My seat upgrade disappeared, but Lufthansa kept my money

All Ronald LaPedis wants to do is fly from San Francisco to Bangalore, India, in relative comfort. But a codesharing upgrade nightmare threatens to send him to the back of the plane.

Question: I need your help with a Lufthansa seat upgrade that wasn’t delivered as promised. I planned to fly from San Francisco to Bangalore, India, via Frankfurt on United Airlines and Lufthansa. I paid $275 on the Lufthansa website for an upgrade to premium economy on my flight from Frankfurt to Bangalore, but could not upgrade because it was a United codeshare for the Lufthansa flight. All I could do was pay for an exit-row seat.

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At my request, my travel agent reissued the ticket so that both Lufthansa flights had Lufthansa flight numbers. I first requested an upgrade for the United flights on the United website, then I went back to the Lufthansa website to upgrade those flights. The Lufthansa website showed that my record was locked and that I needed to call the Lufthansa reservation line.

I got multiple stories from multiple Lufthansa agents. One agent told me that both my upgrade and exit-row seat reservation were canceled by Lufthansa’s computer system due to the ticket being reissued to change the codeshare flight, and another told me that the problem was because I applied for upgrades on the United flights.

Whatever the cause, my record was completely locked up on the Lufthansa system and could not be accessed by Lufthansa agents. After going back and forth with both United and Lufthansa, with each blaming the other, I finally canceled the entire flight.

I’d like a full refund of the upgrade and exit-row seat ($310) paid to Lufthansa, because the problem was within its reservations system. Lufthansa says these fees are nonrefundable. — Ronald LaPedis, San Bruno, Calif.

Answer: I agree with you — if you paid for an upgrade through your airline, you should receive one. But which airline? This was what’s known as a “codeshare” flight, an odd airline industry practice where one airline poses as another. In this case, United was pretending to operate a flight from Frankfurt to Bangalore, even though it was a Lufthansa flight. As part of that process, it led you to believe it could accept a $275 fee to upgrade your seat. Turns out a technical glitch in Lufthansa’s system prevented the airline from fulfilling the promise, and it had nothing to do with the codeshare.

This reminds me a little bit of the Chinese finger trap. The money you paid for the upgrade only goes one way. The seat-reservation fee you paid was nonrefundable, even though Lufthansa couldn’t give you the seat you paid for. How is that fair?

And don’t even get me started on the seat. Your “premium” economy seat has a barely civil amount of legroom and space, an amount all economy-class seats used to have. You shouldn’t have to pay extra for it. You shouldn’t have to fear being stuck in a substandard seat to Bangalore. It shouldn’t be allowed.

It looks as if you were working with a travel agent. A qualified travel adviser should be able to help secure a refund after an upgrade failure. If that doesn’t work, you can appeal the decision to someone higher up at Lufthansa. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the airline’s customer-service executives on my consumer-advocacy site.

In the end, we fixed this one together. You pushed your case with a vice president at Lufthansa, and I also contacted the airline requesting a resolution. Lufthansa refunded the $310 you had to spend on an upgrade and seat assignment.

7 thoughts on “My seat upgrade disappeared, but Lufthansa kept my money

  1. Sounds like the customer managed to make a mess of things what with his using both the United and Lufthansa web sites to reserve and/or upgrade his seating after using a travel agent for the original ticketing. Things sometimes happen when extra hands come into the mix. I would thing his travel agent could have tried to get him what he wanted without him getting online and reserving seats. After all, what is he paying the travel agent for?
    Nonetheless, it was finally resolved in that he got his money back even though he wound up cancelling his ticket. I still think Ronald’s actions led to at least part of the issues.

    1. I agree the agent should have handled this, but perhaps he never said he wanted to upgrade the seats, decided to do on his own, and only THEN realized the problem. Because a phone call to LH would have enabled him to get seats without all this fuss. Sad

      1. I’ve dealt with LH multiple times. Each time that I’ve talked to them it’s be a flat out refusal to help, disgust that I would be proactive, and they’ve managed to make things worse.

    2. Sounds like the customer managed to make a mess of things what with his using both the United and Lufthansa web sites [..] I still think Ronald’s actions led to at least part of the issues.

      I strongly disagree.

      If United’s customers are not supposed to request upgrades on codeshare flights operated by a partner, then it’s United’s responsibility to not offer the feature in that situation. Not blame its passengers for expecting United’s website to function as advertised.

      But that isn’t even the case here. According to the article, the actual problem had nothing to do with codeshare issues:

      Turns out a technical glitch in Lufthansa’s system prevented the airline from fulfilling the promise, and it had nothing to do with the codeshare.

      1. Agreed. However, my main point is that if one uses a travel agent, then let the agent do the work. Don’t go behind him/her and do things because if something happens, it is harder for the travel agent to get it fixed.

        1. What travel agent is going to spend their time fixing a PAX on a messed up flight. This is one of those customers you fire.

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