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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.

  • the_real_a says:

    I would go so far as to say this is filthy and disgusting behavior. No longer can we expect BA to do the right thing in any scenario.

    You now need to treat BA with the same contempt as a dodgy used car dealer.

  • Lawrence Millington says:

    Not quite the same situation, but I have paid for Economy Exit Row seats on a flight tomorrow and only upon looking at the Virgin app today saw that I have been moved to regular seats. After a long phone call to Customer services she could only guess that the exit row seats are broken as they show as empty but can’t be occupied…I am assured a refund is on the way but I doubt it will be that easy and more to the point I am now in bog standard economy for 9 hours…I can only hope the Premium Economy seats I have for the return leg don’t get changed else I wont be quite so calm about it!

  • Anon says:

    Flying LHR – JNB a few years ago on a 241 (as Blue members) we were downgraded from WTP to WT.
    They also tried to boot one of us off the plane entirely a few months ago on a LHR-TLV ticket (single reward ticket)

  • Lee says:

    Hi is it possible to transfer points from my partners amex uk plat when we close her acc to my krisflyer account ?

    Im a supp cardholder on her acc if that makes any difference.

  • Clive says:

    If this is happening with any regularity, it’s something which you’d hope would be of concern to Amex – the 241 voucher is a benefit which Amex is offering, rather than BA. If the voucher becomes less useful, or leads to disappointment, that’s BA letting Amex’s customers down…

  • Frankie says:

    Will the ability to claim under EC261 still exist after Brexit?

    • Rob says:

      As with most EU law, it has probably been written into UK law and therefore will exist unless specifically repealed, but you need to check with each particular case.

      • the real harry1 says:

        ‘And it is why, as we repeal the European Communities Act, we will convert the “acquis” – the body of existing EU law – into British law.

        This will give the country maximum certainty as we leave the EU. The same rules and laws will apply on the day after Brexit as they did before. And it will be for the British Parliament to decide on any changes to that law after full scrutiny and proper Parliamentary debate.’

        Theresa May

    • the real harry1 says:

      yes (acquis)

    • Calchas says:

      If the UK wishes to remain within the European Common Aviation Area then it will be required to make all regulations concerning air travel, including the consumer protection aspect, part of its internal legal order. If the UK does not wish to remain within the European Common Aviation Area then it can do as it wishes, but this would make it severely difficult for many UK airlines to operate as they do now.

  • Tony says:

    Just to give some balance to these tales of woe. Had the opposite experience couple months back. MIA to LHR, had World Traveller Plus booked for two of us, using Avios and a 2 for 1 voucher. Arrived at check in to be told we’d been upgraded to Business. Presumably WTP was fully booked with cash sales and we got bumped upwards.

    • G says:

      Likewise. I booked two economy tickets from London to Abuja over the Christmas period on a 2-4-1 voucher…was upgraded to Business Class, for both legs of the journey, for both passengers!

      • ben says:

        Tony and G, did you have any status with BA?

        • Tony says:

          Nope – just a lowly Blue Exec Club Member here. I didn’t ask any questions until the ticket was in my hand but when I did, the check in desk lady at Miami said what usually happens is if someone comes along and is prepared to pay cash for a Premium Ecomony seat, they’ll often take the cash, and bump a points booking instead if there’s availability to seat the points customer somewhere else. Makes perfect sense because presumably a Premium Economy purchaser unable to find availability, wouldn’t search up a grade to select another seat, he’d search at economy prices. If they can take his cash, it’s extra revenue for the flight, and a happy points customer now sitting in an otherwise unused spare seat in Business.

          Not sure what would have happened if Business was full and the only availability was in Economy though – presumably the scenario written about here.

        • G says:

          Silver status for me – I didn’t ask any questions and just enjoyed the flight!

      • Tony says:

        Now that was a result! Good work sir.

  • James says:

    The whole thing seems a bit pathetic if you ask me. This is a company that employs so many and truth be told many who are not so privileged will maybe just once upgrade or go Club World cabin and so to see these people affected is sad indeed.

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

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