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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)

  • Nick says:

    HFP, please update the stock picture you use! That jumbo is a Classic, in the OLD livery, both of which disappeared from the skies a good fifteen years ago. Keep up!

  • Talay says:

    Whilst I think Messrs Sue, Grabbit & Run would be instructed after the event, it does not help our understanding of what options are available should we be presented with this at check in.

    Obviously we can accept or decline whatever BA choose to impose but there are likely to be large consequential losses arising from any refusal to fly. Hotel bills come to mind as the biggest expense followed (or perhaps preceded) by my time.

    Should we choose not to fly in the rear of the plane, then are we in danger of failing to mitigate our losses should we then claim thousands of pounds a day for hotels and time ?

    Likewise, where do we stand if offered a later flight in the booked class ? After working for a year someone might claim their day missed was worth many thousands of pounds. If a family, then a multiple of this ?

    What about a 4 class flight where 241 business are downgraded but space is available in first ? Unlikely you may think but perhaps also there might be 241 in F.

    I think we need to know what our legal position is as in the absence of documentation from BA showing discrimination on the basis of how the ticket is purchased, I fear many cannot take the risk to decline an economy seat and claim for a ruined holiday plus time.

  • Sam says:

    We need more information such as status of both 241 passengers. Any offered compensation at the gate. Offer of delaying to a different flight etc.

    • Anon says:

      Our own status was never mentioned, it was the fact we were on a redemption that was highlighted, the mandatory options that were stated by BA were either the companion or both of you will be downgraded, but theres a chance if someone no shows you may both sit be in CW, what do you want to do?

  • Kinkell says:

    A lot of our avios are earned through our Tesco club card membership. My husband does the Tesco shopping and I sort the airline tickets. I told him about how BA were treating some people who had purchased 241 redemptions in good faith. He said it was a bit like getting a two for one voucher as part of Tesco’s loyalty programme, selecting the appropriate product off the shelf, presenting the voucher at checkout and paying, only to be stopped at the exit by security to be told “Sorry Sir, demand for this product is greater than our stock will be able to cope with. We have customers who don’t have a loyalty voucher and who are prepared to pay full price for this product, so we are going to take it off you and let them buy it instead”. Just imagine the furores that would create! But isn’t this precisely what BA are doing here?

    My husband is happy to continue to deal with Tesco and leave BA to me…..and we have 2×241 trips booked!

  • Frankie says:

    Doesn’t this happen very rarely? Is the HFP community worrying unnecessarily? Obviously awful for Anon and anyone else this has happened to. I know my partner, from reading this today, and the previous article on this a month ago is now concerned about our 2 for 1 in September 🙁

    • Rob says:

      The thing is …. you never know, because you don’t know, even if you boarded ok, whether others were removed. How often is CW full though?

  • Alan says:

    Just seen your PS re legal opinion, Rob – interesting they’re going to do that but presumably it will be in their favour otherwise I can’t see why they’d (a) pass it on or (b) treatment customers in the way they have Anon!

    • CV3V says:

      Will be interesting to see what the BA legal opinion will be, gut feel it will be in their favour, the same as everyone other airlines interpretation of EU compensation which won’t work out when tested in court.

    • CV3V says:

      What really annoys me about what happened to Anon was the changing reasons (deceit) for the downgrade. Think I would want the reason in writing (broken seat) as evidence.

    • Lady London says:

      more likely they’re getting a legal opinion they hope will cover their aS/S/es.

  • Lady London says:

    Wow. More skulduggery from British Airways.

    I really hope someone takes them to court over this. I’d really love a court to tell BA that the value that needs to be compensated against, is the cost of buying that same routing in equivalent class that same day. After all, that:s the position they’re putting downgraded and offloaded passengers in.

    I was on another Easyjet flight yesterday. I was just thinking that the onboard service was just the same as BA was thirty years ago. Except BA did not sell food on board. Oh wait….

  • Lewis Watson says:

    I assume BA doesn’t give you back the 2 for 1 voucher to use at a later date?

    • Klaus-Peter Dudas says:

      Well, if they are arguing that the cost of the tickets is 100% Avios for one ticket then the other ticker must be 100% voucher, so they must surely compensate 75% of half of the voucher, so 37.5% of a 241 voucher. Not sure how that works though