Economy Downgrade Inadequate, German Court RulesPassengers that book a Business Class ticket should not have to accept a downgrade to Economy Class, a German court has ruled. In a recent case, the judge found that Economy Class was an inadequate and unequal replacement for a paid Business Class ticket.

This may sound like common sense, but involuntary downgrades are more common than you might expect. In addition, the level of compensation offered by airlines in the case of downgrades can range from generous to woefully unacceptable.

While this case took place in Germany, the court’s ruling sets an interesting precedent for involuntary downgrades. The court found that airline passengers should not be obliged to accept a downgrade. If a flight is overbooked or does not operate for any reason, airlines and travel agents have a responsibility to re-accommodate passengers in their originally-booked class of travel.

Many passengers pay for Business Class because they require the additional comfort – either for health reasons or because they have a full work schedule upon arrival. Business Class airfares cost significantly more than Economy Class, and the product is very different, so we consider this to be a fair ruling.

Court case

German newspaper Reiserecht Aktuell reports that an airline customer in Cologne had sued their travel agent because their originally booked flights to the Dominican Republic had been cancelled. The travel agent offered replacement flights in Economy Class with an additional overnight stop along the way. The original flights were no longer available because the airline in question had become insolvent.

The travel agent argued that millions of other travellers also fly in Economy Class, so the complainant should accept the downgrade.

The judge disagreed, ruling that the new flights being offered were not of equivalent value. The travel agent was ordered to compensate 50% of the airfares paid to the customer, who did not end up taking the trip.

Involuntary downgrades

If an airline tries to downgrade you from your booked class of travel, remember that you do not have to accept their offer of compensation at face value. If possible, ask to be put onto a different flight in your originally booked class of travel.

If it is not possible to travel on another flight, and you consider the offer of compensation for the downgrade inadequate, do not immediately accept what the airline is offering. It is much more difficult to negotiate better compensation later, and once you board the flight, this is generally considered acceptance of the airline’s offer.


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

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John Gercken

The worst part is the compensation. Instead of comparing like for like, the airlines tend to refund the difference between the Business fare paid and the highest possible Economy fare, resulting in little or no refund, ignoring the fact that had the passenger wanted to fly Economy they would have bought the lowest possible Economy fare, not the highest.


Is this a typo – “It is much more difficult to negotiate better compensation later”


I was downgraded Cbr to Syd on a ticket to Joburg because of weather. No problem sitting economy on that leg! Offered me $50 plus 5000 points, I negotiated for 10, 000 points instead. Much easier all round and a fair result.

Jan Rooke

I agree if they are downgrading you to Economy they should reimburse the whole fare as they probably had your money for at least 6 months.

Pilbara Sceptic

I had a similar event with Virgin recently. I had booked Business from Perth to Adelaide for myself and family. The aircraft was downgraded from a 737-800 to a Fokker 100 (no business class). I was sent an email saying the flight schedule had changed and the new times were listed. The change meant the return flight to Perth was scheduled for an hour earlier than planned which was not an issue so I accepted the change. What they DID NOT tell me was that the return flight was also changed to a Fokker 100 that has NO BUSINESS CLASS,… Read more »


I was recently down graded from business to economy on Virgin Australia. My original flight from Coolangatta to Sydney was cancelled for operational reasons (i.e. not weather related ). So they put me on the next flight in economy class because there were no business class seats available. Fair enough. Though I expected to receive a cash refund for the difference between the cost of my business class fare and a flexible economy ticket. After all, that would have been the right thing to do, but it did not happen. Instead the refund they offered left me about $100 out… Read more »

Oliver K

Obviously the author of this article can’t read very well, not write very well either. t was a travel agent that got sued. NOT an airline. Just copying someone else’s work is so lame and cheap.


Oliver, it appears to be you who can’t write ‘very well’. Matt is one of the most thorough and well respected in the business travel industry. As both an avid reader, and writer in another industry, I found he was very clear in this article.


Can anyone advise which credit cards to use for Kris Flyer points…

. QQF is rubbish …complete ripped off. Very high carriage, gas and oil charges plus flyin* to Europe …with few stops over…. you bet, the shortest trip will only be business class, the rest of the trip…economy and you pay very high points plus ridiculous fee ….