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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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  1. In fairness, I was also told by the BA rep in the LGW lounge that the new computer system remembers if you or your flying partners bookings have ever been subjected to a downgrade so that you or your partner will never be selected again for a future downgrade.

    But please bear in mind the same person told me the false story about the “faulty unsafe & unusable” CW seat that might be used by a crew member during the flight but I wasn’t allowed to use.

    So I’ll leave you guessing (along with me) if the first statement is true or not…..

  2. Another snippet from my flight, BA had also managed to split up a couple in WTP that were on their honeymoon.

    Just before takeoff I volunteered to swap my WTP with the groom, also suggested to the FSM that a offering them a spot of CW champagne would go a long way to sweeting them up, to give him credit, he duly obilidged and they were v grateful.

    My wife also swapped her seat in CW so an other couple could be together.

    If BA want anymore help with customer services, I’m happy to be of assistance. 🙂

    • It sounds like BA were trying to do a parody of another David Williams and Matt Lucas comedy on your flight!
      They needed Moses on the flight to sort things out but it sounds like Omar was in charge 😉

    • Man! Aren’t you supposed to be on holiday in Paradise???

  3. Wonder how many instances of downgrading are as a result of Gold holders using status to force a seat open.

  4. Graham Walsh says:

    Just seen a similar story on LinkedIn.

  5. Assuming that Singapore and Hong Kong you have less chance of being downgraded. I have 4 first tickets (2 for 1) booked for September this year. I get the impression that these routes have more capacity.
    All of us will be in Silver.

  6. LondonFoodie says:

    This just convinced me not renew the Amex card. No point getting the 241 and saving all these Avios if in the end you get downgraded because plane is full. Never happened to us so far, but perhaps we booked on flights which weren’t super over-booked, or before this policy came into force. Would have been gutted if I booked a Maldives flight and got downgraded.
    I think I’m getting the HSBC card.

    • the real harry1 says:

      get rational

      so it never happened to you, is never likely to happen to you – but you think it’s a good reason to abandon 241

      you’re worse than my wife with SARS & Bird Flu – my gods that was 2 wonderful holidays in Paradise (Thailand) that I only just managed to persuade my mad mad mad irrational (at the time! 🙂 ) woman to take, given the silly, inflated news

      as it turns out, they were naturally wonderful holidays with zero extra risk

      • Real Harry – understand where you’re coming from regarding people remaining rational, but we are not all Mr Spock, we are emotional beings hence why we want to experience holidays in far flung places in the first place, despite me wearing my heart on sleeve occasionally, Im actually a pretty analytical guy who also believes people should be dealt with fairly and with decency.

        So maybe a reasonable course of action is for BA to proactively form pax in advance that their high demand & low frequency flight has been overbooked?

        With flights like ours there’s no flight later that day or even the next day. I was even preselecting my preferred CW meal 48 hours before takeoff, pretty sure BA already knew then the likely situation that was to transpire.

        BA knows what flights they’ve already overbooked in similar circumstances, they also know if a 241 has been used on those flights, if they’d offered me a suitable alternative routing from EDI a few days earlier I’d of took it with appropriate compensation.

        We all know how popular Qatar business class product is, I’d of accepted that alternative if the flight & connection times from EDI suited our circumstances.

        As for advising on anyone else “irrational” enough to be concerned about been downgraded, maybe see if the cabin you’ve booked into has seats left to book from 2 weeks before you’re journey departure, if there’s nothing left phone BAEC to ask if the flight has been overbooked, at least you’d have more info than me.

        • the real harry1 says:

          sorry Anon – I was experiencing real pain at the flashback of my wife moaning at me non-stop for several weeks pre the SARS & bird flu holidays, coming back to haunt me 15 years later 🙂

          • No harm done, I still like your story tho, btw I took a great trip to Hong Kong during SARS and Bird Flu.

        • LondonFoodie says:

          Real Harry –
          Here’s my rationale and hopefully it will show that my behaviour is rational:
          – I assume that the new rules are indeed in place, meaning that if a flight is over booked in CW, I will be the one bumped if I have a redemption flight, especially with 241
          – I know from past experience that I am most likely to book CW/F flights on popular dates to popular destinations by booking 355 days in advance and calling the service center to secure return flight.
          – I assume (maybe wrongly so) that popular flights will be over-booked in most classes
          – If my assumptions above are true, then there is a good chance that I will be bumped off my “hard earned” CW/F flight.

          So if the main reason for me paying £200 for the Amex is to get a companion voucher to redeem on premium cabins, and there is now a real risk (50%? 30%?) that I will lose this benefit, it does not make much sense for me to continue using the card in order to earn Avios I’m unlikely to use.

          Hope this makes sense and explains why this isn’t just an irrational knee jerk reaction.

  7. the real harry1 says:

    Raffles:is your website under attack by anti-BA people? Seems there are a lot of new people spouting similar nonsense.

  8. Harry, l think people are slightly ! Concerned as this may be a new development BA are thinking more about enforcing. The fact that one of our main contributors was affected is quite enlightening. It may well be route focused, ie very popular limited access places like Male, or indeed a Gold card holder insisting on their rights as Gold. I think we would have had more reports over the past few years from readers if it was happening at a higher frequency. I think as BA read this, they will realise quite quickly this may well jeopardise their relationship with Amex. As the 241 is very much a big part of pushing the BAPP card. Let’s see what the legal stance is that BA might present to Rob in the next week or so. We wait with bated breath. But l agree Harry, l think it’s is most unlikely we will be downgraded with such high frequency.
    Anon, you are being very gracious about the whole episode, and both you and your wife are very generous in spirit with swopping seats etc. Have a great holiday, and we will def not be trying to use our 241 for that destination. Sounds gorgeous, but Phuket, and Bali will do us. We thankfully have never been downgraded on any of our Asia routes in F.

  9. Well said Polly!

    To add, we had 3X 241 in the last 3 years in J/F and were never downgraded once.

  10. Ian Hubbard says:

    The real harry1 – thank you for the early morning chuckle…………… I have been an avid reader/lurker since 2013 and it is the situation described that has provoked my post. On a positive note hopefully the routes I wish to fly will not be under the same pressure as the Maldives……………. Ps still chuckling

  11. Let’s see what they say. If this is true, it will be the end of the road for me and BA. My employer had just opened up the travel policy so that we can take the most sensible long haul flights rather than having to fly ba. And from a personal perspective, the rather rapid erosion of the entire experience of flying with ba, the devaluation of avios, the fact that cruz and team smoky don’t seem to want me on board any more and the fact that better airlines are often much cheaper means that i would be a fool to fly with ba unless I had to.

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