How long does it take to get a refund from United?

I have no idea.

Last month I wrote a paean to Delta Airlines in response to Gary's rhetorical question of "who still flies Delta?" and in passing mentioned that,

every flight I've flown on pre-merger Continental and pre- and post-merger United have been absolutely abysmal. The cabins are dim and unpleasant, the flight attendants are apologetic at best and rude at worst. I'm graciously leaving unmentioned the libertarian capitalist fantasies expressed by United CEO Jeff Smisek in almost every issue of their inflight magazine.

Meanwhile, it looks like Gary's on board after all.

Which brings me to the question I asked above: How long does it take to get a refund from United? Back on June 6, I was scheduled to fly to Portland, OR, for my brother's bachelor party. I was connecting in Newark from a Commutair DBA United Express flight, which was blocked at 1 hour 28 minutes, but is actually only about 40 minutes wheels up to wheels down. I was scheduled to have a 30 minute layover in Newark. When I checked in online for my flight, I saw that there were first class upgrades available for $75 and 20,000 United miles. Since flying on United is unbearable, I thought I'd treat myself and splurge for the upgrade.

Cut to me sprinting down Newark's C terminal and arriving at my gate just as the agent closes the door.

Fine; I scheduled a tight connection, I didn't make it. No big deal. After waiting in United's customer service line for 90 minutes, I was given meal and hotel vouchers and checked into economy for the first non-stop flight to Portland the next morning. 

And then I started waiting for my refund. And waited.

According to United's website

In some cases, such as a last-minute change of aircraft or an irregular operation, you may be reaccommodated in a seat other than the one you originally selected. In most cases, you will be issued a new boarding pass. If you were not reaccommodated in a seat with similar or greater value, and you were issued a new boarding pass, the fees paid for the seat will automatically be refunded. If you were not issued a new boarding pass, please complete all fields in the form below to request a refund.

After a week of waiting, I completed the refund request form. After another week, I called to request a refund. And today (3.5 weeks after my missed connection), I was told that my refund would appear on my credit card within 3-5 business days.

Great. But what about my 20,000 miles? The agent explained that she only handled the cash portions of refunds; if I wanted my miles refunded, I'd need to call MileagePlus directly. 

Which brings me to my answer: I have no idea how long it takes to get a refund from United. After all, Smisek is trying to run a business, not an airline, and there's no money in giving people refunds!