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Lufthansa Lounge Cheat Receives Huge Bill


For one Munich man, a strategic calculation to save money by buying a refundable Lufthansa ticket, enjoying food and drink in the Lufthansa Business Lounge, then cancelling his reservation, has proved a grave mistake. After 36 incidents, Lufthansa had enough and sued the man for damages. Yesterday, a court sided with the German carrier and fined the man €1,980 - his ticket was only €744.

Here's the heart of the ruling in German--I'll break it down in English below:

Das Gericht gab nun der Fluggesellschaft Recht und verurteilte den Münchener zur Zahlung von Schadensersatz. Er habe nicht nur die Pflicht, den vereinbarten Flugpreis zu zahlen, sondern insbesondere auch eine Mitwirkungspflicht, um der Fluggesellschaft zu ermöglichen, auch ihrerseits die vertraglich geschuldete Leistung zu erbringen, nämlich die Beförderung des Beklagten. Eine Vertragspartei verstoße gegen die allgemeine Treuepflicht, wenn sie die Erfüllung des Vertrages ernsthaft verweigert oder von Vorneherein die Gegenleistung gar nicht entgegennehmen will. Dies gelte insbesondere dann, wenn der anderen Partei im Vorfeld ihrer Leistung bereits Kosten entstehen. Die Fluggesellschaft sei auch nicht verpflichtet gewesen, bereits vertraglich die Umbuchungsmöglichkeit zu begrenzen. Die Fluggesellschaft gestalte die Business Class Tickets bewusst offen und flexibel, um ihren Geschäftskunden auch kurzfristig und auch mehrmals die Möglichkeit der Umplanung zu gewähren. Wenn der Beklagte meine, diese Serviceleistung bewusst vertragswidrig ausnutzen zu müssen, sei dies ein pflichtwidriges Verhalten, das gesetzlich untersagt sei und das die Klägerin nicht durch Anpassung ihrer Vertragsbedingungen unterbinden müsse.

Zur Höhe des Schadensersatzanspruchs führt das Gericht aus, dass die Haftung auf den Vertrauensschaden ausgerichtet ist und auch sogenannte fehlgeschlagene Aufwendungen umfasst. Das sind solche Investitionen, die der Geschädigte im Vertrauen auf die Vertragstreue des Vertragspartners trifft und die sich dann als nutzlos erweisen, da der Vertrag wegen des treuwidrigen Verhaltens des Vertragspartners nicht vollständig durchgeführt werden kann. Das Gericht schätzte den Wert der in der Businesslounge angebotenen Leistungen auf 55 Euro je Besuch.

Full ruling here (in German).

The court uses very elementary principles of contract law to argue that the man breached his Treuepflicht or general duty of loyalty, deliberately preventing the airline from performing its contractually-owed service. The court highlights that Lufthansa already incurred costs in advance of performance (i.e. the cost to feed him in the lounge prior to the flight) and that by deliberately seeking to take from Lufthansa while not giving anything back, the man was guilty of breach of contract.

Lufthansa claimed each lounge visit was worth €55 and the court agreed, fining the man for his 36 visits to the lounge. Though the ticket was fully refundable and there was no clause in the contact of carriage prohibiting what the man did, the court used unenumerated contact theory to dismiss that argument and reprimand his actions.

Interestingly, the man got away with it 35 times, changing the reservation on his first ticket over and over before finally cancelling it. It was only went he bought a second ticket and began the process again that Lufthansa said enough was enough.

The logic is sound in the court order, though I find it so unsurprising that it is Lufthansa that sued (I imagine this practice must go on for most airlines on a small scale). I have two posts coming up that show the utter duplicity of Lufthansa in honoring its contacts. For that reason, it strikes me as a tad hypocritical that Lufthansa sues for breach of contract when it is so quick to abandon its contractual duties when it has a financial incentive to do so.


Dave102 July 3, 2014 at 11:46 am

Wait, I'm missing a detail--35 incidents before cancelling the first ticket? How did he make 35 lounge visits on one ticket? Am I reading something wrong?

@Dave102 - He would go to the airport, use the lounge, then cancel his reservation. When he wanted to use the lounge, he would rebook a new reservation on the same ticket with no change fee and then use the lounge again. The process repeated 35 times over one year, before the validity of the first ticket ended and he just requested a refund and started the process over with a second ticket.

I have to say, what this guy did is actually pretty ingenious, though of limited utility unless you live reasonably close to an airport. After all, while I could theoretically do the same thing to AA, dealing with traffic and everything to head out to DFW and back just for some free food and drinks probably isn't worth the trouble...

Moopere July 5, 2014 at 12:48 am

I suspect he was making use of the lounge before taking another flight ... probably Y class and quite probably even with a different carrier.

If I'm right, his theory would have been to obtain the equivalent of cheap (free!) lounge/club access whilst travelling on discounted economy tickets.

Cheat July 11, 2014 at 04:45 pm

I don't get it, where's the "cheating" part ? The ticket allows free lounge access, it allows free canceling and rescheduling. After detecting the loophole, they should have denied a second use of the business lounge on a single ticket and be done with it. Clearly, it's a case of unmatched legal power, "unenumerated contract theory" my behind.

@Cheat - I think the court's reasoning makes sense - if you buy a service from with an intent to use some of it but not pay me for it, you are gaming the system and if you do it enough, I will sue you for damages.

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