Based on the close votes, I'm rephrasing the question to make it more general and less specific to my case

How can one calculate compensation amount for a airline downgrade and what laws/rules etc. governs this?

Background: I would assume that buying an airline ticket creates a contract between the passenger and the airline. If a downgrade occurs, the airline has delivered something of lesser value than the contract stipulated. So some compensation is due where the compensation reflects the difference in value. Simple example: if you buy 10 hamburgers and they can only deliver 5, you should get half of your money back.

Here is the tricky part: Airplane tickets have very little correlation between value and cost. The cost of the same seat on the same flight on the same day can vary easily by a factor of 20 or more with no customer facing difference in value.

Ticket prices also fluctuate massively over time which makes fare comparison for different purchase dates almost meaningless.

The easiest way would be to calculate the fare difference between the new and old itinerary at time of original booking. However, that information is certainly not available to the passenger and I doubt that even the airline can price an non-existing itinerary with rules & fares from a few months ago.

Comparing at "time of downgrade" also doesn't work: Often the original itinerary isn't even available anymore (hence the downgrade) and even if it is, the difference can easily be larger than the entire original ticket price. Comparing original price with new itinerary price at time of downgrade is also meaningless. Chances are the new itinerary is more expensive to start with (since it's closer to departure).

The airline can ALWAYS construct a fare code for the new itinerary that's more expensive than the original ticket. They can always claim "5 hamburgers are way more expensive than 10 hamburgers". So in this is case they deliver something of lesser value but higher cost!

Just to illustrate how screwed up the pricing system is: a Boston->New York round trip ticket on United in May currently costs about $100 in Economy and $265 in business. A full fare Economy Ticket (Y-fare) for the same flight is almost $2489! So they CAN make an economy ticket almost 10 times as expensive as a business ticket just by selecting the "right" fare class.

Is their any legal mechanism that airlines need to follow here? How would one determine compensation in a case where there is very little correlation between "loss of value" and "current & past cost" ?

Specific Details and Original Question

Not sure if this is right forum, but here goes.

I booked a first class Emirates ticket a few months ago and one leg recently was downgraded to business. Most likely because of an airplane swap. The actual flight is still 5 months out.

I plowed through Emirates Contract of Carriage https://www.emirates.com/us/english/images/usa_published_november_2014_tcm272-194795.pdf. They only mention downgrade in the context of denied boarding in section 9.3. It seems the section isn't really intended for this case, but still applies since they "cannot carry you in your ticketed class of service"

In this case they "will refund you the difference between the applicable fare ... and the fare ... applicable to the class of service in which you are actually carried". So some sort of refund would be due.


  1. Does section 9.3 indeed cover the case of pre-flight downgrade. Is this applicable here?
  2. What other laws or terms (if any) govern this case?
  3. How would one go about calculating the amount of the refund?
  4. A first class ticket has auxiliary benefits (airport pick up, lounge access, fast check-in/security). Do I have a right to keep these? I can understand that they can't offer the seat, but the benefits are still available.
  5. Given that Emirates is not meeting the full obligations of our original contract: what other means of recourse do I have?

Regarding refund calculation

Airline prices change all the time. If I were to book the downgraded ticket today, it would be more than 5 times as expensive as the original non-downgraded ticket. The downgraded price at time of booking is not available. The non-downgraded price today is also not available (since the original itinerary isn't bookable any more). I would assume, one would have to look at the difference of two "comparable" numbers, but I don't know what this numbers would be.

  • What country did you purchase the ticket in?
    – Ryan M
    Mar 19, 2021 at 22:12
  • @RyanM: I purchased the ticket from the US, hence I linked the Contract of Carriage for US residence
    – Hilmar
    Mar 20, 2021 at 13:04
  • @Hilmar You don't mention if Emirates gave you a partial refund, but you really should include this for a good answer. Anyway, I think your only legally-valid counter is to cancel the entire itinerary and get a full refund. If Emirates does not offer any partial refund to keep the ticket (and did this often to other people), it's not the law that will hurt them, but their reputation that will hurt them.
    – bobuhito
    Mar 31, 2021 at 14:17
  • @bobuhito: I got nothing so far. I wanted to check the legal situation before contacting them.
    – Hilmar
    Apr 1, 2021 at 10:39


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