Downgraded On Award Ticket?

Filed Under: Awards

Reader Young asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Hi, Ben,

My family recently completed a trip between US and Europe. We reserved four business class seats using US Airways’ mileage. On the way back from FRA to ORD, United Airline downgraded three of our seats from Business class to Economy class because the scheduled flight was cancelled due to weather condition. Only my seat was preserved in Business class probably due to my 1K status. I sent a message to UA customer relationship for some compensation, but was told that I need contact US Airways as the tickets were issued by US Airways. Please advise what I should expect for a reasonable compensation, and which airline is responsible for it.

Appreciate your help!

While airlines have contracts of carriage and fare rules that are as long as the Bible, they do surprisingly little to address situations like these. So here are my general thoughts on the situation:

The EU has some of the best airlines regulations in the world

It’s not necessarily specific to this case, but as a general note I think it’s worth pointing out just how awesome EU261 is, which sets very clear government guidelines for air travel compensation for travel in Europe. For example, when my flight from Frankfurt to Salzburg was canceled last year, I was issued 250EUR cash compensation. They still make you fight for it, but at least the regulations are crystal clear.

In this case EU261 is a moot point, since the cause of the cancellation was weather.

It’s amazing how little contracts of carriage actually say

Airlines publish lengthy contracts of carriage, but have you ever actually read them? It’s amazing how little consumer protection they actually offer. For example, here’s part of US Airways’ contract of carriage covering cancellations and schedule changes:

Schedules are subject to change without notice. US Airways is not responsible or liable for substituting aircraft, changing seat assignments, making connections, failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or changing the schedule of any flight.

When you really think about that, it’s kind of amazing. You can book a non-refundable ticket, and if you change your mind you’re out of luck and can’t cancel. Meanwhile the airline isn’t at all responsible or liable for changing schedules, not operating flights, etc. In other words, as far as they’re concerned, they’re within their rights if they get you to your destination six weeks later, if they so please.

When a flight is canceled you’re entitled to be accommodated on the “next available flight.” How that’s defined is a gray area at times.

Once you accept an alternative routing, you waive your rights

Okay, so that’s an oversimplification, but I think it’s accurate for the most part, and in particular in this situation.

When your flight is canceled you’re entitled to be accommodated on the “next available flight.” How that’s defined gets complicated, especially when you booked through one airline and are flying a different one. And it’s also tricky because there are so many different types of fares. Are you entitled only to be accommodated if your original fare class is available? Or in your original class of service? Or…?

In situations like cancellations, though, you have a bit of flexibility in terms of how you’d like to be accommodated. The next available flight might only have economy class space, while you might otherwise have the option of waiting a couple of days and being accommodated in the premium cabin you originally booked.

So in this case it sounds to me like United was doing everything they could. A flight was canceled for reasons outside of their control, and they were using some sort of priority system for trying to accommodate people on other flights, probably going by status, fare class, etc.

Once you agreed to being rebooked, though, that’s it.


What would I do in this specific situation?

So there’s no compensation due here (which is to say that there’s no law that entitles you to anything), though I certainly think a “gesture of goodwill” is due, as the airlines like to say.

I think United did everything they could, and from their perspective you chose to accept accommodation in economy class for three of the four tickets on an alternative flight.

I would be emailing US Airways and requesting the “difference in fare” between economy and business class. So in this case if you were simply flying between the US and Europe and your return got downgraded, I would be requesting 20,000 Dividend Miles per person, which is the one way difference in mileage between business class and economy class. I think that would be fair in this instance.

What would I have done differently?

For future reference, how would I have tackled this? So I don’t know exactly what was done here, but I would have done two things:

  • I would have made it clear to the agent that I wanted to be accommodated in my original class of service, even if that meant taking a later flight home
  • If United were unable to help, I would call US Airways, since they were the ones that issued the ticket, as they might be willing to open space on their own flights

Bottom line

Call me jaded, but I have very little faith in airlines when things go wrong. And I have even less faith in them after reading their contracts of carriage.

When situations occur that are outside of the airlines’ control, things spiral downwards. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t agree to an alternative unless you’re happy with it.

Of course you have to be reasonable, and ultimately we all have different priorities. If you need to be at work the next day and the only option is in economy class, then take it. But at the same time don’t agree to economy with a promise that they’ll “try” to get you into business class, assuming you otherwise wouldn’t fly economy.

Instead, if they try to accommodate you in economy class and you don’t mind waiting longer for a flight in business class (assuming you originally booked that), tell them that. If you tell them you want to be accommodated in your original class of service, they should be willing to work with you on that, as it’s not an unreasonable request.

What has been your experience being rebooked in the event of a cancellation on an award trip?

  1. Ben- We had a similar scenario last week. We were Flying EY JFK-AUH-MLE on an AA First class award. We were downgraded from First to Business on the JFK-AUH portion as they substituted the aircraft after an 8 hour delay. Any idea what we can ask for? We have no use (that we know of) for EY miles… They also lost all our bags for 3 days but that’s another story. Can i request cash compensation for the difference between a paid business and first ticket?

  2. Your advice to “make it clear to the agent that I wanted to be accommodated in my original class of service, even if that meant taking a later flight home” only works in some circumstances. In 2006, I was involuntarily downgraded on a Qatar Airways flight from DOH-LHR due to an aircraft swap. I took the tact above and insisted that I wanted to be reaccommodated in Business Class on the next flight instead. All that got me was a visit from Qatar Airways security in the Premium Terminal and a warning that if I didn’t sign a waiver of my claims for the downgrade, I would be deported back to India on the next flight rather than even transported to London in Economy. All of us invol downgrades (about a dozen of us) were even escorted out of the Premium Terminal to wait the next 2 hours in the regular terminal since we had been downgraded and the Premium Terminal was only for passengers departing Doha in Business Class.

    So your advice may be great when flying on US/Euro carriers, but I would not suggest standing your ground when dealing with carriers based in more authoritarian countries. The consequences can be quite far reaching and unpleasant. The contract of carriage makes no guarantee as to schedule or class of service and reserves the right to deny you passage for any or no reason. Just suck it up and pursue the matter after the fact.

  3. @David – sounds like the same situation as above. Since you booked an AA award, you’d go back to AA to get a miles refund, not EY. But with respect to the bags I think I would have been asking EY for compensation at the time since you’d need to replace what was in the missing bags. Since your ticket was an award there’s no way anyone is giving you cash for the downgrade.

  4. A few years ago, we used 250,000 US Air miles for two First Class seats on a United flight from JFK to maybe Frankfurt with a connection to CDG. Which exact trip if fuzzy but this part isn’t. Just happened to check my reservation on the United website months later (and months before my trip) and they had changed my flight to a United flight with no First Class. Should have been only 200,000 miles. I called US Air asking to be refunded the 50,000 miles I was due and there was no way they would or could do anything. Only option was to cancel and try to rebook with all of the risk that entailed.

    In the end, I had enough miles and was able to snag Lufthansa First and we decided to return home from Brussels and flew home United First. But it’s a good article and further proof that they can really do whatever they want and good luck to you! If I didn’t have enough miles to hold the existing and rebook something better later, who I would have just been screwed.

  5. @ Lucky – Kind of in the same topic area: I booked United award tickets in J. On the final leg of the return flight (DEN-SMF), the flights are two cabin only, F and Y. United said F is unavailable, so we are in Y. I’m wondering if that’s just “how it is” with mileage award bookings, or is it worth my time to argue with United that since I will have to fly a Y leg for a J booking, I should get some miles back? Incidentally, on the departure UA flight, we are booked in F, so I know that they do book J awards into F on two cabin flights. Thx!

  6. I have a similar situation. I’m booked on a complicated UA itinerary in business for SEA-CMB-SEA with stopovers and 22 hour layovers in TPE and PEK. My CMB-BKK flight on return was downgraded to economy due to aircraft switch and no biz cabin. I asked for compensation in form of upgrade on outbound SEA-SFO leg which didn’t have biz space originally. Denied. Asked instead for waived change fee should i make changes in the future and they granted that. I don’t have status, so that does have value if alternative flights actually open up. Should i have asked for smth more/different?

  7. I had a similar scenario occur but not invoking wether but aircraft change. I was flying AB on US miles in business but was put on EY in coach when AB changed to an aircraft w/o business. US gave me 12k of my 120k miles back but so far no $ and so far AB has ignored all my emails. I’m still trying.

  8. @LindaK – Have united call you (a little known feature) so that you get connected w/ a ‘good’ agent and request ‘I’ class. this will move you to the top of the upgrade list as it makes it look like you’ve been a displaced first class passenger 🙂

  9. @ David — No, no cash compensation AFAIK, though I’d request the difference in miles from American between first and business class.

  10. @ LindaK — Nothing to argue, unfortunately. If there’s no award space and you were never confirmed in that class of service, you’re not entitled to first class on that segment.

  11. @ turgutbey — Nope, in that case that’s about all you can expect. They won’t do more since the change was in advance and you ultimately have the option to cancel.

  12. Ben, how long did it take for you to receive your EU compensation? My ZRH-EWR flight on 7/21 went MX and canceled after an 8 hour delay. I sent a letter to UA but they said they would need 30 days to even reply. I am a 1K and I really don’t want to put up a fight. Did you file a claim or did the airline make good an honor it? I am due 600 Euro.

  13. @ Angelina — I just contacted the airline directly, and it took several weeks before they responded, but once they did it was to my satisfaction.

  14. I had a similar incident happen to me last month.

    I has a US Airways award, JFK-IAH-PEK on United Business and Air China F. There was a delay in the first flight so that there would be a misconnect in IAH. I called up United and was rebooked on EWR-PEK in United Business the next day (there was no F on that plane). United would not rebook me on Air China F for JFK-PEK.

    I reached out to United & US Airways about a goodwill gesture. US Airways says I’m SOL since United was the operating carrier & they already paid for the F seat when the ticket was booked. I have no status in USDM but am AA Plat. I reached out to United and was offered a $250 e-voucher & 8,750 miles but only after writing multiple times and rejecting the first offer. I still don’t think this is fair compensation but United was such a pain to deal with. I’m UA Gold, if that means anything.

    In retrospect, I probably should have pushed harder for JFK-PEK on Air China F but I was doing this rebooking at the airport on the phone an hour before my originally scheduled departing flight.

  15. I know there’s far more important issues in the world today, but one day, when we honestly don’t have more pressing issues to worry about (shootings, wars, famine), it would be nice if SOMEONE could introduce some legislation to better protect travelers. There are consumer protection laws, why not traveler protection? You can pay extra for a specific itinerary to get to your destination at a certain time, and the airline can change your ticket/schedule without notice AND will then charge you if you dare attempt to change your ticket to better fit your original schedule. American carriers are con artists. Have you seen the profits of American carriers vs. international airlines? You can pay them for a specific service but they don’t necessarily have to give you exactly what you paid for. Their carrier agreements basically absolve them of any responsibility in the event of something going wrong (whether it’s in or out of their control). Meaning, they can lose your bags forever, get you to your destination late and downgrade you a cabin class without having to give you a thing. It’s like going into a car dealership, handing them a check for $60,000 and them deciding to give you a Ford Escort rather than the Mercedes you paid for because they “had a last minute equipment change”…obviously there’s a major difference in financial impact, but you get what I’m saying…

  16. @Lucky, as a lawyer, I think you are giving far too much credit to the Contract of Carriage. Just because the airline writes it down, doesn’t mean that it is an enforceable term of the contract. Most lawyers recognize that airline tickets are adhesion contracts, meaning a lot of the terms are not valid. Granted, there is only so much you can do short of literally making a federal case out it. And I think everyone will get much farther by being nice and politely asking for miles, etc. But I just wanted to point out that travelers shouldn’t automatically assume that they are out of luck because of terms in the CoC.

  17. I had a similar situation last month in Tokyo when JAL downgraded me from First to Business on an AA award ticket due to an airplane swap that had no first class for NRT-CGK. I was disappointed when I checked in but I thought these things happen at least I had first class on the ORD-NRT segment. Turns out JAL paid me 40,000 yen (~$400) right there on the spot. I also got miles for the flight with AA since JAL rebooked the flight as a paid business segment. I hadn’t asked for any compensation and they proactively supplied it which was amazing since I was on an award ticket. So it does happen or I got really lucky.

  18. Had a positive story with United Airlines when I thought we’d be downgraded from BusinessFirst to Economy. In June, we were flying on miles from IAH->NRT->BKK. UA was our flight to NRT, TG from NRT to BKK. Now with two flights a day direct from IAH to NRT, we chose the later (both had Saver Availability for BFirst when we booked and plenty of time to connect) 11:05 am flight. The two weeks before I watched these two flight statuses and knew something was wrong with United’s scheduling. Everyday, one of the two flights was 6-7 hours late departing, waiting on arriving aircraft. The night before, ours showed up on time but did not show where the aircraft was coming from. That had been the red flag the past couple of weeks as to which of the two were to be late departing. Fortunately, at 1:30 am, my wife woke up in the middle of the night. I rolled over to check my phone, status notification our flight was delayed 7 hours, we’d miss our connection in NRT. I immediately got online to see if any seats available on the 9 am flight. There were three. My heart sank, they would never give award miles booked itens first dibs on the three seats I thought. I got on the phone with UA at 1:45 am and we got 2 seats on the earlier flight. I was shocked to say the least. I looked at the seat map for our original 11 am flight just before our take off and it had cleared out in BFirst and economy.

  19. Had a similar situation in March this year. We were booked on a UA award ticket from SYD-HKG on TG in F. We were rebooked at T-48hrs due to a TG schedule change to SG in Business class (no F availability for partner on SG). Took a few hours on the phone with UA to get the tickets reissued to something that would work, but got it done in order to catch the SG F flight from HKG-SFO. After arrival I emailed UA customer service and requested the mileage difference (15k per ticket) based on the downgrade from F to J… Took a couple follow up emails, but I did get the ‘refund’.
    Of note the UA award chart for partners had changed from booking to the re-booking & flight, and the new chart for J from SYD to HKG was actually lower in the new chart, but they would only refund 15k vice 20k…
    Got the refund, can’t complain, other than TG F may have been better than SG J.

  20. Lucky,
    Having been through this with a US carrier operating out of the EU, I don’t think you’ve got the fully correct interpretation
    A weather cancellation is not always an “extraordinary circumstance” under the regulation.
    There’s a court case on this issue. The report here isn’t clear as to specifics of the weather cancellation.

    The burden of proof is on the airline if a case is opened.
    “. An operating air carrier shall not be obliged to pay compensation in accordance with Article 7, if it can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”
    Surprisingly, a maintenance cancellation is not an extraordinary circumstance, nor are all weather cancellations.

    In any case the airline must still:
    1. In case of cancellation of a flight, the passengers concerned shall:
    (a) be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Article 8; and(b) be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Article 9(1)(a) and 9(2), as well as, in event of re-routing when the reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight
    is at least the day after the departure as it was planned for the cancelled flight, the assistance specified in Article 9(1)(b) and 9(1)(c);

    i went back and forth with US Air and their legal staff for a month over my cancelled flight–which was a maintenance cancellation, and the only reason they were not subject to article 7 was that we left less than an hour before the scheduled time of departure, and arrived , actually before the original scheduled time….but no thanks to US, as I had rebooked to LHR-ORD (originally MAD-ORD) as soon as I got the cancellation the morning of the flight.

    We were in fact downgraded from MAD-LHR. I was using Chairman’s J upgrades. US finally came through with 2 new international upgrades as compensation for the 1 hr downgraded flight.

    There are specialized attorneys who handle these matters as you may have opined before.
    It’s free to see if they will handle the matter, so no harm in calling.

  21. If the passenger was told they needed to call US because UA downgraded due to irregular operation that information is just plain wrong. The transporting, not ticketing airline is responsible for getting the passenger to their destination and doing so in the class of service for which they were holding a reservation and ticketed.

    Furthermore if the passenger was downgraded unilaterally by UA and was not offered alternate transportation in the class of service for which they were booked and ticketed then they are most certainly due compensation. This is clearly spelled out in Rule 24 of United’s Contract of Carriage.

    “When a Passenger’s ticket is affected because of a Schedule Irregularity…UA will…transport the Passenger on it’s own the same class of service…”

    Many UA agents are under the mistaken belief there needs to be space showing for award travel in order to accommodate a passenger but that is simply not correct. The CoC’s make no differentiation between tickets paid for with currency and those with miles and so the rules must be applied equally to tickets regardless of which was used as payment. Since UA has always interpreted available space to mean a seat regardless of the fare category, holders of tickets paid for with miles are entitled to access to that space equally with a ticket holder who paid cash.

    I suggest each of the people who have left comments read UA CoC’s. That is your agreement with the airline. Also read EU 261 as it has even stronger protections and while it doesn’t apply for all trips, when it does you have specific rights when downgraded, when there is a delay etc and the payments are extremely generous.

  22. @Steve – Can you tell me your thoughts on my scenario from last week. We were Flying EY JFK-AUH-MLE on an AA First class award. We were downgraded from First to Business on the JFK-AUH portion as they substituted the aircraft after an 8 hour delay. Any idea what i should be requesting from EY? I dont think EU 261 would apply here and am looking for more than a simple refund of miles i can get from AA.

  23. Ben, something I have been wanting to say for some time…if you ever feel like a change of pace, I think it would be great if you started a sideline as a travel ombudsman. You certainly have the experience to determine if a case is arguable, and seem to know the ins and outs of resolving issues. I have read every article by the CN Traveler Ombudsman for forever, and have read Chris Elliott’s columns back to 2006 (although he has become way too off kilter for my taste), but there seems to be a lack of other choices. And, I appreciate reading about the travel problems others have encountered so I can be more aware in my own travels. Give it some thought next time you are bored!!!

  24. David, what does my post say? Read the Contract of Carriage for EY. The first step in any business arrangement is to read the agreement you have with the other party. That isn’t the only step, but it is where you start.

    I presume you had a reservation and were ticketed in First. You were transported in Business. The cause was a substitution of aircraft. See what you can find in the agreement that speaks to that scenario and post what you find (assuming Ben is Ok with that). It will be instructive to others to see how to answer the question you’ve posed by reviewing the CoC. I’m happy to assist but you need to understanding what you agreed to. I can’t do that for you.

    One question. What did EY say when they cancelled the flight and announced that the substitute aircraft would not have an F cabin? Did they offer you an alternative in which you could travel in the class of service for which you were holding a ticket and reservation or was the only option the presented to travel on the substitute plane in a lower class of service?

  25. David, read sections and

    Now you can see why I asked the question I did. Were you offered the option to travel in the class in which you were originally booked?

  26. @steve i do appreciate the education. I did attempt to read the coc before responding. The flight was delayed 5 hours at first and we had no knowledge of the aircraft change. When we arrived at the airport, they simply printed our BP’s on business stock. When i said something, she said the aircraft did not have a first class. I pressed the matter and was told i could choose not to fly and be refunded. They did not offer an alternative. After sitting in the lounge for a few more hours and realizing there was another flight 6 hours later, i called EY and was told it was not an option and that i had to call AA if i wanted to rebook. if a portion of the Ticket has been used, not less than the difference between the fare paid (including taxes, fees, charges and exceptional circumstances surcharges paid) and the applicable fare calculated by us (including taxes, fees, charges and exceptional circumstances surcharges paid) for travel between the points for which the Ticket has been used.

    10.5 CURRENCY
    We reserve the right to make a refund in the same manner and the same currency used to pay for the Ticket.

    If i paid for the ticket with AA miles, could they insist on giving me EY miles?

  27. These things are never simple. I don’t profess to have the answer and certainly am not going to give you legal advice but here are some thoughts I have you may find helpful.

    One question is whether EY was obligated to tell you that you had the right to travel on a flight in the class of service in which you were originally booked. I think they do, but in any event you asked and the request was denied. EY might try and assert that when you accepted the BP for B that constituted your decision to voluntarily travel in B. I don’t think that would stand up but it raises the question of whether EY has made any refund to you whether miles or currency. Have they?

    You say you called EY and the refused to allow you to change to another flight and that they insisted you contact AA. I think that fails for two reasons. First and most important I believe it is up to EY to live up to their obligations under their agreement with you. Perhaps there is something that exempts your ticket from the provisions of section 9.2 either because it was paid for with miles or because AA issued the ticket but I didn’t see anything like that. You should review the entire document and see what you find. Second, it is always in my experience the responsibility of the transporting airline to deal with irregular operations. You can research the various documents where this is spelled out it you want to know more. Start with IATA.

    But back to the CoCs. Assuming you don’t find anything then reread the agreement again to see if there is any section that might reasonably be construed to make it that you were not entitled to the benefit of what EY bound themselves to do under section 9.2. If you can’t then if it were me my next step would be to write a letter to the general counsel of EY describing what happened and asking why you weren’t offered the option to travel in the class of service you were originally booked in and why when you asked specifically to be so it was refused.

    If you don’t receive an answer that convinces you the airline was operating within the bounds of their agreement with you then you could file a lawsuit in small claims court for the damages you believe you incurred. Calculating damages is always an interesting process but you might start by looking at the difference between the cost of a First and a Business class ticket for the route you were seated in B rather than F.

    However I’d suggest you give the airline every chance to explain why what they did was justified. That doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you believe them, but it’s always important to look at any dispute from both sides before deciding who is right. If having done this you believe they did violate their agreement with you I’d suggest a letter back to the general counsel explaining your reasoning and what you feel would be an equitable settlement. I can’t say this is effective very often, but sometimes one is taken by surprise and it’s only fair to give an organization every chance to make something right before taking them to court.

    I hope this helps.

  28. Ah I forgot. I don’t think the section you quote is relevant. The issue is whether EY was obligated to transport you in the class for which you held a confirmed reservation. The CoCs say they will and one would think they would had your ticket been paid for with money (otherwise why would they bind themselves to do so in their agreement with you), so one can make an educated guess was that the reason they didn’t was because you ticket had been paid for with miles.

    So the question is whether this is a breach of contract. I’d say let them explain why it isn’t and see if you buy their argument.

  29. @Steve, Lucky’s analysis is correct; yours is incomplete. A pax displaced due to a scheduling irregularity is entitled to be rebooked in ticketed class of service, but that’s subject to availability. And availability tends to be much greater in Y than in J. So it’s often a choice between “Y now, or J later” Once the pax accepts rebooking, even if it’s in a lesser class of service, the carrier has fulfilled its obligation. The bottom line is that in IRROPS, yes, you are entitled to fly in ticketed class of service, but the reality is you may well be offered Y now or J later (or simply Y now), and if you accept, that’s the end of it.

  30. I have a good one that falls under this theme.

    Last month I was flying on award tickets with my wife and 2 kids. Routing that day was CLT-PHL-BRU on US in J (part of a larger award). Tickets were bought with UA points pre-devaluation and before US left Star. At PHL we were matter of factly informed that the plane had been swapped out to one with a smaller J cabin and that we would have to fly economy. As compensation, the point difference between Y and J would be refunded. I calmly, but firmly replied that we were ticketed J passengers holding J boarding passes and that we weren’t interested in flying Y. I doubt she cared about my opinion, but I think she realized that we weren’t pushovers that were going to take the first offer.

    We started by asking about different routings on US. Were told no J space. Moved on to asking about space on AA and BA. Told no J space. I was searching on my phone the whole time. My wife picked up the conversation and started asking about flying into AMS since that was our ultimate destination that day and it would save us the train fare. At this point we had been going for 10 or 15 minutes and a manager had come over to help / try to get rid of us. The manager told the agent to send us to AMS if that is what we wanted. She replied that there was only economy but started moving us. My wife tried to keep stalling. Luckily right about then I found 4 J seats on a US flight to MAD leaving in 50 minutes with a connection to BRU on IB in Y. The manager agreed to move us to those flights.

    The agent got us moved over, but couldn’t print boarding passes. The manager called the other gate to see what the problem was. The choice portions I heard were, “well they’re nonrevs…get their boarding passes back…I need to get these people out of here.” Told to hurry to the gate where we could get our BPs. We thanked them profusely and said how much we appreciated them working with us, etc. We stepped to the side to organize ourselves before we ran to the other gate. The agent called us back over a minute later and handed us four $750 vouchers. I’m still baffled why. Maybe they printed out when she moved us to the AMS flight?

    I think remaining calm and doing the independent search were the keys. We dragged it out and burned a lot of their time, but weren’t rude. They were frustrated with us, but had no excuse to blow up. They were visibly relieved when I found the routing.

  31. Kacee, in this case it appears the passenger was never offered F later and when they asked for it was told no. That certainly looks like a violation of EY’s CoC’s.

    Bob you are poking at the heart of the issue. Airlines CoC’s don’t differentiate between tickets purchased with miles and those purchased with cash yet their systems do. That inconsistency is in my opinion a blatant violation of the agreement the airline has with the passenger. I’m mystified how any carrier can plausibly assert that your ticket was non-revenue. I’ve yet to find anything to support that position in any of the contracts that the airlines agree to be bound by.

    This is a serious problem that needs to be resolved however unless and until it is passengers are well advised to educate themselves as to not only what they are agreeing to but what airlines are actually doing and be prepared to deal with the consequences of that latter when problems arise.

    I wish Ben or one of the other bloggers would tackle this head on with a well researched piece that gets the facts straight but its a complex area and I sympathize that none of them have chosen to do so. Still its something that is very much needed.

  32. Steve – The agent never referred to our tickets as nonrev. The comments on the phone were telling the other gate agent to take nonrevs out of the seats so we could have them. While it was the correct thing to do, I was a bit surprised based on how things usually work out. I attribute it to her level of frustration and desire to get us out of her face. It sounds like the other agent pushed back, but she clearly wasn’t in the mood to debate.

    Your comments hold true in regards to awards being treated as second class in an operational sense. The agent did specifically say we were selected for downgrade because we were on an award. She also initially inferred that our options were limited and we would have to take what was offered.

  33. Airlines try and get away with whatever they can; however, irregular operations are covers by the IATA interline processes and are well documented. In particular, in the rather gripping “IATA Revenue Accounting Manual” there is separate provision for passengers being rerouted:

    “When a frequent flyer award ticket is accepted for travel or reissued for involuntary rerouting, the receiving carrier, if different from the original ticketed carrier, shall be entitled to receive 50% of the full normal sector fare for the transportation performed as determined from the Flight/Class box of the flight coupons”.

    Clearly there would be no policy if interline rerouting were not permitted.

    Award tickets are not “non rev”. They are paid for in a currency that the airlines themselves created and act as the central bank; they should never be allowed to get away with the disturbing habit they have of treating their (and their commercial partners) best clients with disrespect.

    You don’t get 250,000+ points without doing exactly what they wanted you to in the first place.

  34. @Steve- No, EY has not made or offered any refund miles or currency. I read through the CoC to the best of my ability and I dont see anything that would exempt our tickets from 9.2. I will try sending EY a letter. thanks!

  35. Max, thanks for the heads up on IATA rule. I’ve mostly been focused on understanding the airlines CoCs and have just recently been beginning to look at the tariffs and hadn’t considered researching the airlines obligations under their IATA agreements.

    BTW I didn’t mean to imply that I thought tickets paid for with miles, but was only reacting to what Bob had written (“well they’re nonrevs…get their boarding passes back…I need to get these people out of here.”) which I interpreted to be him saying the airlines was claiming his tickets fell under that category. As he clarified I misunderstood what he was saying.

    If noting else what is clear is that the airlines are routinely refusing to reroute passengers in apparent violation of their agreements. There still seems to be a lot more to learn about exactly they justify this.

  36. I had a similar experience in July. US Air promises Chairman’s members 2 CONFIRMED UPGRADES to Europe- I purchased more expensive flights to get the aircraft that was recommended (A333), spent an extra 600.00 to get to Charlotte since my companion was originating in a different city, and was downgraded on the flight back. Their idea of compensation? 10,000 dividend miles. I wrote a letter but it is abundantly clear their “Special Services” are not the sharpest crayons in the box… What is the ROI of the department/employee contact when you are now viewed as the customers AOLR (Airline of Last Resort)? Priceless….

  37. I have an award ticket that was booked using United miles from SYD-BKK-ICN-LAX. The first segment was on TG First, but got downgraded to TG biz due to TG swapping their 747s to 777-300s (no first class) on the SYD-BKK route. My segment from ICN-LAX is on Asiana First. Am I wrong to think I should be entitled to some sort of mileage compensation? Or am I SOL since I am still confirmed in First on the ICN-LAX on Asiana?

  38. @ Jeremy — Since you’re still in first class for part of it you’re not entitled to anything. If you email them you may get a “gesture of goodwill,” but that’s the extent of it.

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