My seat upgrade disappeared, but Lufthansa kept my money

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By Christopher Elliott

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 Lufthansa plane.

Question

I’m asking for your help with a seat upgrade. 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.

At my request, my travel agent reissued the ticket so that both Lufthansa flights had 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 Lufthansa canceled both my upgrade and exit-row seat reservation because I had a codeshare flight. Another told me that the problem was because I applied for upgrades on the United flights.

Whatever the cause, Lufthansa locked my reservation. 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 it’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? (Related: Can Lufthansa really cancel the flight and keep our money, too?)

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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. (Related: How much does my airline owe me for a broken seat?)

Will she get her refund?

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 for the refund. This isn’t the first complaint we’ve received about Lufthansa. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the airline’s customer-service executives on my consumer-advocacy site called Elliott.org.

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. It refunded the $310 you had to spend on an upgrade and seat assignment. (Related: Did Lufthansa “steal” her laptop computer?)

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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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