Road Scholar refund: She wants her business class ticket back

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By Christopher Elliott

British Airways cancels Maureen Kelleher’s flight from Cairo to Boston and rebooks her on a different airline. But it also downgrades her from business class to economy class. Is she entitled to a refund from Road Scholar, her tour operator? And are refunds for downgrades from business class too hard to get?


I just completed a Road Scholar trip to Egypt. But on the trip home, British Airways canceled my flight four hours before its scheduled departure. My ticket on British Airways was in business class, but British Airways rebooked me on Egyptair in a leftover seat at the back of the plane in economy class. The ticket cost British Airways $416.

I spent $3,000 on business-class airfare. I’d like to get a refund for the fare difference. But so far, both Road Scholar and British Airways have refused. Can you help? — Maureen Kelleher, Simsbury, Conn.


Flight cancellations happen. But when they do, you should receive a refund for your downgrade from business class to economy.

Your case also raises an important question that we haven’t asked on this site in a while: Are refunds for downgrades from business class too hard to get? (Scroll down to take our poll.)

British Airways general conditions of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline, ​​addresses a change of schedule like the one you experienced. It explicitly says you will get a refund when there is a fare difference and you use the ticket. Road Scholar’s terms and conditions don’t address an involuntary downgrade like the one you suffered. (Related: British Airways lost my airline ticket. Can you help me find it (and get a refund)?)

There are also Department of Transportation rules that have to be followed. It says you’re entitled to a refund if you’re involuntarily moved to a lower class of service. For example, if you buy a first-class ticket and get downgraded to economy class because of an aircraft change, the airline must refund the fare difference. If your flight had originated in the United States, DOT rules would have applied.

How to get an airline ticket refund from a tour operator

Getting a refund from a tour operator is easier said than done. (Here’s my complete guide to booking a tour, which lays out all the complexities.)

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The bottom line is, your tour operator paid a bulk rate for the components of your trip. So refunding a single component may be more complicated than it appears. (Related: British Airways refund disaster: I’m still waiting for my pandemic ticket refund!)

Still, you have rights when it comes to your flight. Even the tour operator can’t take that away from you.

  • Canceled flight: If the airline cancels your flight, regardless of the reason, you have the right to a refund.
  • Schedule change: When the airline significantly alters your flight schedule or causes substantial delays, you can ask for a refund.
  • Class of service change: If you’re involuntarily downgraded to a lower class of service, you’re owed the fare difference.

These rights are enshrined in federal regulation in the United States, and many other countries also have consumer protections that give you these rights. (Related: “Easily the worst airline experience I’ve ever had” — but can American Airlines fix this code-share problem?)

Note: Airlines often calculate their refunds based on the ticket price on the day you requested it. As you probably know, fares go up as you get closer to your departure. In other words, you might get a small refund — or none at all. That trick is often referred to as “airline math.” It’s a little outrageous if you ask me.

Don’t wait

As soon as you know you won’t be flying, initiate the refund process. Don’t procrastinate. Immediate action increases your chances of success.

Ask the right person

If you purchased the tickets through the tour operator, you have to ask the tour operator for a refund.

Keep a paper trail

Maintain a record of your communication, including emails, phone calls, and any promises made.

Be persistent

Even if refund policies seem rigid, negotiate politely. Sometimes exceptions are possible. Use the Elliott Method.

Getting a refund for your airline ticket requires persistence, knowledge, and timely action. But it can be done.

Why aren’t you getting a refund?

I think you have a strong case for a refund. So what’s going on here? 

I reviewed the paper trail between you and Road Scholar. Since the tour operator had booked your flights, it was responsible for getting your refund, so you went to the right place. But after four months, you weren’t getting anywhere. It was time to call my advocacy team.

I could see no reason for the delay in your refund. In fact, two other members of your party had already filed successful credit card disputes to recover their money. By the way, I don’t recommend doing that as a first step to recovering your money. It’s always better to ask the company for a refund first. You can find executive contacts for Road Scholar on this site.

I contacted Road Scholar on your behalf. A representative responded to me shortly after that.

“I’m happy to report that we have resolved the situation with Maureen and are issuing her a refund,” she said. “Her previous complaints had gotten caught up in the wrong department. Thanks for the nudge to escalate so we could get her talking to the right people to resolve her issue.”

OK, over to you. Do you think refunds for downgrades from business class have become too hard to get? I was just having this discussion with a Senate staffer this morning. (Congress is poised to pass a new law that requires automatic refunds when a flight is canceled or delayed, but it doesn’t address a class downgrade.) I’d love to get your comments.

Are refunds for downgrades from business class too hard to get?

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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.

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