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More evidence of BA prioritising Avios bookings for downgrades?

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(UPDATE: BA has agreed to give me a legal opinion on Monday on whether it believes a BA Amex companion ticket qualifies for EU261 downgrade compensation.)

A month ago I ran this article speculating that BA has begun to target Avios ticket holders for downgrades.

This would be economically rational.  Under EU regulations, a downgraded passenger is automatically due a 75% refund on that leg of their ticket.  For a cash passenger, that is expensive.

For an Avios passenger, it is not expensive to downgrade.  All the airline has to do is refund a few points.

For an Avios passenger travelling on a 2-4-1 voucher, the downgrade is free to BA.  It has been telling some passengers that as their ticket cost zero Avios, the refund is 75% of zero which is, erm, zero.

After my original article there was some debate about whether this is actually happening.  Some BA staff told me that it isn’t easy to tell whether a passenger is on a 2-4-1 ticket or not, although it is easy to spot those on redemptions on the manifest.  Some agents have implied that it is functionality in FLY, the new check-in and passenger management system, which now allows this policy to be implemented.

It is worth noting that the person involved in my original article issued a Small Claims Court against British Airways after being refused any compensation.  As per this page of Flyertalk, it appears that BA chose not to fight the case and settled for the unspecified amount the passenger demanded.


In the last couple of weeks, two more readers have contacted me with linked stories.

The key one came yesterday from a reader.  I always weigh up news I receive by email from readers to see how truthful and verifiable it seems, but this is one I trust implicitly – the person involved is a regular commentator and has even written a guest article for the site in the past.

If you read the comments on HFP yesterday, you would have seen his regular updates as the situation developed.

This is what he said to me by email:

“At Edinburgh to start our trip to Gatwick and then what was meant to be Club World BAPP 241 reward seats to Male.  At checking in for EDI-LGW we have been told we have been downgraded, either both to World Traveller Plus or just me with my wife staying in CW.  We have been told that BA has oversold the flight and it’s because we are on reward tickets that we have been selected to be downgraded.”

Here is another email I received two weeks ago:

“I have read your article re 2-4-1 downgrades and it almost exactly mirrors our experience.  The Duty Manager was adamant her instructions were to target Redemption ticket holders first.  Given that our seats were showing as still allocated to us that morning (albeit not available to be printed due to “system error” at the hotel), it appears BA have chosen to sell more CW seats on the day . . . knowing they had a supply of 2-4-1 pax ready to be downgraded

It is a largely win-win situation for BA . . .  if there are any no-shows, no skin off their noses, but hey, why not sell an equivalent number of CW seats to exactly match the number of 2-4-1 holders on every flight!  Cheap trick but as I learned in over twenty years with them, the internal “bar” is set at the greediest money-earning opportunity.”

The reader above is not one I have met but I have no reason doubt the accuracy of what he sent me.  He had even paid to reserve specific Club World seats but even that did not protect him from being downgraded.

To clarify, there is no specific proof that this is going on.  No BA employee has yet sent me a copy of the relevant memo or email.

Do let me know if you are also impacted by this and have been told that the staff that you have been downgraded specifically because you are on an Avios ticket.

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Comments (357)

  • Tony says:

    If this is official policy, it will surely be the final nail in the coffin for BAPP. Absolutely no value in 2-4-1 if they continually oversell premium cabins with a view to target those redemptions for downgrade. Who in their right mind would pay nearly £200 for a card where the prime benefit was so hit and miss?

  • Simon says:

    I booked 2 first tickets and one cw, all using miles , at check in , I was told my brother who was in cw was being down graded as the bookings had been booked separate , they couldn’t see any ba membership which he does not have , I discussed with manager explained I was ggl and his down grade was reversed and some one else downgraded .

  • Mr(s) Entitled says:

    If BA won’t comment perhaps AMEX will. This is their product and if true it is greatly devalued (to the point of zero to me). They have a lot more leverage and a lot more to lose.

  • Anon says:

    Morning folks, now sat in the Conrad seaplane lounge, receiving wonderful hospitality from our very nice Maldivian hosts.

    My wife managed to get a few hours sleep in CW, I however didn’t sleep too well in WTP, mainly because I’m disappointed and to be honest feel lied to and on the recieving end of misinformation. We were fed new info by the BA rep shortly before leaving the LGW lounge that she was wrong to previously say the flight was oversold, apparently it had since transpired there was a safety problem with one of the 48 CW seats, so unsafe for Take off and landing, but a crew member might use it during the flight for rest, when I asked if I could come up to CW to use during the flight I was told that wouldn’t be possible. On boarding spoke with Flight Service Manager who honestly told us CW was full with fare paying pax, no crew in CW and there was not any broken seats, the crew have dedicated rest areas and BA had knowingly and deliberately oversold the flight. To me this series of twists and turns and trying to be fobbed off is appalling behavior.

    Oh and to top it off BA have failed to deliver one of our bags, we know they made it to LGW, my wife saw them being unloaded off the domestic flight, again this is just poor and inexcusable. Will be interesting to see the level of empathy and compassion we receive in response to the above.

    So looking forward to being back at the Conrad this pm, they really excel at fantastic customer service, wonderful hosts.

    • Genghis says:

      Really sorry for your experience @Anon. I know I’d be fuming. Enjoy Rangali and pick up the fight on your return. Genghis.

    • Alan says:

      What a truly rubbish experience – hopefully Customer Relations pull something out of the hat to make it right. On a return flight it might be an option to say you’ll delay your flight until you could both go in CW but obviously no such option outbound, esp with seaplane transfers awaiting you!

    • Lady London says:

      Do BA think you’re stupid? That ‘revised explanation’ was clearly an attempt to cover their a/s/s after the truth had been blurted out previously.

      That’s the same as many airlines having said on the tarmac the delay was mechanical/crew out of hours etc., later tried to say it was weather issue to avoid paying appropriate compensation.

      Does the Daily Mail read HfP?

  • Ross says:

    Is it possible to argue that the cost of the 2-4-1 is actually the amount in £s you would have to spend in order to activate it or even the cost of any redemption for that matter? Surely with that argument, it vastly increases the monetary value of that ticket.

    • Genghis says:

      The value of the 241 to a collector is the avios saved but the cost is actually the Amex fees+any opportunity cost of using another card. These things aren’t free to accumulate and as such as many people chase them, they have a value. It’d be interesting to know what a court might decide.

  • bertiepoppy says:

    My issue is why can BA not seek to turn a problem into a success by generous compensation when performing involuntary downgrades. But, until they see the light of day, which of the following three options would you all consider to be most effective in curtailing their worse excesses?

    1. A mass petition (or some other form of communication) with Amex.

    2. As above but at the IAG AGM

    3. Monthly class actions by a “no win no fee” solicitor

    I believe that the sooner there are some Court rulings (possibly here and in the US) on the matter of compensation, the sooner BA will have to fall into line. BTW is there an opportunity for Virgin to take the lead here and boast about the exemplary way they deal with this kind of thing compared to BA.

    BA employees: Do you really get paid enough to treat your passengers with such contempt?

  • Nate1309 says:

    This is disgusting behaviour from BA. I have been bumped to a later flight on a 2-4-1 redemption to Johannesburg before as CW was oversold. But what has happened to @Anon really takes the biscuit! Hope you have a nice time in the Maldives Anon.

  • Tim says:

    As far as I understand these are contractual arrangements, albeit made more complicated by the involvement of Avios and, in the case of 2-4-1, Amex, but neverless, they are contractual.

    An airline may downgrade, bump-off etc. only for ‘operational reasons’ legally – i.e not for commercial reasons. Anything else must be indiviidually negotiated. If the customer refuses, the airline is bound by the same laws and regulations that apply to any non-redemption customer – a re-route in the same class, food, drink hotel and full compensation as per EU tariffs.

    My advice is not to be the typical British wimp in these matters and plainly refuse to accept the downgrade. Only once customers stand up for their rights will BA reconsider this obnoxious policy.

    • Steve says:

      I think that would be my stance as well.

      The annoying thing about the Male trip is that it’s always full, so bumping to the next flight may not work. It’s probably the only route I can think of where staff travel gets blocked out at certain times as well, they can’t even list for it. Overselling the flight is pretty inexcusable because it’s a leisure route and I would be blazing if it had happened to me, I once went on miles to Male and it’s a real pain to get a trip there with a 241, I’d say the most difficult on the network, checking availability at 2am and 6am every day from T-355days.

      It could be possible that the 777 was swapped for one without a crew rest area and therefore a seat was used for the 3rd pilot, but I don’t know the rules on them using a club seat Vs paying passengers, im fairly certain it’s that they come second. I’ve been on flights where one of our club seats is U/S and can’t be placed in the landing/takeoff position downroute, but the local dispatchers have insisted it’s ok and tried to get Pax in it to avoid a headache for them, but I’ve only ever experienced it downroute.

      The FLY system does tend to chose what happens with regards to onloading, but it can also mess it up. I may speak to a turn around manager about it this week and see what they say.