More evidence of BA prioritising Avios bookings for downgrades?

(UPDATE: BA has agreed to give me a legal opinion on Monday on whether it believes a BA Amex companion ticket qualifies for EU261 downgrade compensation.)

A month ago I ran this article speculating that BA has begun to target Avios ticket holders for downgrades.

This would be economically rational.  Under EU regulations, a downgraded passenger is automatically due a 75% refund on that leg of their ticket.  For a cash passenger, that is expensive.

For an Avios passenger, it is not expensive to downgrade.  All the airline has to do is refund a few points.

For an Avios passenger travelling on a 2-4-1 voucher, the downgrade is free to BA.  It has been telling some passengers that as their ticket cost zero Avios, the refund is 75% of zero which is, erm, zero.

After my original article there was some debate about whether this is actually happening.  Some BA staff told me that it isn’t easy to tell whether a passenger is on a 2-4-1 ticket or not, although it is easy to spot those on redemptions on the manifest.  Some agents have implied that it is functionality in FLY, the new check-in and passenger management system, which now allows this policy to be implemented.

It is worth noting that the person involved in my original article issued a Small Claims Court against British Airways after being refused any compensation.  As per this page of Flyertalk, it appears that BA chose not to fight the case and settled for the unspecified amount the passenger demanded.

british-airways-ba

In the last couple of weeks, two more readers have contacted me with linked stories.

The key one came yesterday from a reader.  I always weigh up news I receive by email from readers to see how truthful and verifiable it seems, but this is one I trust implicitly – the person involved is a regular commentator and has even written a guest article for the site in the past.

If you read the comments on HFP yesterday, you would have seen his regular updates as the situation developed.

This is what he said to me by email:

“At Edinburgh to start our trip to Gatwick and then what was meant to be Club World BAPP 241 reward seats to Male.  At checking in for EDI-LGW we have been told we have been downgraded, either both to World Traveller Plus or just me with my wife staying in CW.  We have been told that BA has oversold the flight and it’s because we are on reward tickets that we have been selected to be downgraded.”

Here is another email I received two weeks ago:

“I have read your article re 2-4-1 downgrades and it almost exactly mirrors our experience.  The Duty Manager was adamant her instructions were to target Redemption ticket holders first.  Given that our seats were showing as still allocated to us that morning (albeit not available to be printed due to “system error” at the hotel), it appears BA have chosen to sell more CW seats on the day . . . knowing they had a supply of 2-4-1 pax ready to be downgraded

It is a largely win-win situation for BA . . .  if there are any no-shows, no skin off their noses, but hey, why not sell an equivalent number of CW seats to exactly match the number of 2-4-1 holders on every flight!  Cheap trick but as I learned in over twenty years with them, the internal “bar” is set at the greediest money-earning opportunity.”

The reader above is not one I have met but I have no reason doubt the accuracy of what he sent me.  He had even paid to reserve specific Club World seats but even that did not protect him from being downgraded.

To clarify, there is no specific proof that this is going on.  No BA employee has yet sent me a copy of the relevant memo or email.

Do let me know if you are also impacted by this and have been told that the staff that you have been downgraded specifically because you are on an Avios ticket.

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Comments

  1. Let’s see what they say. If this is true, it will be the end of the road for me and BA. My employer had just opened up the travel policy so that we can take the most sensible long haul flights rather than having to fly ba. And from a personal perspective, the rather rapid erosion of the entire experience of flying with ba, the devaluation of avios, the fact that cruz and team smoky don’t seem to want me on board any more and the fact that better airlines are often much cheaper means that i would be a fool to fly with ba unless I had to.

  2. My reply from Amex:-

    Thank you for sharing your concern with us.

    Whilst I understand your concern but I am afraid that we are unaware of any such issue as of now. Also, the usage of the Companion Voucher and Avios come under the Terms and Conditions set by British Airways Executive Club, and any changes made are entirely at the discretion of British Airways, therefore, we are unable to influence their decision. All we do is inform British Airways as soon as you meet the spend criteria of £10,000 with the anniversary year to trigger the Companion Voucher.

    However, we thank you for sharing this issue with us and we assure you that I have immediately shared your valuable suggestions with the management so that they can look into this further.

    • Hmm.

      I think this is a bit like the bob in ET. It’s not just an issue that affects the FT community like the enhancements to CW, this is something that will affect a fair chunk of the wider, ‘normal’ population. I don’t have any friends who spend any time on sites like this or would even notice many of the things that cause outrage on FT, but all of them collect avois and most of them have the BA credit card. To find out that 1)they will be targeted for downgrades and 2)they will not get a penny of commensation for it is so obviously unfair that it could potentially be a story that affects far more than our little community.

      I love Amex, and I really feel for them here. The BA they signed up with is a different business to the one they find themselves hitched to now. I dare say that if BA do confirm the stories, I won’t be the only one cancelling by BAPP and at that point they might try to do something. Let’s see.

      • I’ve received an email from Amex this morning asking me to add a supplementary cardholder to my account as ‘all of the spend counts towards your Companion Voucher.’ What timing!

        Although Amex are distancing themselves from the issue ( see above), if BA single out these passengers for downgrading, then the main reason for paying for the cards is questionable.
        When we make a booking, even with Avios there is money involved going to BA in the ‘tax’ payment, we expect this contract to be honoured by BA.

        Rma

    • That’s a complete cop out response and one which clearly hasn’t considered the prospect of Amex customers moving to other (cheaper) credit cards!

      • Further to this, my OH was horrified when he heard that the BAPP Amex fee was going up to £195 and wanted to cancel. I persuaded him not to by showing him the value of the 2 4 1 voucher (roughly £1500 this year if you look at the cash price of our companion ticket, as long as we don’t get downgraded lol!).

        I’m sure other customers will feel this way, and Amex needs to realise this.

      • To be fair they cannot say much different at the moment – there has been no formal change in the arrangements, just some anecdotal evidence that 241s (or specifically, the companion) are being singled out for downgrade; allied to BA’s clearly unlawful approach to EC261 compensation.

        If either leg is true it is enough for me to cancel my BAPP, but I do that with sympathy for Amex. My guess is that BA will refuse to comment on downgrade policy and deny that 241s are targeted; and we will get their view that such vouchers have no cost so EC261 provides £0 compensation for downgrades. Amex might ask for some sort of clarification from BA that their customers are not at the bottom of the pile, but presumably BA will just say that decisions on downgrades are complex etc etc and [x]% of 241s were not downgraded so nothing to worry about. And the truth is, the chance of downgrade is very slim.

        Still enough for me to cancel, though.

      • Presumably this is a response to a secure message so will have come from the contact centre in India who have trouble dealing with simple things.
        I have sent a letter to Amex in Brighton by special delivery asking for clarification.

        • I completely disagree. Amex customer service on simple and complex things has been excellent for me and my family, by phone or by secure message – and I make lots of requests for help!

          What is really annoying is that having cancelled the Platinum card and the SPG card over the last 18 months, the BAPP is the only Amex I can really justify any more, and I am almost certainly going to cancel it unless BA say something substantially comforting as regards downgrades and EC261, and at the moment I cannot really see any amex that makes much sense for me. I think I might just end up with one card, being the IHG card. Pit.y

        • the real harry1 says:

          Could you give your reasons as to why you couldn’t justify getting an Amex Gold Card?

        • I can for the signup, but the fee for the second year doesn’t justify the benefit for longer term use. i can justify all of the Amex cards for churning, but that is not what I am after. I need a regular credit card and at the moment, I can’t find an Amex to fit the bill.

  3. I can think of a way of mitigating the downgrade risk here…keen to hear what everyone else here thinks….

    Step 1. book your 2-4-1 redemption ticket as normal
    Step 2 for the exact same flights as your 241, make 4 or 8 or 10 (as many as your credit card limit would allow) fully refundable cash tickets to block out large chunks of the cabin
    Step 3 on the day before your flight, cancel all your cash tickets and get the refund back

    Obviously you may loose any cancellation fees on the cash tickets and BA may well still oversell the cabin even after cancellations…. but would this work in theory?

    • In theory. Would I do it? No.

      My Easter F booking LHR-SIN, KUL-LHR costs £9,275.47 per person fully flex and with £35 cancellation fee per ticket x the number of tickets you want to book, means this is not that realistic.

    • It depends on how many tickets they oversell the cabin by. I had a First flight which I knew was full (Expert flyer) and I could still make a dummy booking for 1 seat but not 2. So I wonder how many seats they try to keep selling in CW?

      • CV3V, I’ve just signed up to a free trial of Expert Flyer to check my travel dates. Why do they have so many different codes for the cabin classes? There are at least four for the business cabin alone!

  4. If people are paying the fee mainly on the grounds of the 241 voucher, having it assigned zero value by BA is quite offensive.

    Raffles, if you ever get clarity on this issue would it be worth updating the corresponding credit card review to warn readers of the possibility of this happening?

  5. I don’t know if anyone asked previously but was the First cabin on Anon’s plane also full (if the plane has a First cabin)? What is the chance of being upgraded rather than downgraded?

  6. Did BA provide their “legal opinion” as promised today?

    • the real harry1 says:

      Raffles won’t give it away Monday night 🙂

    • No. However, they do appear to be working on it – I’ve had 3 emails from the press office.

      • the real harry1 says:

        I think that for various reasons they will accept a solution in our favour.

      • The suspense is killing us!

      • I think we are all waiting with bated breath on this one Rob. Will you be doing a new post or just an update on this one which has already gained over 350 comments.

        • Will do a new article. But, frankly, they would be crazy to confirm their position to me, either way.

        • Interesting! I thought they (BA) agreed to give you clarification on this issue? Sounds like they’ve had second thoughts after reading all theses comments and now need legal to look into this deeper. I’m sure this will become clear very soon. Really glad you decided to covered this issue Raffles, keep up the good work!

        • The press office agreed that the lawyers would do this. When the lawyers heard, they presumably spat the coffee out of their mouths in shock.

          However, we can track Anon’s claim starting next week ….

  7. DreamingOf1stClass says:

    Here is my email and response I received today. Seems to be a standard response being sent out. Credit to a previous poster for the email he posted which I amended a little bit.

    *Response*
    Your message:

    Thank you for writing to us with this query. I hope you are doing well.

    Whilst I understand your concern but I am afraid that we are unaware of any such issue as of now. Also, the usage of the Companion Voucher and Avios come under the Terms and Conditions set by British Airways Executive Club, and any changes made are entirely at the discretion of British Airways.

    Therefore, we are unable to influence their decision. All we do is inform British Airways as soon as you meet the spend criteria of £10,000 with the anniversary year to trigger the Companion Voucher.

    However, we thank you for sharing this issue with us and we assure you that I have immediately shared your valuable suggestions with the management so that they can look into this further.

    If you have any other queries, please feel free to e-mail us.

    ________________________________________

    Hi,
    I have recently taken out my card with you as I collect avios to use for premium cabin flight redemption’s and in particular for the 2-4-1 voucher, which both you and BA strongly advertise as a major benefit of the card.
    I have recently heard stories of British Airways targeting passengers who booked a premium cabin with a 2-4-1 voucher (link below) being the first customers targeted for downgrades, when they oversell the cabin. With compensation based on the avios and not the actual cash price of the seat.(the second persons avios is zero when using the 2-4-1 voucher)
    If this is the case can you please provide me with American Express thoughts on this and whether the cards benefits would provide proper compensation i.e not receiving the service I purchased using the card.
    This practice is making me re-consider the value of using your card to collect avios for flights, and earn the 2-4-1 voucher by hitting a spending target.
    If it is confirmed that the 2-4-1 voucher is being targeted by BA and proper compensation not being offered then I’m afraid I will have no other option but to cancel the card, £195 is a lot of money to pay with no benefits attached.
    http://www.headforpoints.com/2017/02/25/more-evidence-of-ba-prioritising-avios-bookings-for-downgrades/
    Regards

    • That is the same reply that was received by Anon above, which suggests that they were expecting this question an had the reply pre-prepared.

  8. Oddly enough all UK Domestic flights are unavailable for booking today and that includes using them for a connection even for paid for tickets. What are total farce – and the Twitter team still insist no dates are set for the CE change.

  9. Danl69 says:

    I think ba is missing the point – to me it’s not the compensation but the ‘spirit’ of the downgrade policy

    It’s customer service at its usual with ba.
    Have our card , be loyal , and we will give you a reward – only to take it away due to excessive greed in over booking a flight

    I’ve been gold for years now often use the vouchers – if it happened to me it’s good bye ba and the tens of thousands a year I spend with them even though they are inferior now to the competition.

  10. Anthony Dunn says:

    Well, this is remarkably straightforward: should BA try this one on me and (BAEC Gold) my Senior Management (BAEC Silver and the Companion voucher holder) when we do a BA/AE 241 LHR-MAA-LHR in June17, BA will (a) end up in a Small Claims Court and (b) Amex will be told that their 241 Companion offer is not worth the paper it is written on and that we will be cutting up our cards. That will hit BA as well.

    Thereafter, once we’ve used up our Avios, we will be switching almost all the flights that we can away from BA. Just when will BA senior management realise that they are close to breaking the back of their most loyal customers’ loyalty?

  11. I am shocked & amazed by this. We have just booked our first 2 4 1 reward voucher which was with lloyds avios amex card. Took us forever to book it as all the seats had gone by midnight on our first date choice, now to be told after all our effort we could be bumped off, i am gutted. Never flown business class before & was so looking forward it, now i have reservations. Hope by the time we fly this will be resolved.