I paid Airberlin for an upgrade, so why was I seated in economy?

By | April 11th, 2017

After Erik Crow prepays for an upgrade to business class on Airberlin, he finds himself rebooked on Lufthansa in an economy seat — and his luggage goes missing. Can our advocates help him obtain a refund of his upgrade prepayment and reimbursement for his luggage?

Question: I bid on an upgrade of my economy class seat on Airberlin, which sent me an email “congratulating” me and confirming my upgrade to business class. I prepaid 700 euros ($742) for the upgrade to a business class seat. But when I arrived at the airport, I found that my flight had been rebooked on Lufthansa, in an economy class seat.

And on my return flight, Airberlin lost my luggage and didn’t find it for five days. I paid $175 for a replacement bag and contents. When Airberlin finally located my bag, I had to go 36 miles to Miami from Coral Springs, Fla., to retrieve the bag.

I have complained to both airlines about my treatment. Lufthansa merely told me to contact Airberlin, which ignored several emails from me. The only response I received was an email telling me that I would have to send an email to another department of Airberlin.

This is unacceptable. Can you help me get a refund from Airberlin for the upgrade that I didn’t receive and for the cost of my bag? — Erik Crow, Coral Springs, Fla.

Answer: You’re right – it’s unacceptable for Airberlin to ignore your emails and to brush you off, just as it was for them to fail to refund you for the upgrade you didn’t get to use and to lose your bag.

Related story:   He accepted the upgrade and signed a contract. Now he wants his money back.

Your paper trail doesn’t indicate where you were flying to, but according to Airberlin’s terms and conditions of carriage for flights to and from the U.S. and Canada,

When a passenger holding a ticket for carriage for a higher class of service between an origin and a destination is required by carrier to use a lower class of service for any portion of such carriage, the amount of refund will be as follows: …

For Round Trip … Tickets: The difference between 50 percent of the round trip fare for the higher class of service and 50 percent of the round trip fare for the lower class of service between the points where the lower class of service is used.

According to this language you should be refunded the difference between half of the total cost of your ticket, including the $742 you paid for the upgrade, and half the cost of the economy class set you were ticketed on by Lufthansa.

With regard to your missing bag, the terms and conditions of carriage provide that

The liability for damage due to delayed performance in the carriage of baggage is limited to … 1,131 SDR [Special Drawing Rights] …

Carrier is not liable for any loss or claim of whatsoever nature … arising out of or in connection with carriage or other services performed by carrier incidental thereto, unless the damage is proved to have been caused by the negligence or willful fault of carrier and there has been no contributory negligence of the passenger. …

A carrier issuing a ticket or checking baggage for carriage over the lines of others does so only as agent.

Since the bag went missing after you checked it with Airberlin, it needs to assume liability for the delay even though you actually flew on Lufthansa. And $175 certainly falls within the 1,131 SDR limit (approximately $1,523).

You might have escalated your complaint to higher-ranking executives of Airberlin using our company contacts, but you asked our advocacy team for help instead.

Our advocates reached out to Airberlin on your behalf. You have notified us that Airberlin has refunded you the cost of your upgrade and the additional $175 you paid to replace your lost bag.

  • Mark

    I suspect that Crow has been short-changed by that settlement.

    Under the EC 261 regulations, you’re entitled to a 75% refund of your airfare if you are subject to an involuntary downgrade on a long haul flight. That would be 75% of the base economy fare, and 75% of the upgrade fee – which I suspect would be worth more than the upgrade fee refund.

    It also sounds like Crow was rebooked onto a different flight from his original one – if that was the case, and he arrived at his destination more than 4 hours after the originally scheduled arrival time, he could have additionally claimed €600 compensation, assuming that the rebooking wasn’t caused by “extraordinary circumstances”

  • Michael__K

    Air Berlin is an EU Community Carrier and therefore EC Regulation 261 trumps Air Berlin’s terms and conditions of carriage on all flights, and that includes the downgrade compensation terms…

    BTW, has anyone at Air Berlin reviewed their own published terms and conditions in the past two decades?

    Because, even if you take their downgrade compensation terms at literal face value, if you fully cite them in their entirety, they are obsolete and don’t apply to Business Class fares or to flights on A-330s or to flights on to any other jet aircraft on their current fleet besides the B-737 (which they don’t use on this route…)

    (a) First Class fares applicable on jet aircraft;
    (b) First Class fares applicable on propellor aircraft;
    (c) One Class Standard Service fares;
    (d) Economy Class, Tourist Class or Coach Class fares applicable on jet aircraft;
    (e) Economy Class, Tourist Class or Coach Class fares applicable on propellor aircraft
    (f) Thrift Class fares applicable on jet aircraft;
    (g) Thrift Class fares applicable on propellor aircraft;
    The form “Jet Aircraft” as used above means A-300, BAC-111, B-707, B-720, B-720B, B-727, B-737, B-747, Caravelle Convair, Convair 880, Convair 990, Comet 4, Comet 4-C, DC-8, DC-9, DC-10, Ilyushin IL-62, L-1011, Tupolev TU-114 and VC-10.

  • Johng

    Hi Michael

    EU reg 261 only applies for either:

    1. Flights that have departed from an EU airport, operating by any airline:
    2. Flights arriving into an EU airport and be operated by an EU airline.

    It looks like he was flying from USA to Canada so he was not covered by the regulations.

  • Johng

    Hi Mark

    I don’t think EU regulation 261 is relevant because it looks like he was flying from USA to Canada

    EU reg 261 applies for:

    1. Flights that have departed from an EU airport, operating by any airline:
    2. Flights arriving into an EU airport and be operated by an EU airline.

    Hence i don’t think he was covered.

  • Michael__K

    Not possible. Air Berlin doesn’t fly from USA to Canada…. That would violate cabotage law.

  • Johng

    Hi Michael

    Good point re routing. The question is where was he flying to.

  • Michael__K

    Either DUS or TXL. Looks like those are the only flights on AB metal from MIA.

  • MarkKelling


    Cabotage covers flying between points within the same country by a foreign airline. Canada is not part of the US last time I checked. :-)

  • Michael__K

    Because our Open Skies agreement with Canada, much like our similar agreements with other countries, is limited to US and Canadian carriers only (except for some charters and certain types of private flights which are exempt).

  • PsyGuy

    This is a classic example of how to first follow the standard self advocacy suggestions (something belonging in an FAQ). Sometimes I wonder if the LW’s are just lazy and want Chris to do it for them?

  • PsyGuy

    Well this is Germany, they feel they haven’t done anything wrong in a little over 7 decades, why would they start acknowledging mistakes now?

  • PsyGuy

    Wait, Canada isn’t part of the USA? I thought when Americans referred to “Up North” they were talking about Canada? Why then do I have to go through US Immigration in Vancouver then?

  • PsyGuy

    Does anyone wonder if airlines are going to start to blacklist PAX who file EU261 claims?

  • Michael__K

    The compensation is mandatory regardless of whether a passenger files a claim or not and the National Enforcement Bodies have authority to sanction carriers for non-compliance.

  • AAGK

    I’m sure the pax notes indicate whether it is considered a PITA or not, like that rabbi with the Sup Ct case. I’m sure it will affect little things upgrade denials and response time, etc.

  • PsyGuy

    Yeah, but isn’t is possible even probable that next time you want an upgrade or have a problem and need a break someone’s going to look and see you’re a complainer and then say no?

  • Michael__K

    If they’re willing to risk a major scandal and millions in fines in favor of retribution that doesn’t have a direct clear benefit to their bottom line even if they get away with it.

  • PsyGuy

    Sort of like dragging a paid PAX off a plane so that an employee can get a ride to a destination city? Yeah, that’s never going to happen.

  • Michael__K

    IDB compensation for a few passengers costs far less than cancelling a full flight for lack of crew. So there was a clear, direct, rational bottom-line motivation in that example.
    Chicago Aviation Police going rogue and putting the passenger in the hospital and creating a viral PR nightmare was an indirect and very unexpected side effect.

    I don’t ever rule out the possibility of human beings making foolish, irrational, scandalous choices, but that’s more the exception than the norm.

  • PsyGuy

    We disagree on which is the exception and which the norm.

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