I’m back from my short trip to Frankfurt and I want to share the results of a little experiment I conducted yesterday and today with the good folks at Lufthansa. Bottom line: they all play by the rules. Whether this is a virtue or a folly will be discussed below.
I got in on a $263 r/t deal from Newark to Frankfurt in August. The ticket was issued by SN Brussels Airlines, but the transatlantic fights were operated by Continental and the intra-EU flights by Lufthansa. I had a United systemwide upgrade certificate converted to a Lufthansa standby upgrade voucher, and my goal was to standby on the non-stop Frankfurt-Newark Lufthansa flight today rather than connecting in Brussels.
To summarize: the answer was NO. Sort of. I flew home as scheduled, but there’s more to the story. I spoke to seven different LH ticketing agents about making the change (three yesterday and four today) and remarkably all came to the exact same conclusion: they could not alter the ticket because it was issued by SN Brussels.
Now I’m not an expert in code share flights, but that struck me as a little strange. What if there was a flight cancellation or delay in Frankfurt today? Lufty would not have had to seek permission from SN Brussels to make changes to the ticket. In fact, one agent admitted that once the flight goes under airport control, the operating carrier has the latitude to make changes to the ticket.
Nevertheless, each agent, some more professionally than others, refused to touch the ticket. One guy I spoke to this morning was about to do it–I could tell–but eventually grimaced and told me he just couldn’t do it. I get it–I understand. As one agent put it, "You’re on a very special ticket" and I knew my base fare registered as $0. But as another agent put it, "Well, you’re booked in V class, there is plenty of space in V class on our non-stop flight tomorrow, and the ticket rules state that a non-stop Lufthansa codeshare is a legal routing." But even she finally stated, "I just can’t change the ticket, sir. You’ll have to contact SN Brussels."
Now here’s where it gets interesting: the SN Brussels reservations call center is closed on Saturday afternoons/evenings and on Sunday mornings. Furthermore, they don’t serve Frankfurt and thus do not have a ticket office at the airport or even in the city. That left me with no way to get in touch with them before my flight back this morning. I told this to one of the LH agents who brilliantly stated, "That is a problem, isn’t it?"
To rub salt in the wound, there were plenty of business class seats open today on the n/s LH flight and my cert would have worked–my upgrade could have been confirmed immediately if I had only found an agent willing to (as one UA agent once put it) "conduct some hocus pocus."
Taking a step back, though, I cannot fault LH and I am certainly not angry at them for following the rules. Sure, they could have made an exception for me, as a top-tier status holder on an airline they own (bmi) flying on a their airplanes on a ticket from an airline they partially they own (SN Brussels), but in some strange way it was actually refreshing to be told no.
Compare my Lufthansa treatment to United, who (unlike Continental) treats their elites far better than most (or at least better than I) deserve. I’ve had similar experiences on United (ticket issued by US Airways with a mix of UA and US flights) and UA has never hesitated to change it. For example, LAX-PHL-BOS or LAX-LAS-IAD or LAX-IAD-MCO (first segment on UA, second on US) were all changed, by my request, to LAX-BOS, LAX-IAD, and LAX-MCO on UA-operated non-stops. Even an international LH ticket (IAD-FRA-GVA, IAD-FRA on UA) was changed to IAD-GVA on UA.
All of those changes noted above should have resulted in change fees, yet I did not pay a cent for any of them. Sometimes, I even have UA add segments (either for upgrade or EQM purposes) and even that doesn’t trigger a re-fare (or more aptly put, the re-fare is overridden by the agent). This "rule bending" has made me extremely loyal to UA and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that UA is not so unwavering in enforcing the rules that a flight with open seats that would get me home quicker in an upgraded class of service departs without me.
So what do you think? LH agents all seem to be well-trained and follow the rules. This means you know what you’ll be getting and you know that every passenger, regardless of their status, will be treated equally or at least according to the fine print of their ticket. On the other hand, ask ten UA agents a question and you might get ten different answers. But you can almost always find one willing to help you out and in the end, you get what you want and arguably, it isn’t costing UA anything.
I guess it’s telling that when it comes to everyone else I like the LH method, but when it comes to me, I prefer the UA method…