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Would BA prioritise the downgrading of Amex 2-4-1 passengers?

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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.

British Airways BA 777X 777 9X

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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There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

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Comments (233)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Jon says:

    Another data point for what it’s worth, from a while back: booked LHR-NRT out in Club back in First for 180k Avios plus 241 voucher. Some months before departure we discovered (BA didn’t notify us) that we’d been downgraded to CW on the return due to an aircraft change / no First cabin. Long story short, after a lot of phone calls and emails, and no availability on alternative flights, we got:

    – Initially, 30k Avios refunded (the difference between First and CW for one person).
    – Later, the 241 voucher re-instated (I had been pushing for at least another 30k re the companion ticket).

    On day of departure, I spoke to a manager in the lounge (who was brilliant, incidentally) who was able to find us F seats on the return flight from Haneda, same day as our original booking, just a few hours earlier. Icing on the cake, at the gate on the outbound we got an op-up to First as well 🙂

    A few observations that came from it all:

    – EU261 seems vague on whether compensation is due for invol downgrades that happen well in advance. For cancellations, there is a clear cut-off, but (by my reading) this does not apply to downgrades. If any lawyers on here have a definitive answer, it would be interesting to know!

    – BA initially flagged the flight as cancelled (rather than just an aircraft change), then reinstated with exactly the same flight number, departure time, route etc. etc, everything except the aircraft type. I assume this was because a cancellation made months in advance does not incur EU261, whereas an invol downgrade might….

    • Paul says:

      On a positive note, you flew back from Haneda which is a shorter commute from central Tokyo then Narita.

  • Stuart Evans says:

    Do you think that doing On-line Check In as soon as possible reduces the chances of being downgraded?

    • the real harry1 says:

      I was told by check in agent to always check in online T-24 as a safety precaution to ‘guarantee’ our seats on over-booked flights…she had just offered us 5x EUR300 to change to a later flight, which my dear wife thought was not worth waiting 5 hours for…

    • MIKE says:

      It may not help to avoid a down grade and in our case we were blocked from checking in on-line. Recently before we travelled LHR to Chennai we tried to check in on line ASAP but could not do so. We phoned BA and were assured it was a general system problem and we would be able to check in at LHR. We subsequently found other “Club” passengers had checked in OK.

      At LHR after a lot of negotiation my wife travelled Club & I WTP even though we had booked very early with a Companion Ticket. I got the £200 mandatory compensation and was promised a Refund would be actioned within 24 hours. It has not being received 2 months later .I made a complaint to BA over a month ago regarding this & several related issues. The complaint was acknowledged but despite a lot of chasing I am still awaiting a definitive reply to my complaint & have almost reached the stage of taking up the matter through other channels.

  • BS says:

    It’s based on a CIV score that is calculated by the new DCS that BA uses (which is actually an Amadeus product) – the system will advise to downgrade based on a number of factors about the reservation and if space is tight then it’s a case of ranking that list of pax by CIV scores and working from the bottom up…

    • Kinkell says:

      CIV. DCS. ? Hmmn how would. Work out my score?

      • BS says:

        Customer Importance Value, Departure Control System. It looks at your FQTV level, class of service, previous flight history, time of booking…etc

  • James says:

    Yes, BA does do this. It happened to us, without question.

    We were among the first passengers to check in at the airport for a flight from Venice – LHR, booked into Club with a 2-4-1 voucher.. BA online checkin had been down for many hours so it is near impossible that many, if any other passengers had checked in already, and indeed, checkin lines at the airport (after we’d arrived) seems to confirm this. We were at the desk several hours ahead of the flight.

    At checkin, there was a sign on the screen saying Club seats were still available to purchase as upgrades. Yet we were told that not only could we not check in as Club passengers, but that we couldn’t check in AT ALL, and were waitlisted, because the flight was crowded. This was baffling but the BA checkin clerk did not speak good enough English to pursue an argument at length, so we had to agree to reconvene at the gate.

    We were eventually boarded half an hour after everyone else, into economy seats, and made to do the walk of shame with the plane doors closing behind us and the annoyed, delayed fellow passengers giving evil looks, little did they know we’d in fact been at the airport and ready before most of them.

    The treatment was as baffling as it was unpleasant. On following up with customer serviceI was told how sorry BA were for this error, that it shouldn’t have happened, and was offered ‘compensation’ in the form of refunded Avios points that simply covered the exact cost of a cabin downgrade, as required by law. So no actual compensation at all for the inconvenience nor for effectively having wasted half of a valuable 2-4-1 voucher. Further followups to question this (and why BA’s own admission at its poor service was not matched by proper compensation) were pretty much met with ‘computer says no’.

    In years gone by, I know for a fact that if a paying BA Club passenger gets downgraded – even if it’s their own fault, like being late to check in – they get an incredibly generous reward as compensation. Probably not the case as much nowadays, but even so, it was pretty clear that 2-4-1 Club passengers are not thought of as real passengers and certainly aren’t valued.

    BA was once the best airline out there. Now they’re an embarassment. I’ve collected tonnes of Avios over the years and now I want to get shot of them so I can avoid BA in future.

  • THL says:

    It’s not just BA who does this based on my experience with LATAM two weeks ago. We used the BA website to purchase premium cabin seats on a flight from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo using avios. Online check-in was down, and so when we got to the airport we found out we’d been downgraded to economy. The surly LATAM rep told us the flight was completely oversold and as the last to check-in, we were bumped off. Fair enough.

    With boarding complete, I noticed one empty seat in the premium cabin. When I had a word with the purser about reinstating one of us in club, he asked me for my name and pulled up the guest manifesto on his tablet. So you can imagine my surprise when our names were still showing seats assigned as 2A and 2C. I think in this instance one of the agents must have pulled a favour to upgrade a friend or relative, and the non-rev ticket holders were the obvious target…

    • Alan says:

      Ooh what happened next? 🙂 (would love if they swapped you into your original seats!)

      • THL says:

        Nothing quite as dramatic I’m afraid. Mass confusion erupted due to the disparity in the passenger manifest and actual seating, which I think made them realize there was a potential issue. The dispatch officer was called onboard and a new printed manifest was summoned from ground staff. We were inching dangerously close to jeopardising our connection to LHR, so I just let it go. The purser did come and speak with us during the flight and helped complete a passenger incident report. Have had an email from LATAM since, but nothing else. I’ll be damned if I don’t chase up those burned miles!

        • Alan says:

          Ahh OK – shame! Agree more important to make connection but fingers-crossed for a decent outcome for you!

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