Using the Smart Upgrade bidding program for their recent flights to and from Vienna, Steven Schmidt’s wife snagged the couple a comfy Austrian Airlines business class upgrade.
But once they got back home, Schmidt suffered a severe case of sticker shock. His wife thought she bid and paid $400 for those round-trip upgrades. The actual cost: $3,400.
Now he wants our advocacy team to join him in a crusade to obtain a refund. But is that something we can do?
This case serves as yet another reminder of the importance of reading all airline correspondence as soon as you receive it. Often those emails contain critical, time-sensitive information that if ignored can lead to unpleasant consequences.
And it probably goes without saying, you can’t enjoy the upgraded seats and then complain about the costs later.
Using Austrian Airlines’ “Smart Upgrade” bidding system
“Before our recent trip to Vienna, my wife bid $100 per flight, per person for our upgrade,” Schmidt recalled. “She received confirmation that Austrian Airlines accepted her bid of $400 for the business class upgrade. We flew and had a good experience.”
The Austrian Airlines Smart Upgrade system allows passengers to enter a price that they are willing to pay for an upgrade. The airline then considers the bid and either accepts or rejects the passenger’s offer via email.
But $100 for an international business class upgrade? Without reading any more of this paper trail, alarm bells went off for me. This fare seemed highly unlikely.
If Schmidt had a confirmation of a round-trip international Austrian Airlines business class upgrade at this rate, I guessed it might be a fat-finger fare.
Christopher has written about fat-finger fares, those fares that are too good to be true. The fares that are accidentally entered into the system by a careless airline employee and then pounced upon by travelers. But often, in the end, it’s the traveler who gets burned.
The Department of Transportation does not require airlines to honor these fares. And so, when a traveler takes advantage of the mistaken fare, they may find that ultimately it’s not honored.
A fat finger fare?
But was this a fat finger fare? I needed to see the confirmation of this $400 round-trip Austrian Airlines business class upgrade.
Schmidt looked for his wife’s confirmation. And he continued to look. But eventually, he admitted he had no documentation that showed that Austrian Airlines had confirmed a round-trip Smart Upgrade for $100 per leg, per person.
Strangely, the confirmation that Schmidt found and sent to me proved Austrian Airlines’ side of the story. That document congratulated the couple on their accepted bid of 3040 Euros (the $3,400 in question).
When I pointed out my confusion with his evidence, Schmidt then complained, “My wife made an understandable error in reading that Austrian Airlines had accepted her bid.”
A $100 Austrian Airlines Business Class upgrade?
Schmidt sent me his entire 70-page paper trail with Austrian Airline in which he repeatedly asked the airline to send him proof of his wife’s Smart Upgrade bid. His tactics were not ones we would recommend. With an accusatory nature and cap locks on, his emails were predictably not effective.
YOU HAVE NOT ADDRESSED YOUR STATED INVOICE VALUE. CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW MY WIFE’S ENTRY OF $100 MAGICALLY CHANGED TO $1,520. THE DIGITS ARE NOT THE SAME! HOW DID YOUR COMPUTER ARRIVE AT THE $1,520 VALUE? WHY NOT $2,135, OR $179? THIS VALUE CHANGE SHOULD GIVE YOU A CLUE.
Austrian Airlines reiterated that there were no errors in the Schmidts’ bidding process. The airline had sent a confirmation immediately after the approval of Schmidt’s wife’s Smart Upgrade bid. The representative also explained that when bidding using its Smart Upgrade system, any errors in the bidding process can be reversed by the passenger up to 72-hours before the flight — with no penalty.
Austrian Airlines had received no complaint from the Schmidts until they had completed their entire trip. Therefore, the couple wasn’t eligible for a refund of their Smart Upgrade fare.
Lastly, the Austrian Airlines representative explained that there is a minimum bidding value of 150 Euros (about $185) in the Smart Upgrade program. This fact made the suggested $100 bid impossible.
Not the resolution they wanted
As it turns out, Schmidt had nothing to do with the Smart Upgrade bidding process. His wife had completed the bid entirely on her own. And Schmidt was spearheading this refund attempt based on her recollection of the experience. She believed that her bid was just $100 per leg, but in another email to me, she admitted she wasn’t quite sure. She conceded that she might have made a mistake.
“But, maybe in my excitement, or with some impulsivity or a senior moment, I agreed to an amount I never meant to,” she told me.
Schmidt wasn’t giving up, though. He told me that his wife holds a Ph.D. and restated his belief that she bid $100 per leg.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a case that we could successfully advocate. The Austrian Airlines business class upgrade confirmation shows the cost of the upgrade. The time to cancel this Smart Upgrade passed without notice. And the couple did enjoy the business class seats.
But Schmidt said he would still like me to tell his story. He maintains that some system error changed his wife’s bid and he would like to warn future passengers of his suspicions.