He didn’t want to pay for an SAS upgrade, so how did he get one?

Why did they get an SAS upgrade?

Robert Ryan didn’t understand the emails that SAS Scandinavian Airlines sent to him and his wife, Lynne. According to the emails, SAS was upgrading their seats to business class. The Ryans did not want a flight upgrade. But when Ryan asked SAS to restore their premium economy booking, everyone to whom he spoke refused to help.

The Ryans’ story illustrates the importance of patience and perseverance when trying to resolve a customer service problem. It’s not unusual for businesses to refuse to assist customers when they initially ask for help. Ryan made multiple attempts to self-advocate his case before he turned to us.

This story also deals with a rare, man-bites-dog travel situation. There’s a great deal of competition among airline passengers for seat upgrades. But the Ryans were asking for downgrades.

The agents could do nothing to help remove the SAS upgrade — or so they said

The Ryans were returning home from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Chicago on SAS Scandinavian Airlines. They had bid on upgrades for their outbound flight, but they decided to fly home in premium economy seats.

Then the Ryans received emails informing them that SAS had accepted their bid for upgrades for their flight home. SAS was reseating them in business class on their return flight. Yet they had bid on upgrades only for their outbound flight — not their return leg.

Ryan called SAS’ customer service, requesting reinstatement of his original reservations. The SAS agent told Ryan that he could not do this, but his supervisor could. Unfortunately, the supervisor told Ryan that “nothing could be done” because a third party, Plusgrade, manages SAS’ upgrade system. He suggested that Ryan contact Plusgrade for assistance.

Although Ryan called Plusgrade on a daily basis, he was unable to speak to a human being. As a recording instructed, he left his phone number, but nobody at Plusgrade ever returned his calls.

At the Copenhagen airport, Ryan asked SAS’s ticket counter agent to move him and his wife back to premium economy class. But the agent said that she could do nothing to help Ryan. The Ryans were forced to accept their unwanted flight upgrade and traveled home in business class.

Once Ryan was home, he tried to contact SAS Customer Care. But there was no U.S. telephone number for SAS Customer Care on the airline’s website. Nor does the website page for SAS Customer Care have a tracking system for complaints.

Ryan then received more bad news about the SAS upgrades. Citibank notified him that SAS had charged his credit card $1,610 for the unwanted flight upgrades. Ryan disputed the charge, but Citibank sided with SAS. Ryan wrote to SAS twice, filing two separate claims for a refund of the SAS upgrade fee. But SAS did not respond to either claim.

Unrequested and without their approval

“No airline should be able to force a customer to accept an unrequested
upgrade,” says Ryan. “No airline should have its customer care division unreachable by telephone. No airline should tell its customer to deal with a third party to resolve an issue when there was no contract with that third party.”

Nothing in SAS’s conditions of carriage entitles the airline to help itself to its passengers’ money without their specific authorization. SAS’s silent treatment is also inconsistent with the airline’s customer service plan. The plan promises acknowledgment of customer complaints within 7 to 30 days and a substantive written response within 60 days.

Frustrated, Ryan finally turned to our advocates for assistance. (Our website contains executive contact information for SAS.)

Getting help with those unwanted flight upgrades

Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, reached out to SAS on Ryan’s behalf. Citibank notified Ryan that SAS issued a “courtesy credit” of the full cost of the unwanted flight upgrade. SAS didn’t provide an explanation, but Citibank assured Ryan that the credit is permanent.

Ryan told us: “I have a strong hunch that this whole thing turned right after you got involved.” It certainly seems that way.

If like Ryan, you’re facing a case of stonewalling and silence, the three P’s of consumer advocacy can help you. Be polite, patient and above all, persistent. By not giving up, Ryan finally got the SAS upgrade charges reversed.

When an airline’s upgrade process involves third parties such as Plusgrade, should the airline require passengers to request help directly from the third parties?

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