Second Hand Embarrassment: Airline Lounge Edition

Have you ever experienced second hand embarrassment to the point that you’re actively uncomfortable watching something? Yeah, well that’s what happened to me here. While the video is in German, some things transcend language, and this is one of them.

This story revolves around booking refundable tickets for the purposes of accessing an airline lounge. It’s something which is often discussed, where people will buy a refundable ticket to get past security (either to accompany a loved one who is flying, visit a lounge, etc.), and then refund the ticket when they’re ready to leave, which means they’re not actually paying anything. While refundable tickets are refundable (as the name suggests), booking a ticket without the intent of flying violates most airlines’ contracts of carriage.

This “concept” went most viral in 2014, when a guy in China booked a refundable ticket, and then changed his ticket more than 300 times so he could eat free every day. Aside from the attempt to get publicity here, I can’t really wrap my head around why anyone would want to go to an airport, get past security, etc., all to have a meal. Especially at a lounge in China

Worst-Airport-Lounge - 4
Changsha Airport Lounge

Someone later tried to do this in Germany, where they booked a Lufthansa ticket and then changed it 35 times, all in hopes of eating for free. Lufthansa caught on, and charged the passenger 1,980EUR.

This brings us to the story that a German reporter filmed in the Emirates Lounge in Frankfurt.

Taking inspiration from the guy in China who changed his ticket more than 300 times, the reporter booked a first class ticket on Emirates to Dubai.

He booked a flexible ticket, spent 12 hours in the lounge (and was completely obnoxious about it, eating everything in sight). Then he went to the counter to change his ticket until the next day. He went back the following morning and did it all over again. He was intentionally messy and left crumbs everywhere, because he thought it was the job of the staff to clean up his mess.



Then at the end of the second day he went to the counter to refund the ticket.

Obviously the video will be better if you can understand German, but even if you don’t I think you’ll still find it cringeworthy.

When Justin Ross Lee is less obnoxious than you when it comes to gaining lounge access, you know you might want to rethink your strategy (the below video is not suitable for work):

Does anyone not find this German video cringeworthy?

(Tip of the hat to YHBU)


  1. Isn’t gluttony one of the 7 deadly sins? And I thought I was bad arriving at the airport 3 hours before my flight if I know there’s a nice lounge waiting for me…

  2. Not really sure who is worse the Jew-jetting or the Deutsch douche!! Hard to make the call I think if I see either at the airport i would have to find some way to call them out.

  3. Ben, this guy is a reporter for Stern TV and always does things like this for fun.
    He tried to pay with 1 cent coins bills of 100 Euro in restaurants and stuff like this, its a fun video and nothing serious 😉

  4. Not my idea of “fun.” Not the idea of fun for anyone with any sense of intelligence or manners either.

  5. “He tried to pay with 1 cent coins bills of 100 Euro in restaurants and stuff like this”

    Why is that funny?

    It’s certainly not funny for the clerk having to handle the 10,000 pennies, or the lounge staff that has to clean up his mess, or for the airline that is unwittingly sponsoring his theft of food and drink from their lounge.

  6. Addressing the higher level issue of being able to take advantage of lounges by using (and reusing) a refundable ticket, I would think the airlines could manage this by not allowing tickets to be refunded/changed once a passenger checks in (with obvious exceptions for delays/cancellations).

  7. @NEIL. I agree with Neil, why don’t airlines just make refundable tickets no longer refundable once you have checked in to get a boarding pass to go through security. That would most likely solve the entire issue.

  8. Because plans can change after you check-in. If I am spending $ for a refundable ticket, then I expect to be able to refund at any time prior to the flight pushing from the gate.

    I strongly suspect that instances of people abusing this are few and far between.

  9. @JAMES. I think its because many business travelers (myself included) may be changing their flights multiple times per day and never know when a meeting will pop up that will change their destination. I’ve been at the airport 30 minutes before boarding and had to change my flights. That’s why people pay the absurd premiums for refundable tickets.

  10. I thought refundable tickets were refundable even after the plane left the gate as long as you weren’t on it.

    Anyway, restricting them would impact the ability to sell them, since people buy them for legitimate reasons 99.999999% of the time. Plans change, even when you’re sitting at the gate waiting to board. Meetings run late, need to push to a later flight, etc. Or in my case (and I’m by no means a big deal, just a regular person at a large company), I’m waiting for a seat on the corporate jet and need a backup plan to travel regardless. Sometimes you don’t find out there’s an open seat for you until 10 minutes before departure when someone more important than you no-showed or canceled, and you gotta hustle from the commercial to the private terminal before they leave without you.

  11. I did something similar …. but with a different intent a few years ago …. and the response on FT was 50/50.

    I had arrived F on LH, ending my trip in FRA. Early morning arrival. I was meeting a friend who lives there — he was arriving on a different flight an hour after me and we were going to drive to his home. But his flight was delayed for 4 or 5 hours …. after this many years, I can’t remember the details exactly.

    I asked nicely I could just relax in the FCL for a few hours. And I was declined, since my trip ended there. I pointed out that I was on a paid-F ticket, they could see my friend on a paid-F ticket, but rules were rules.

    So, I bought an $8,000 ticket flying out that evening (remember, I arrived in the morning). And I went into the lounge. I rested. I probably had 4 glasses of club soda. And I did have some cold cuts. And then, when my friend’s flight finally landed, I cancelled and asked for a refund on the ticket.

  12. @Sammy jrl or Justin Ross lee is Jewish and calls his travel hacking lifestyle “jew-jetting” so I don’t think it’s really a slur, although I don’t think jrl is really great for the Jewish culture

  13. Is this not just playing the airlines game for personal benefit. Its just a more extreme version of taking lots of cheap flights to gain airline ‘Status’. These people are in the minority of those on refundable tickets and so the airlines shouldn’t be worried. Similar to the number of people who will sit on a plane just to gain the miles and not for the sake of the destination. If everyone did it it would not be profitable for the airline

  14. Hmm weird arnt there rules to prevent travellers from exploiting this?

    I.e. fully flex malaysia airlines ticket

    1. There is a fee for refund
    2. Free to change the ticket as many times you’d like subjected to paying the fare difference. Chances are if you change it to the “next day” the fare difference would have been massively increased.

  15. Pretty clearly satire. German satire is certainly unique, but for anyone who speaks German the monologue is pretty tongue in cheek. Think of it more as “how bizarre this Chinese guy did this” as opposed to “look at me, I’m putting one over on the airline”.

    I can almost guarantee this piece was done with at least the tacit agreement of Emirates (which they probably see as publicity). I’m surprised no one has pointed out that if you were looking to do this for real – you wouldn’t pick the Emirates Lounge, you would do it at the Luftie FCT. Bet you they wouldn’t let him film there.

  16. All systems are designed to work when the users respect the spirit of the rules and procedures behind those systems. When users do not do that, who’s fault is it?

    Listening to that Justin Ross Lee video makes me cringe. He is an obnoxious man who blames the system because he can break the rules. He then infers that his unethical and offensive behavior is what the airlines and other users desire, particularly (this is the part that really annoyed me) if the airline does not like Jews. I am certain that if the airline (and JFK airport) pointed out that he was not respecting the rules and other passengers, he would cry out that they were anti-semitic.

  17. the best way of stopping this, full refund, 30 hours before travel, then 25% fee, unless great reason, for not travel. Then to allow access to clubs,etc, 12 hours before flights, or something similar, This has been going on for years,. Folk used to book 1st with Delta, go in the lounge, keep the reservation, then cancelled, and have a 2nd ticket, cheaper, and then request n upgrade to the original class the refundable ticket was on, Two things bad about this, is the fact he does it, and the second, he tells everyone about it>

  18. It seems like an awful lot of trouble just to get a free meal. I imagine this is not a widespread problem therefore not worth the airlines effort to fix.

  19. Wouldn’t these people be stopped by security when the officers don’t see a stamp/boarding pass from the return flight??

  20. “Wouldn’t these people be stopped by security when the officers don’t see a stamp/boarding pass from the return flight??”

    You do know that some of us fly on one-way tickets….right? And even if a RT, under the current scenario being discussed, it’s refundable.

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