Downgraded on a Lufthansa flight. Where’s my business class refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

Ellen LaGow gets downgraded on a Lufthansa flight. The airline promises her a refund for her business class tickets. But it’s been five months and there’s still nothing in her account.

Question

Last year, Lufthansa canceled our return flight from Prague to Denver because of a strike. My husband and I had upgraded to business class for this flight, but we could not get into business class. Lufthansa rebooked us on a United flight the next day.

At the time, a Lufthansa representative told me that Lufthansa would refund $678 to our account and assured me that he had already submitted the refund request.  

I have communicated with Lufthansa several times since then, both by phone and by email. Following your advice, I eventually emailed two Lufthansa executives. But we did not receive a refund. 

Because this refund seems so simple, I’m surprised by the long delay and even more by the lack of response from Lufthansa. I have received only two emails from Lufthansa: one requesting information and the other asking for our patience. I have granted them patience; now they need to refund the $678.  

Can you convince Lufthansa to refund our money? — Ellen LaGow, Boulder, Colo.

Answer

Lufthansa should have refunded your upgrades promptly. By the time you contacted me for help, you had been waiting five months for a refund. That’s way too long. Refunds should take no more than two weeks to process. You were flying from Prague to Frankfurt and then continuing to Denver. The Frankfurt–to-Denver flight is almost 11 hours, and definitely worth getting an upgrade to business class if you can afford it. And $678 is a bargain for a business-class upgrade.

The Lufthansa pilot strike, which lasted for several days in early September, was temporarily resolved shortly after your trip. The pilots have reportedly agreed to no further strikes until this summer, which does not bode well for anyone flying to Europe this summer. Lufthansa rescheduled you on a United flight, but as you note, business class wasn’t available. (Related: They charged me the wrong fare, and now they want more.)

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When that happens, the rules are clear. Lufthansa’s general terms and conditions — the legal agreement between you and the airline — says that you should get a refund for your seat reservation. Most other airline contracts specifically say that if the airline bumps you from first class to economy, you’ll get your money back. Lufthansa also promised you a refund.

So what was with the wait?

The strike may have had something to so do with it. Lufthansa scrambled to rebook so many of its passengers that it may have lost your refund request in the shuffle. But five months? Lufthansa did not offer an explanation when I asked about your case. From the airline’s perspective, that might seem smart, but from the customer’s — not so much.

Nice work on the self-advocacy. You contacted the Lufthansa executive contacts I list on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. It’s a shame they didn’t respond. They could have helped a customer in need and avoided a story in a nationally-syndicated column.

I contacted Lufthansa on your behalf. A few days later, you heard back from the airline.

“Lufthansa refunded the money for the canceled business seats,” you reported. It took the carrier six months to do so, and I have to think that your contact prompted Lufthansa to finally issue the refund. Thanks so much for your assistance.”

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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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