Suppose a rich relative has invited you to visit, or maybe a generous company is sending you to a conference, and they buy you a ticket in first class. But you feel like this is either a waste of money, or you're petite and don't like the larger seats, or you want to minimize your carbon footprint, or whatever other motivation you may have...

Is it possible to downgrade your ticket without the purchaser knowing? Ideally, with a little $$ (in the form of future flight credit, no doubt) left in your pocket for future travel?

  • 3
    It would be nice if you could refund he whole ticket and take a bus ;) Aug 22, 2014 at 9:42
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    @MeNoTalk I have good experience with transatlantic buses.
    – Bernhard
    Aug 22, 2014 at 9:43
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    @Bernhard lol, technically speaking Airbus is a transatlantic bus ;) Aug 22, 2014 at 9:51
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    Is it possible to downgrade your ticket without the purchaser knowing. Email confirmation will be sent if one was provided, unless booked through an agent. The agent might inform the original booker. Might need to bribe the agent. Charges will be only reverted back to the card(unless cash was used), which was used while booking. I seriously doubt any merchant will revert back to a different card. And if points/flight credit, I believe they might use the frequent flier number provided while booking.
    – DumbCoder
    Aug 22, 2014 at 10:38
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    @sgroves: No, once someone gives you something, it's yours to do as you please with. Being a benefactor (or worse yet, employer) does not give you a right to control the people you give things to. Aug 22, 2014 at 20:15

5 Answers 5


Downgrading a flight maybe possible. It would depend on whether your ticketed fare allows you to do that. However, you may have issues if it was bought by a company as they may have used their corporate accounts and refunds (and partials) would go there. Even if it didn't they would notice they received less corporate air miles (or equivalent depending on the airline) for your flight compared to what they expected. And finally if they requested the ticket copy, it will show the fare class you flew especially on your phone as it would be on your phone. You maybe able to bypass that last one by printing out the boarding pass first (as higher classes generally allow earlier check-in) then changing the ticket.

You maybe able pull a sly one on your uncle unless he checks your booking online. Which the company could do too.

It wouldn't be the best idea to downgrade a flight without informing the purchaser first.

  • what you say about a corporate card buying it: indeed that applies to any card at all: for many years now it's only been possible to refund something, to, the same card in question. 'cross-refunds' have been totally out of the card industry (worldwide, I'm sure) for years now, I guess :O
    – Fattie
    Aug 22, 2014 at 12:21
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    usually (among my business-travel friends who get it at least) the indivudual gets the air miles, NOT the company.
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 22, 2014 at 13:13
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    @MarkMayo British Airways has Company Travel rewards. britishairways.com/travel/on-business-how-it-works/public/… The company earns points and the travelers earn avios (air miles)
    – Vagish
    Aug 22, 2014 at 13:17
  • @Vagish today I learned! I figured that might be the case, but wanted to point out that it's not happening for everone.
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 22, 2014 at 13:17
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    @MarkMayo That's somewhat dependent on where you live. I can't find them ATM, but have seen pointed out on a few recent questions on Workplace.SE that German law views claiming personal rewards for anything purchased by your employer as theft and grounds for firing even if it's only a few cents on your store rewards card. Aug 22, 2014 at 14:44

But you feel like this is either a waste of money

It's a) not your money, b) already spent , c) the airlines need the cash.

or you're petite and don't like the larger seats

Walk into economy, find someone you like the looks of, trade seats.

If you want to be cruel, find a mother with an infant.

or you want to minimize your carbon footprint,

Won't change. The carbon footprint stays the same whether the plane is empty, half full, or stuffed to the rafters with tribbles. Where you actually sit is irrelevant.

Most airlines with online booking ( I think that's everyone except the dodgier African carriers) let anyone with the reservation code and the passenger's name look at (but not change) the reservation details. They would see. And unless it's a cash ticket (highly unlikely) any refund would go back on the purchaser's card, not yours.

So, it seems to really be a question of "what do you do when they find out".

  • 14
    The carbon footprint stays the same wether the plane is empty, half full, or stuffed to the rafters with tribbles. Where you actually sit is irrelevant. -- Perhaps true for a single flight, but not true in the grander scheme. If fewer people fly first class, the airline will allocate fewer first class seats, thus reducing the average per-passenger carbon footprint.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 22, 2014 at 11:10
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    @Flimzy the entire "carbon footprint" thingy is nonsense, and thus irrelevant.
    – jwenting
    Aug 22, 2014 at 11:21
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    @jwenting: Well, the carbon footprint thing is really not the point of the question, so I agree it's irrelevant. But it's the same line of reasoning as someone who chooses to take the bus over an airplane to reduce their carbon footprint. I think it's pretty ridiculous to say it's nonsense (unless you're making that claim in a general sense that caring about one's carbon footprint is nonsense--I have no real opinion on that).
    – Flimzy
    Aug 22, 2014 at 11:22
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    If you were to remove the condescending rebuttals to the various possible (irrelevant) reasons for wanting to downgrade, I wouldn't have a problem with this answer. Or if you were even to make them less condescending.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 22, 2014 at 11:24
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    I believe it's specifically suggested on this site to not criticize the reasons for a question. Also I believe frankly you have completely misunderstood the question, which is a good one. This should be deleted.
    – Fattie
    Aug 22, 2014 at 12:10

It really depends on how the "ticket" is provided to you but assuming it is an airline printed ticket rather than an e-Ticket;

A lot of tickets have AGT/REF endorsements which means any refund must go back to the purchaser via the agent.

However, instead of a refund, you could ask the airline to re-issue your lower class ticket and issue the difference in Miscellaneous Charge Orders (MCOs) which are the airlines equivalent of credit notes/gift vouchers. MCOs are generally only issued by IATA airline members. MCOs can be used for part-payment of flights, excess baggage etc

Unless the original ticket was issued with an airline specific restriction, MCOs are also valid to redeem with any other IATA airline!!

Lastly, flexible airline tickets are usually valid for 12 months but you can extend their validity by having the ticket re-issued before their expiry.

  • Amazing - you're sure they will issue "MCOs" to the FLYER, not the purchasor? That seems incredible.
    – Fattie
    Jun 7, 2015 at 16:45


Your scheme is absolutely, definitely, 100% impossible, because: any excess amount refunded must and can only go to the purchasor, the rich relative.

So that's that.

Note however that regarding the first-explained aspect of your Caper, the answer is positively yes. A primary reason (rich!) people give 1st class tickets as presents is that they are totally flexible. If one is ever lucky enough to get a 1st class ticket somewhere as a present (it's certainly never happened to me, tragically!) you can just call the airline and change anything you want. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir.

However, here's some astounding information on this:

Thanks to DC below, it appears that some (all?) airlines now offer "cheap, incredibly crappy" first class fares. in the Lufthansa example, I checked near dates and they only offered what (I would have thought of as) ordinary 1st class fares (to wit: obviously one can utterly freely change anything one wishes, at any time). However, a couple of weeks out, you can buy these "Easyjet-like" first class fares! :) which have restrictions and change fees and the like. So, consider this factor when implementing the Caper described by the OP.

Note that, with for example a €6000 "real" 1st class ticket given to you by the rich relative, after you refunded it, paid the €500 fee, and bought a €308 cheap ticket on a discount airline instead, you'd still be ahead €5000 in this "caper" suggested by the OP.

But again — very simply — all refunds today go only to the purchasing credit card, so the Caper wouldn't work. Thanks again, DC, for this "first class information"!

Screenshot of flight booking prices

  • Non-refundable non-changable first class tickets do exist on some airlines!
    – Gagravarr
    Aug 22, 2014 at 13:23
  • bizarre! but i believe you if you say so! (why would people buy them, it seems to me one perhaps the primary benefit of 1st class tix you know?!)
    – Fattie
    Aug 22, 2014 at 13:25
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    @JoeBlow: Because you want leg room, and you're certain you won't cancel :)
    – Flimzy
    Aug 22, 2014 at 13:57
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    @JoeBlow - Actually, most first class tickets are somewhat restricted. Even if they can be cancelled, they are typically subject to a cancellation fee (say, USD 200). Classically, these are the "A" class fares, whereas totally unrestricted first class fares typically book into the "F" class. This can be seen quite well when trying to book a trans-atlantic flight with Lufthansa, which make these restrictions quite explicit.
    – DCTLib
    Aug 22, 2014 at 15:38
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    pnuts - there's no apostrophe in PAs (or any plural) dude!
    – Fattie
    Aug 23, 2014 at 12:38

Even if you can't get the money, you can almost surely opt to sit in economy seating. Just get to the boarding area early and inform them you'd rather be seated in economy, and I'm sure they'll be happy to open up another seat they can charge somebody else a fee to "upgrade" to.

  • 1
    Or just start taking bids to trade seats in the boarding area. - haha
    – reirab
    Sep 17, 2014 at 21:39

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