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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.

British Airways BA Amex American Express

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There are two official British Airways American Express cards. Both have increased sign-up bonuses until 2nd November 2021:

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British Airways BA Premium Plus American Express Amex credit card

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

40,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review

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

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The 30,000 points bonus on Amex Gold runs to 9th November 2021. The 60,000 points bonus on The Platinum Card runs to 2nd November 2021.

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Comments (235)

  • Scallder says:

    Certainly a little while ago now but flew back CW from SFO on 2 for 1 with my wife. As I had CX Gold from the Platinum Amex a number of years ago had booked seats almost a year before. Others were getting bumped and being sent home via LAX but we were OK.

    The zero compensation is disgusting – defintely should try and make some claim against them…

  • Dave says:

    In this instance could they have refused to be downgraded and ask to be put on the next flight? Or is it basically like it or lump it?

    • pauldb says:

      EU261 doesn’t give you any option of rerouting, only the structure for claiming reimbursement. If BA don’t want to accommodate you on the next flight and you want to argue BA have failed to deliver on your ticket contract you’d have to declare you aren’t flying, buy another ticket home, and then take them to court. If you haven’t boarded it’s pretty hard to refuse to be downgraded; on the other hand if you’ve made it as far as your original seat refusing to move is an option!

  • Adrian says:

    If this happened to my wife and I, I wouldn’t hesitate to claim the 75% Avios return through the County Court small claims procedure!

  • AH says:

    Well you need to spend £10,000 to activate your 2-4-1 ticket.
    I think that gives a cash value to the companion ticket.
    The companion is not flying for free!

    • AH says:

      Clever T&C
      British Airways American Express Classic and Premium Cardmembers
      The Companion Voucher allows the main British Airways American Express Card Account holder, when making a flight booking using Avios, to book another seat on the journey for a Companion without having to pay the Avios flight price for that Companion.
      The Companion Voucher will be issued in the name of the main British Airways American Express Card Account holder, who must travel on any Companion Voucher booking.
      Only one Companion Voucher can be redeemed at any one time.

      British Airways American Express Premium Plus Cardmembers
      The Companion Voucher allows the main British Airways American Express Card Account holder, when making a flight booking using Avios, to book another seat on the journey for a Companion without having to pay the Avios flight price for that Companion.
      The Companion Voucher will be issued in the name of the main British Airways American Express Card Account holder, who must travel on any Companion Voucher booking.
      Companion Vouchers may only be used for bookings subject to availability and British Airways offers no guarantee that Cardmembers will be able to book for a Companion on any specific flight.
      If the Cardmember has two valid Companion Vouchers on their account they have the option to redeem both of them together for one flight booking allowing the Cardmember to travel with 3 companions and pay the Avios flight price for only 2 people travelling on the booking.
      The main British Airways American Express Account holder must travel on any Companion Voucher booking.
      A maximum of two Companion Vouchers can be redeemed at any one time.

      • Genghis says:

        Your point?

        • AH says:

          it does not specifically say in the T&C that it would be the same class :-
          The Companion Voucher allows the main British Airways American Express Card Account holder, when making a flight booking using Avios, to book another seat on the journey for a Companion without having to pay the Avios flight price for that Companion.

          • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

            Perhaps, but to quote Amex’s marketing: ‘Redeem your Avios for a reward flight and your companion(s) goes with you, in the same cabin.’

          • Martin says:

            It doesn’t say specifically however booking doesn’t allow you to book in 1 seat in 1 cabin and 1 in another.

  • Chris P says:

    We were down graded from Club to World Traveller Plus in March due to a change of aircraft from an A380 to a B777 going to Washington. With the choice of a later flight in Club or the same flight in WTP we decided to stay in the lounge (to try to drink BA’s profits!) for the second flight but travelling on a 2 for 1 voucher we always wonder if we had been targeted. We were given 10k Avios and refused compensation under EC261. Bizarrely we were each given a glass of Champagne in the lounge at 9am – something we would have asked for ourselves!
    I was more annoyed that I saw the aircraft change 3 days earlier but ringing BA several times I was assured we had our seats on the A380 and not to worry. When we couldn’t check in on line we knew who was correct – and it wasn’t BA.

    • Genghis says:

      Now there’s no detail to fully assess your situation but if after reading up on the regs and you still believe you’ve got a valid claim, why not take it further?

  • DM says:

    I find it hard to believe that flights are still oversold even with modern technology? How difficult can it be to manage this? Unless it’s purposefully done knowing x% of pax will not show up for a given flight.

    • Chris says:

      Yes. They guess a % won’t show up (on flex tickets), but also aircraft swaps with less seats means they become oversold unintentionally.

      • Rob says:

        You need to remember that people on flex tickets often get their PA to book them on 3-4 flights. Especially common out of New York when you can be booked on the 7pm, 8pm, 9pm etc and just cancel the ones you don’t use.

        Similar to booking tables at 3 restaurants and then deciding which one, last minute, to bother going to, which is another nasty City habit.

        • RedHroogar says:

          Perhaps this is a way of maximising availability if your on a 2-1 ticket, as I am to MIA in Feb, I.e book 2 flex tickets and then no show and reclaim? Would that work?

          • RedHroogar says:

            Obviously me being naive; I just checked and the cost would be an eye watering £17k for two tickets

          • Rob says:

            Can’t recommend this as a strategy and you are going to be very out of pocket (about £10k) for a couple of months!

    • Barry cutters says:

      Yes it is done on purpose

  • Matt H says:

    I don’t think BA handle downgrading well at all, when I was asked to downgrade on a Cathay flight from Hong Kong to Bali as part of a four segment from London we of course agreed to 75% refund of the whole return ticket cost to sit for 4 hours of 19 hour flying time in Premium Economy. What really showed was how professionally they handed the whole situation bringing the cash to us in the lounge and inviting us to a private area to sit with the manager. Nothing was too much for them even though we had been more than fairly compensated. Made me rebook with Cathay even when they are not the cheapest.

    • Mr(s) Entitled says:

      This to me is the point.

      Whatever the compensation/refund available to split a couple makes such bad business sense long term. It devalues your brand, and to some, it devalues it to zero.

      Problems occur but how you then handle them can actually have a positive impact on the customer. Cathay turned a negative into a positive. BA would have lost my custom for good.

  • Chris says:

    If someone was in this position (ie a companion being downgraded), would it be worth insisting the main passenger takes the downgrade instead. Unless the companion was knowingly targeted, I can’t see why the agent would refuse that (although whether procedurally they can deal with that I don’t know). At least that way when it comes to claiming it was the paying passenger that was downgraded.

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