Where is the refund for my upgrade that never happened?

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By Christopher Elliott

How long does it take to get a refund for an upgrade that never happened? Margaret Carroll has been waiting four months for hers. Can we help move things along?


I recently requested a refund from Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) for an air ticket I purchased through them for a Cathay Pacific flight. I had booked a roundtrip premium economy ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong. A representative from OAT air department recommended this upgrade to premium economy because Cathay Pacific had a special rate. I paid OAT an extra $1,300 for this upgrade.

On the flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, I was not seated in premium economy. The reason for this action by Cathay Pacific was a change in aircraft. Even at check-in online, the change in seating was not revealed. This situation has caused me to be very upset and stressed. I paid good money to be seated in a seat of my choice for this 12-hour flight.

I have contacted OAT several times. They keep telling me that it takes time to get a refund from the airlines. I believe that going on four months is way too long a wait. I desire a refund from OAT to my account of $650, half of the round trip ticket. Can you help me? — Margaret Carroll, Livermore, Calif.


If you paid for an upgrade to premium economy, you should have sat in premium economy or received a prompt refund. Cathay Pacific could have been more proactive about notifying you, and the refund should have been automatic and much, much faster.

But an aircraft change — or “equipment change” in airline parlance — is not a bait-and-switch. It happens fairly routinely when a plane isn’t working correctly or the airline needs to accommodate more passengers. Still, I think Cathay Pacific might have alerted you when you checked in and offered other options, such as rescheduling you on a flight with premium economy.

By the way, premium economy is kind of a misnomer. All economy class seats should have a minimum amount of legroom and amenities, particularly on a 12-hour flight. Premium economy is a lie, if you ask me. They should just call it economy class and get rid of the tiny seats that you had to endure for half a day.

Who is responsible for the missing upgrade refund?

You were correct to contact Overseas Adventure Travel in writing. It sold you the Cathay Pacific upgrade and it should have made sure you received a refund for the nonexistent seat in premium economy. And you’re also right that four months is way too long to wait. If you’re still on hold after a month, you can escalate your case in writing to a manager. The Elliott Advocacy research team lists the names, numbers and emails for Overseas Adventure Travel in our database. (Related: Where is the 125 percent cruise credit Royal Caribbean promised me?)

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But ultimately, this refund was up to Cathay Pacific. I should note that your trip happened before COVID-19 — so no pandemic excuses! You could have contacted Cathay Pacific or appealed to a manager. In our directory, there are executive contacts for Cathay Pacific, too.

I reached out to Overseas Adventure Travel and Cathay Pacific on your behalf. Five months after you requested a refund, you finally received it. (Related: Can I use Cathay Pacific miles to escape from New York?)

(*If you want to read more upgrade shenanigans, here’s one that is passenger-inspired:  This request for an upgrade failed in the worst way!)

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in São Paulo.

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