Long term readers of Head for Points will remember my trip home from the Middle East at Easter 2013.
Despite having four Club World tickets booked, we arrived at Dubai Airport to find that an aircraft swap meant that the aircraft had a smaller Club World cabin than expected. Myself, my wife and my then-6-year-old daughter had been downgrade to World Traveller Plus. My then-2-year-old son had been offloaded entirely, on his own. That was an interesting morning ….. suffice it to say that we all got on the plane, in Club World, in the end.
I bring this up because I’ve had a couple of emails recently where readers felt that British Airways had targeted them for a downgrade because they were travelling on Avios tickets. In particular, one asked whether I thought BA would target holders of companion tickets issued with a BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher?
Why would they do this? See below.
Would they actually do this in practice? You would like to think not.
Under Article 10 of the EC261 regulations, the compensation payable for a downgrade is:
- Under 1,500km flight – 30% of ‘price paid’
- All other intra-EU flights and long haul flights between 1,500 and 3,000 km – 50% of ‘price paid’
- Long haul flights over 3,000 km – 75% of ‘price paid’
‘Price paid’ is not defined. My understanding is that it was meant to be based on the return cost but most airlines choose to use the one way cost. There is also no guidance in the regulations about how to handle a downgrade on one leg of a multi-leg flight or a downgrade by more than one cabin. However, the general point is clear:
The refund is based on the price paid. For Avios tickets, it is based on the Avios used.
In premium cabins (and you can’t be downgraded from economy) the cost of a cash ticket means that it is economically beneficial for BA to downgrade an Avios passenger ahead of a cash passenger. The refund will be in Avios, not cash, and will not be huge.
A recent case sent to me by a reader is more complex. I have seen the post-trip correspondence from BA to the reader.
A couple were travelling together. Club World was oversold by ONE person. In this scenario, BA is meant to ask for volunteers to travel later or be downgraded in return for £. Only after all passengers have refused are they meant to pick a passenger to be downgraded.
There were presumably plenty of solo passengers travelling on this flight who could have been downgraded or offloaded to minimise inconvenience. Instead, BA picked a couple travelling on the same ticket. One passenger was downgraded from Club World to World Traveller Plus, the other was not.
The couple were travelling on a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher. The downgraded passenger was the companion.
Now, of course, everyone has an unlucky day and at this point you can’t claim that there was a conspiracy to downgrade a 2-4-1 passenger. Neither of these passengers had British Airways status so they would have been high up the list to be offloaded anyway.
However, when the passenger made a claim under EC261 they were told that no compensation was payable. They had paid zero Avios for their companion ticket and 75% of zero was zero.
(The passenger was given an ex-gratia gift card for £200 at the airport, but this is irrelevant under EC261.)
I find it hard to believe that anyone at British Airways would prioritise 2-4-1 companion ticket holders for downgrades as – by definition – it means splitting up a couple. Even if it is, economically, the logical thing to do if you were looking to maximise profitability.
These stories could just be bad luck – after all, HFP readers are more likely than not to be flying on Avios tickets. It might just be chance that the person downgraded was the one on the companion ticket. It might be that the flight was heavy on status passengers and they arrived at the airport later than most.
If you have any recent experiences of being downgraded on an Avios ticket, please let us know – especially if you think there were other people more ‘suitable’ than yourself.
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