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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.

british-airways-ba

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)

  • AndyF says:

    Rob perhaps it’s worth adding a few additional articles to your Avios university learning guide.

    What happens when you book flights and you would like to change them?
    What happens when you get bumped from your original booking class and what points can you argue to try and stop this from happening?
    Including what your next course of action may possibly be i.e. requesting a later flight ask for food vouchers hotel accommodation etc

    It would be a phenomenal article and one I am sure all HFP members will read it before all future Avios redemptions. A logical argument is the best course of action when trying to discourage this kind of behaviour. I for one would have it preloaded it on my mobile at time of check-in, in case the worse happened.

  • John says:

    I’m just glad I have never bothered with the 241. The difficulty of maximising the value of it is not worth it for us.

    I really only use avios for RFS of which I have done hundreds, whereas I’ve only ever paid for an HBO once

  • Mike says:

    A legal opinion from BA – it’s not exactly going to be in the customer’s favour, is it ? That said, at least it will give us some more information to chew over.

    • James67 says:

      That seems likely, however, this is going to snowball way beyond HFP and if BA has too much to hide or simply cannot stand the heat of too much bad press then they might reconsuder their policies and nip this one in the bud now before it gets out of hand. That would be a great result for HFP readers.

      • CV3V says:

        If you buy a flight on points 355 days before the flight and BA then keep selling tickets and overselling a flight, and then have a policy to downgrade the points booking as it costs them less in compensation (pause for breath), I can’t see from a moral standpoint that this is acceptable in small claims court. Simply it should be last in first out.

        Due to the Amex TnCs about booking companion into same cabin you could have assumed a 241 booking as unmovable, unless both passengers get moved (which would cost BA more in compensation).

  • Nick says:

    Thanks for the update rob and fighting what is clearly a rip off if the stories are true.

    OT – My groupon Iberia avios have landed!!!

  • Memesweeper says:

    Quote: 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
    /Quote

    Interesting!

    If they do suggest no compo is payable that undermines the value of the benefit Amex/BAPP offers.

    If they prioritise them for downgrades too … they are idiots. They’ll kill the scheme.

    • LM says:

      Looking forward seeing their response. BA are going out of their way to run the company into the ground and alienate customers. I have been a loyal BA customer for years but if they do that to me I am of there. That is just not acceptable.

  • Paul says:

    Their own T&C’s state that both persons must be in the same cabin
    ———————————————
    “British Airways American Express Companion Voucher

    Terms and conditions

    Paragraph 18: Cardmember and their Companions must travel together at all times therefore must be booked onto the same flight and cabin class when travelling using a Companion Voucher.”
    ———————————————

  • Nigel says:

    We were downgraded on an Avios, Amex 241 flight from F to J. We were explicitly told that we had been selected by the station manager at the airport as we had reward tickets even though we both have Gold BAEC status. In terms of additional compensation we were told that BA did not offer any compensation for the Amex 241 voucher.

    • Yuff says:

      I may just start taking a screenshot of the cash price of the reward seat along with a screenshot of the cash price of the cabin below, just in case.
      I’d be issuing a claim for the difference in cash between the cabins 🙂

    • Mike says:

      It’s not an exact science then, is it ? If there’s no protection for golds on redemption it opens up a huge can of worms on who is (potentially) targeted for a downgrade.

  • Andy says:

    We have 2 F reward flights in September. I will be scouring the ticket desks first to see if they are offering upgrades to First before we check in.
    I assume I can jut ask before showing my reservation. I will start recording with phone in pocket as I ask.