A downgrade from business class to economy on SATA Air, but no refund

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By Christopher Elliott

SATA Air downgrades Lawrence Hughes from business class to economy class on a flight from Porto, Portugal, to Boston. A representative promises a refund. Where is it?


I recently flew on SATA Air from Porto, Portugal, to Boston, via Ponta Delgada, Azores. The flight segment from Porto to Ponta Delgada originally had business class available. I booked and paid for business class.

The day of the flight, the airline then changed the type of aircraft to one which did not have business class and gave me a downgrade from business to economy. I flew on the flight in coach. A SATA Air representative told me to go to customer service by the check-in area to receive my refund for the difference in fares.

I went to customer service and they told me I had to go to the office at the airport in Ponta Delgada. Then I went to that office and they told me to go to the office in downtown Ponta Delgada. I went to the office in Ponta Delgada where a woman helped me and calculated the difference as $924 for my wife and I. She had me fill out numerous forms including one with my bank information.

I provided everything they asked for. A representative called me later that day and told me I had to go to the airport office in Ponta Delgada to sign additional forms. I did that the next day. SATA Air acknowledges they owe me the money but they won’t send it to me. Can you help me get my $924 back? — Lawrence Hughes, Boston


That’s quite a paperwork odyssey you had to go through to get a refund for your downgrade from business to economy. Your downgrade isn’t insignificant. It’s a two-hour flight from Porto to Ponta Delgada, and SATA Air should have given you the business class seats you booked.

The refund should be prompt, too. By the time you contacted my advocacy team, you’d been sitting on your hands for two months.

That’s not a paper trail

You started a paper trail for your case — a literal paper trail — which is great. Every case should have a paper trail. But you needed to follow up by email (you can find contacts for the airline on its site) and escalate, if necessary. SATA Air lists all of its executives on its site. (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

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In other words, your initial contacts were helpful, but you lacked some follow-through. If someone in Porto promises you a refund, make sure you follow up with her and then cast a wider net with your follow-ups. Sometimes, it’s the only way to get the company’s attention.

After a downgrade from business to economy on SATA Air, here’s your resolution

Separately, you also contacted the Department of Transportation and European regulators to tell them of your displeasure with SATA Air. It’s unclear if that contact helped or hurt your case, since SATA Airlines said your refund was already in process. (Related: I did not pay to hear drunks on the plane!)

Remember, refunds can take up to three months. They shouldn’t, but they do. Still, my team felt you’d been patient enough and decided to help you with your downgrade from business to economy. Also, I couldn’t help but imagine what would have happened if you’d not pursued this refund so doggedly. I think it’s possible SATA Air would have simply pocketed your $924.

Our advocate Dwayne Coward asked about your refund, and you received a wire transfer for the full amount.

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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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