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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.


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.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (December 2022)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

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

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable card perk – the 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and unbeatable travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Run your own business?

We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

10,500 points bonus – the most generous Avios Visa for a limited company Read our full review

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.

Comments (233)

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

  • rams1981 says:

    OT IHG voucher for 10k spend. Just booked Paris on 8th July which is my birthday. Value roughly 330 euros

    • Rob says:

      Except …. I assume you would otherwise buy 60,000 points in an IHG ‘100% bonus’ sale which comes around with regular frequency. That would come in at less than €330 (not by much, but a bit).

      • rams1981 says:

        Fair point.

        What do Intercontiental give you for Spire Elite these days? Not expecting much though a free breakfast would be nice.

    • Genghis says:

      Good use of the voucher. We were thinking of Amsterdam later in the year.

    • pointsarb says:

      Does the voucher get issued straight after your 10k spend or on card anniversary do you know? I hit my 10k target ages ago but no sign of a voucher yet!

  • Zoggle says:

    I too, had the opposite. We traveled to Mumbai with BA, and then down to Kerala 2 years ago. Out in First, and we were booked into WTP for the Mumbai return leg (no First or CW available) on the BA AMEX 2-4-1. At that time I was only BA Silver, however I was greeted as soon as I got to the airport, I was told they had a birthday present for me (I was out there for my 40th) asked to sit down, and then presented with boarding passe’s for CW for my wife and I, due to WTP being overbooked.
    A very nice touch they had linked it with it being my Birthday the following day.
    I am not a huge fan of the BA CW product (Qatar is amazing) , but they have been very good to me several times.

  • barnaby100 says:

    OT. There are virgin/delta Upper class fares to boston (I checked august) for £1005 return. Out to jfk and then delta to boston and back the same route.

  • Mike says:

    Someone has just posted a redemption downgrade thread on FT making specific reference to the HFP article

  • Cate says:

    I’ve just now received an email from BA asking if I’d like to help them ‘shape the future’ with a ‘brief’ 15 minute-ish survey. Well for a start Mr Cruz I don’t work for free either…..

    • Lady London says:

      All I can say is it takes 45 minutes if you have just had a rotten experience with British Airways’ Customer Un-services Department ! 🙂

  • Cate says:

    Very sad read when you think they were once noted as the airline who washed grapes for first class customers in champagne.

  • Gordon Simpson says:

    Well this is just peachy. I have just booked LHR-SYD in December using an Amex voucher. I now have 11 month to stress about this happening 🙁

    • Rob says:

      You’ll be fine, far worse things in life to worry about!

      • simon barlow says:

        Hi Rob (or anyone else!), what would you say is the best strategy to adopt if faced with a down grade?

        • Rob says:

          Never sign anything you are offered; dig out your phone and look up potential alternative flights with availability they could put you on; challenge them to see if they have asked for volunteers which they should; ask to take a flight another day in return for hotel etc.

          • simon barlow says:


          • Anna says:

            Is this just for downgrades? My return flight was cancelled and they told us they are only obliged to get us home so we have ended up having to cut 2 days off our holiday as we can’t fly back later than our original return date. I specifically asked if they could fly us home with another airline on the original travel day and they said they had no obligation to do that!

          • Rob says:

            Correct. More than 14 days from travel they have zero legal obligations except to give you a refund alternative.

    • rams1981 says:

      Did you do this online? Was it a club world redemption – easy to do?

  • Tim says:

    Had the opposite like others have shared.

    LHR – SIN @ Aug 16

    Had a 2-4-1 booking for me and my daughter. Wife had hers as a separate avios booking. Did not phone BA up to link the booking together, but we reserved our seats to be together. These are WT tickets.

    I have silver status.

    On the day of travel me and my daughter got upgraded to WTP. At the check in desk the lady phone head office and they upgraded my missus as well for free. (They told me it would have been £240 otherwise to pay for an upgrade).

    We were seated together so very happy with the experience.

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