Bumped from Business Class (and a Lufthansa A340-300 Premium Economy review)

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Lufthansa oversold business class and bumped me down to Premium Economy. For a recent trip to Sweden and Norway, I had booked a return flight using Avianca LifeMiles: 60,000 miles + $146 in fees for business class: Bergen to Frankfurt to Detroit. I knew there was a problem when checking in: my seat assignment for the second leg, the long overseas flight, was shown as waitlisted. At the airport in Bergen I was told that only the gate agents in Frankfurt could help me. In Frankfurt, they offered only 500 to 650 Euros for people to voluntarily downgrade. Of course, no one did. So, in the end, I and one other passenger were involuntarily downgraded. Lufthansa gave me 500 Euros ($540 USD) compensation. The good news? I got to review Lufthansa Premium Economy. The bad news? It wasn’t good.

Me after a long flight where I expected to be in business class but sat in Lufthansa’s Premium Economy instead.

It’s well known that Lufthansa’s business class on the Airbus A340-300 is pretty bad compared to most other business class products. Business class seats are arranged 2 x 2 x 2 which means that not everyone has direct aisle access. And there’s virtually no privacy. Still, the seats lie flat and you get improved catering and amenities over economy and premium economy. I wouldn’t want to fly this business class overnight to Europe, but I figured that the daytime flight home would be fine. I guess I’ll have to test that theory on some other trip.

Bumped Down

I don’t know why I was one of the two “lucky” business class passengers that got bumped down to Premium Economy. My guess is that they bumped people who didn’t already have assigned seats at check-in. Unbelievably, I had forgotten to pick seats in advance. This is crazy because I always pick seats first thing after booking (and I wrote a post about how to do so: How to select seats on partner bookings), and of all of the business class products in the sky, Lufthansa’s is probably the number one where picking seats in advance is important: I should have grabbed side-by-side middle seats for my wife and me so that we wouldn’t have strangers next to us and we’d each have direct aisle access. But somehow I didn’t. My wife, who didn’t get bumped down, got assigned a window seat and had the pleasure of having to climb over a stranger anytime she wanted to go to the bathroom.

Update: In writing the first version of this post I forgot that a gate agent had told me that the two of us who were bumped were the last to check in for our flights. I didn’t think that was true at the time because I had thought they had a 24 hour check-in window and I had checked in around 24 hours beforehand. But they actually have a 30 hour check-in window, so this seems plausible after all. Thanks for the reminder Teri.

Before accepting my bump, and while waiting futilely in the hopes that someone would voluntarily downgrade, I researched options. I found that the EU has rules about compensation when a person is involuntarily downgraded. In fact, Lufthansa publishes the rules here: lufthansa.com/tr/en/passenger-rights. Specifically, for flight distances of more than 3,500 km, the compensation is “75% of the ticket price paid per segment.” Great! Except that I paid in miles. And I didn’t pay with Lufthansa miles, but with Avianca LifeMiles miles. I did a quick Google search to see what has happened to others in a similar situation and it wasn’t good. In the brief time I looked, I couldn’t find any examples of anyone succeeding in getting compensation for an involuntary downgrade when they had used miles.

Once business class had boarded completely full, I gave up and accepted my Premium Economy boarding pass. The gate agent offered me 500 Euros compensation and said that was the most she could do. The amount was “controlled by the computer.” She asked for my credit card so that she could apply the compensation to it. I handed her my debit card so that I wouldn’t lose any rewards from my credit card. After a few days the money posted to my account.

When I got home, I went ahead and filed a claim with Lufthansa for the 75% compensation too. I don’t expect it to result in anything, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try and it would be good information for the blog. Lufthansa’s form allowed for uploading documents but it didn’t have any place for adding notes. So, in addition to uploading my original receipt from Avianca LifeMiles for the award purchase, I also uploaded a PDF document where I explained the use of miles and how much they’re worth. I wrote:

We booked this flight for two passengers for 120,000 Avianca LifeMiles airline miles plus $ 291.60 USD. The price for my ticket was: 60,000 miles plus $145.80 USD.

LifeMiles sells their miles for 3.3 cents each, so one could buy 60,000 miles for $1,980.00 USD. That brings the total cost of my ticket to:

$1.980.00 (price for 60,000 miles) + $145.80 (fees)
= $2,125.80 USD

My understanding is that I’m eligible for compensation of 75% of the amount paid which equals $1,594.35

I don’t expect that this will be paid and I won’t be upset when it is not, but I’m interested in seeing what happens. I’ll post an update once I have more information.

Lufthansa A340-300 Premium Economy Bottom Line Review

Overall, Lufthansa’s Premium Economy is like flying economy but with a better seat. Other than the seat, I think they forgot to put the “premium” into the product.

The seats were comfortable with a decent amount of leg room. I found that the amount of recline possible was better than expected. No, it’s nowhere close to lie-flat, but the seat reclines enough to be able to nap without your head falling forward. I thought the video screen and movie selection were decent, but we were given only cheap disposable headphones and so I had to watch movies with English subtitles turned on in order to follow what was happening. Since I usually fly business class (thanks to airline miles!) I had fallen out of the habit of traveling with my own headphones. I’ll have to get back to that! Another annoyance was that the handheld video controller is stored near the passenger’s leg: My leg kept brushing against it when I was watching movies and a cursor would suddenly appear on the screen. That was just a minor annoyance though. Service was pretty good overall. The worst part of the flight was the catering: clearly premium economy gets the same stuff that is offered in regular economy and it wasn’t very good at all. Overall, I have no doubt that Lufthansa’s premium economy is much better than regular economy, but that’s primarily due to the seat itself. The rest of the experience didn’t seem premium at all.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Comfortable seats with decent leg room and plenty of recline
  • Good service
  • Each seat has a water bottle holder

Cons

  • Mediocre food
  • Cheap disposable headphones

Photos

Lufthansa’s Premium Economy offered good leg room. Plenty of room to fit my backpack under the seat in-front. I also appreciated that there was a dedicated spot for water bottles.
Lufthansa’s Premium Economy’s video controller was located in just the right spot for my leg to regularly brush against the trackpad and make surprising things happen on the screen while I tried to watch movies.
Lufthansa’s Premium Economy’s lunch was edible, but nowhere near great. When I asked for coffee I had to move the roll out of the coffee cup (yes, that’s where they originally served it).
Later in the flight we were served this pitiful snack. I was starving by the time I got home. Don’t expect much from Lufthansa’s Premium Economy snack.
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78 Comments
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Pam

Please advise does anyone know who to complain to at Lufthansa? We paid for round trip premium economy seats + extra for the seats. As mentioned my seat on the flight to Munich was broken and on the flight home we were put in economy instead of premium economy.
This just outright theft.

Pam

Further to my comment below the food was awful in premium economy on the flight to Munich.

Also, when I advised the crew manager about my broken seat he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away! So much for customer service.
Premium economy is a ripoff on Lufthansa.

Pam

I recently had a very bad experience on Lufthansa to Europe. We paid $4400 for two premium economy seats. On the flight over my seat was broken. It did not recline and the footrest was broken as well. It was a very uncomfortable 9 hours!
On the flight home we were seated in economy right next to the lavatories…horrible experience. To top it off our luggage was missing for 2 days. We are due a refund. I have notified Lufthansa but have not received a response.
Not a reputable company.

Mark

Under the EU261 rules you are entitled to 75% of the amount paid for the downgraded sector, excluding taxes and airport fees. Assuming that 60,000 miles plus $146 was per person one-way, it would be reasonable for them to deduct something for the Bergen-Frankfurt flight as well as the airport taxes and fees. Fixing what that is could be a debate in itself if you don’t have a per sector breakdown. If they can get Avianca to refund 75% of the LifeMiles you wouldn’t be able to insist on a cash equivalent, otherwise valuing them at the price charged to buy them is reasonable.

L0pez

My wife was downgraded F to C on a LH intercontinental flight on a LM-award as the seat was broken. Asked FCT staff in Frankfurt if we still could eat and sit together (and only use the C seat for sleeping). She confirmed and we accepted 800€ compensation. We boarded but my wife was denied using the second F seat. Told the crew that we are immediately going to de-board as it was promised that we can still use second F seat. Took a while and some discussion but in the end all went fine, we both had F service and F seats except for the hours that we slept separately (F/C) – ticket was about 800€ all in – so we were pretty happy with the situation

Bill

Airlines, regardless if paying full fare or using miles, should never overbook first or business classes. It leaves a bad taste for future travels, especially when it goes around.

rich

Yeah, totally agree. Obviously at times there is a mechanical issue with a seat that is tough to avoid.

I wonder if sometimes the issue is due to wanting to put a “special” customer in that class of service and they bump someone else.

Tony

Could it be that Lufthansa’s computer algorithm in picking which ticket to downgrade is actually smarter than we give it credit for? It may pick the lowest cost ticket to downgrade, knowing that award redemption tickets cost the least. Moreover, it may even know that redemption via LifeMiles was the cheapest on that flight (and that its miles are sold periodically for as low as 1.2cpm). Aren’t Lufthansa’s saver awards often not made available to LifeMiles, but to other partner programs?

60,000 miles would be worth only $720, if valued at 1.2cpm. To successfully claim more compensation, you may need to show that you acquired those miles at significantly higher cost.

Matt

Sorry this happened Greg but that selfie you posted is priceless. I’m quite sure I would have been even less enthusiastic.

Billy Bob

A product change saw this happen to me on Air France short-haul booked with Delta points. I complained and Delta sent me $500.

Last edited 1 month ago by Billy Bob
Todd

Air France did that to me and my wife when we arrived at CDG for a connection to IAD. Downgraded us from business to premium. Gave us €300 vouchers each that were mostly useless since we live in the US. I had paid with FlyingBlue miles. They refused to put us on a different flight in business, and successfully pressured us to board with assurance they would seat us together, which turned out to be a lie.

After much hassle once home, Delta customer service, which AF had shunted me to as their US partner (even though Delta was uninvolved in this itinerary), gave us each 15,000 Delta miles.

This was nothing close to the price difference had we booked premium instead of business. I don’t understand how this loophole can persist, where airlines don’t have to refund any points/miles when that’s how you paid. They have every incentive to target passengers who paid in miles when they need to downgrade someone, and no disincentive.

Peter

I agree 100%.
Lufthansa’s Premium Econ is poor.
Never again.

Tom

Yes, you are owed 75% compensation of the flight cost! If Lufthansa doesn’t help and pay up in a timely manner, try the (free) conciliation body Soep-online.de … They successfully got me compensation when Air Dolomiti (a subsidiary of Lufthansa) gave me no response after repeated request for delayed flight compensation.

Beth

A couple of years ago 2 of us were involuntarily bumped out of domestic first class seats purchased with miles on AA. This was a daytime flight from west coast to Chicago. They gave us $1000 a piece, as well as food vouchers to use in the airport ahead of our flight (because we had been expecting a meal and would now have to buy one.) Our premium economy seats were fine and we were happy with the compensation..I am surprised that you got less money for a transcontinental flight.

Green Durian

Intercontinental, transcontinental would be flying across a continent, like from Orlando to LA. Transcontinental is traveling to another continent.

Beth

yes–sorry and thanks for pointing that out

J Ian Tait

There is a German authority specifically dealing with transport complaints. I have one complaint about Lufthansa in process. The link is at the bottom of the Lufthansa website. The abbreviation is something like ‘oep’ or similar – they work in English. Try them – it’s quite interesting.

ReconScott

Thanks for sharing Greg. As a voyeur* of the Frequent Miler family stories, I appreciate juxtaposing the “thrill of victory” stories with a few “agony of defeat” stories.

For a data point, my daughter experienced a similar “agony of defeat” event in January. I had gotten her a United Polaris trans-continental EWR-LAX flight using Air Canada miles. She was involuntarily downgraded to prem-econ and was given a $700 United Voucher.

* a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous

Billy Bob

Somehow I picture a skier flying over a hill and then bouncing…

ECR12

I get that overbooking happens and sometimes these are the consequences. I’m a little surprised though that they didn’t offer Greg a business class meal in premium economy. That seems fairly easy low-cost thing to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Christopher Bull

Air Canada premium economy always serves Business Class meal to PY pax. Although the selection/choice is prioritized according to ones status on the flight.