $199 one way. First thing I have to deal with is the automated computer IVR that spends ten minutes trying to understand my confirmation number. Then, when it finally gets it right, a real human tells me the cancellation fee is going to be $150.

Its one thing to have that fee when the flight is $450 and I can get $300 back, but to take 75% of my money in fees, that's just plain robbery. There should definitely be a sliding scale for what the fee is. I know I have to pay something, b/c I got a non-refundable ticket, but I don't think a consumer is going to feel good about their experience with you when more then half their cost is being eaten by fees.

So I was all prepared to just get at least my $49 back when I realized that cancelling this seat now is actually giving the airline 48 hours to resell it. The information that I cannot make that flight is worth something...and undoubtedly more than the $49 they'd essentially be paying me now for it. When I checked, that seat is now going for $508--over $300 more than what I paid for it. So basically, if I cancelled now, I'd be out the $150 anyway, I'd have $49 credit with the airline, and then they'd be able to resell that same seat again. Assuming they sell the seat that they say is worth $508 right now for anything more than the $49 in credit they'd be giving me, they'd be ahead. If they sell that seat for the $508 they're offering it at now, they'd be making over $450 on the whole cancel transaction. Why? Because I was nice enough to give them a heads up that was freeing up the ticket.

When I did that math, I immediately hung up the phone without completing the cancel. The heck with it. I'd rather hold on to that seat until the very last minute and prevent you from reselling it than get a measly $49 credit back. I lose $49 but you lose hundreds in potential revenues. Why should I let you win after taking three quarters of my money?

If you weren't just money grubbing, and you focused on the customer, you should have asked why I was canceling. I would have told you I needed an earlier flight. At that point you could have sold me an earlier flight for probably a couple hundred more and then offered to waive the cancellation fee if I agreed to sign up for United's loyalty program which I am not currently a member in. I would have gladly signed up for the opportunity. What's the lifetime value of a rewards member? How much do you pay lead gen companies to sign people up? Why not sign someone up who is already a passenger and help them out instead of trying to squeeze every last dollar from them, only to turn around and profit on them up to 10x?

When are airlines going to learn from Jetblue and Southwest what real customer service is all about? In the meantime, I won't be showing up for my Sunday night flight, and this blog post is costing you up to $450 in revenues, while only costing me $49. I'll take that deal any day to prove a point.