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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

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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Comments (233)

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

  • JAXBA says:

    Should at least get 75% of the YQ for that sector: that varies by cabin.

    A fair Avios calculation might be to consider both pax as having used 50% each of the Avios paid, and to do the sector calculation based on that.

  • Simon says:

    You’re worrying me now as we have first class 2-4-1 tickets booked next month to Rio. Sounds like we have no rights if asked to downgrade?

    • zsalya says:

      First to CW is not trip-ruining.
      Below CW is trip-ruining.
      So you have a cushion of safety.

      • Paul says:

        I disagree. I loath CW.

        • Jonty says:

          First world problems…

          • Genghis says:

            Isn’t this site all about first world problems?

          • Simon Barlow says:

            So, having planned a trip of a life time for my wife and I and entered into a contract in good faith, I should just accept the other party changing the terms with a shrug of the shoulders as for whatever reason I’ve been lucky to be in the position in the first place? Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate the position we are in, I’ve worked bloody hard to enable us to do this. But that doesn’t mean just because there’s a not bad outcome I or anyone else should accept this treatment.

        • Yuff says:

          But you don’t mind WTP or WT 😉

      • Mike says:

        Rubbish.

        Any downgrade ruins a trip

        I would not accept being separated from my wife.

      • Oyster says:

        Yet again we have a reply along the lines of “I’m alright Jack.”

  • Dave says:

    I have no knowledge of downgrading policies but whereas Avios bookings were always treated the same as cash purchased tickets I believe that for seat choice the Avios ticket purchaser is being put at the bottom of priority. Last two times when checking in at T-24 hours I have found only a choice of only one or two poor seats in a Club World cabin. I have no status but previously before the FLY system roll out there would be more choice.

    • Mark says:

      I believe the issue there (from observation) is that everyone is allocated a seat prior to T-24 so if the flight is full no-one gets much choice. E.g. Prior to our holding status we did one flight where we were allocated 2 seats together on the upper deck of a 747 with only one other seat choice on the main deck available.

      I don’t think that was always the case but it has been for a few years.

      Whatever happened with the auto check in pilot?

  • Jono says:

    I’d be over to the small claims court arguing that the 2-4-1 voucher had a value equal to the avios saved.

    • Genghis says:

      +1

    • Martin says:

      I have experience of an avios downgrade (not 2-4-1). We too had a plane change which gave a smaller CW cabin. One of our tickets was a full avios CW redemption and one a WTP upgrade. We were given an ex gratis of $995 plus refund taxes and avios of the difference between CW and WT (the cabin we were downgraded to). This in reality only covered costs and not inconvenience. I had a number of bounce back and forward correspondence with BA refusing 261 compensation on the grounds I received a refund and ex gratia and that’s all we were due. I threatened court action and they were unfazed. I took legal advice from Bitt and Co who said I had a tough fight and had to be prepared for trips to London to go to court as my case hadn’t been tested and they weren’t sure my case would fully hold up and for the potential costs I may incur I would be better leaving be. In the end I did let it go.

      • Genghis says:

        Small claims is low risk for the plaintiff

        • Martin says:

          But not low cost when you live in Scotland, I had already received just shy of £1k and a lump of avios which I was due back for the downgrade anyway. Thankfully I didn’t have the loss of a 2-4-1 to fight over. The legal eagles suggested this may be deducted from any compensation due under EU261 therefore I could spend hundreds in travel and accomodation for a net gain of very little. My location may have had a bearing on their thoughts of whether my case was worth pursing.

      • Mr Bridge says:

        you would only be liable for reasonable expenses if you lose, but this may include overnight accommodation and travel.
        Its interesting Bott did not want to pick this up, probably for the reason stated its never been tested.
        In theory there is a breach of contract, but what was actually paid, and at worst the taxes would be lower.
        But there may be a clue in the amex 2-4-1 t+cs, the voucher is issued in the cardholders name, so which passenger ticket is issued under the voucher and which is the one issued under avios??

    • AndyW says:

      +1, & I suspect the threat alone would get them moving

    • Seb says:

      agreed. There is a fee for the BA amex and you are then enticed to spend £10k on it this card in return for the 2-4-1 voucher. The voucher means that you only have to use half the avios for 2 tickets so to me this means the voucher has an avios worth equal to the avios used on the first ticket. As other readers have suggested I would take this to small claims if BA refused to compensate. I would also get amex involved in this as you could claim that the 2-4-1 voucher was not honored as advertised (expected).

      • Mr Bridge says:

        I would not recommend small claims court, the onus is on you to prove the breach of contract, and if you lose you may get a bill for several hundred pounds for BA’s expenses.

        However if ROB is willing, maybe there is a away for HFP to put every hfp reader affected in touch with each other, if there were say 10 or more, maybe Bott and co may be willing to take on this as a test case. But remember Bott and co work on a % of the compensation, i am sure they won’t want paying in Avios, and there fee is not reclaimable from BA..so who pays.

        It seems this is a lose lose situation

        • Mr Bridge says:

          interesting enough, term 18 of t+cs says:
          The Cardmember and their Companions must travel together at all times therefore must be booked onto the same flight and cabin class when travelling using a Companion Voucher.
          in the reader’s case, splitting up the couple would appear to be against ba’s/amex t+cs,
          A contract that gives one party more rights than the other is automatically unfair.

        • Seb says:

          Good point. Surely if you have been downgraded to a lower class seat without compensation this is a breach of contract. I’m not saying this can’t and won’t happen but BA have to compensate fairly when it does. To say that the second seat has NO value is just ridiculous. (To the customer the voucher has a worth equal to the avios used for the first ticket.)

  • Stu R says:

    I personally believe it to be way too much of a coincidence that the 2-4-1 companion passenger ‘just happened’ to be downgraded.

    Picking on the companion passenger for a downgrade to WTP is nothing short of a disgrace; a huge multinational company profits by a few extra quid, meanwhile a couple get what might have been their trip of a lifetime partially ruined …. I’m sure the B in BA actually stands for B*****ds!

  • zsalya says:

    The only time I have been downgraded was the very first time I actually paid my own cash for a Business Class ticket!
    It was what seemed at the time (pre HFP) a comparatively cheap fare, which may have been the reason.
    I refused to endure overnight without a bed, so they moved me to the next day, and upgraded me to First at the gate.
    They then refused EC261 on the grounds that they had not denied me boarding.
    5,000 Avios compensation seemed stingy, but I decided not to fight for more.

    What I did learn from that (and an occasion when ‘plane was partially faulty) was that if one cannot check-in online when one tries in the 24 hours before the flight then one should be prepared to E.g. extend holiday.

    • Zoe says:

      Agree being unable to check in online is a red flag. It has happened to us twice, once we were bumped off an Iberia Barcelona to Miami flight (cash booking via Princess Cruises in economy, missed first few days of cruise). The other occasion we had avios tickets in WTP to Barbados for October half term. Couldn’t select seats 24 hours before, called BA, told plane was very full, get to airport early. Pitched up as soon as check in opened and whole family got upgraded to Club World.
      On a personal level we are lucky to be travelling long haul, using tricks from here means we are privileged to sometimes travel in more comfort. I am embarrassed at some of the ‘entitled’ type views being expressed.

    • Lady London says:

      Not necessarily. I knew someone who always travelled in Club. When he couldn’t check in in the 24hrs before, more than 50% of the time he would find he had been upgraded when he arrived at the airport.

  • Paul says:

    Way too much of a coincidence – similar happened to us on Virgin a few years back. Booked a fully paid C class and credit card companion ticket to Cape Town. Flight was cancelled for tech reasons and they offered to transfer me (with the paid ticket) to SAA but nothing for my other half on the companion as we “hadn’t paid for it”. As it was only for a long weekend trip we ended up having to cancel everything and never got the value back from VS.

  • Martin says:

    When you say ‘BA is meant to ask for volunteers to downgrade or travel later for £’ it would be useful to know where this rule is published with the hope that it may help one make a case to the staff if one was ever in that position.

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