Help! Japan Airlines Downgraded Us From First Class and Skimped on the Refund.

Dear Tripped Up,

Last year, my husband and I splurged on round-trip first-class tickets on Japan Airlines from San Francisco to Tokyo for $13,474 each. We reserved them in February for an October flight through American Express Travel. On the same day, I also bought business class tickets for a couple who was traveling with us at $8,429 apiece. In September, Amex notified me that we had been downgraded to business class for the return flight. JAL’s conditions state that we would receive “the difference between the normal fare amount of original class of service and for the normal fare of lower class of service.” To me that means that since the difference between our first class seats and our friends’ business seats was $5,045 each, we should be refunded about half of that — around $2,522 per person — for the second leg. But we got only $941 each. I contested this with Amex Travel, but they rejected our claim. Can you help? Teri, San Francisco

Dear Teri,

I’ve been collecting stories from readers about downgrade disappointments recently, so I looked not only into yours but also stories from four other travelers — three of whom believe they were stiffed by British Airways and another by Avianca.

All three airlines I contacted delayed, obfuscated or otherwise dillydallied before getting me answers, but let’s start with your travel agent, American Express.

“We worked with the card member and merchant to the best of our ability to resolve the issue,” wrote Emily Vicker, a spokeswoman for Amex, in an emailed statement. “Card members wishing to pursue additional compensation requests need to do so directly with the airline.”

As you said to me, you did not follow up with Japan Airlines because an online link that Amex sent you led to a form that said it was only for those travelers who had booked with JAL directly; others should deal with their travel agent. Gary Leff, the writer behind the travel site View from the Wing, told me you should have ignored that. “Follow all avenues to advocate on behalf of yourself,” he said.

Could Amex have done more? It’s impossible to tell, and Japan Airlines, responding only to my third email, said that it “has verified that the amount applied was accurate and was based on the difference of the First Class fare originally purchased and the applicable Business Class fare with the same fare conditions as the original ticket for the sector involved.”

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