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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)

  • Alexey says:

    It seems with these policies in few years time BA will have to allocate large pot for compensations similar as PPI claims , for me targeting companion vouchers specifically sounds like a fraud committed by the management

  • Go says:

    I wonder how many 2 for 1’s are used per year. How many of these do the bean counters at BA see the potential to downgrade if they overbook. Do they never think of the potential loss on the other side through bad press and loss of customers. Let’s hope someone in the HFP community takes them to court over this

  • Zoe says:

    When is Anon’s return booked for? If there are any First /CW seats left perhaps we should be booking all of them fully flex, then cancel a few hours few the flight to ensure it can’t happen on the return journey.

    • Anon says:

      Had to laugh out loud on that one, let’s hope BA see the harm that a short sighted policy is doing to their long term loyalty and revenue streams.

      I’m willing to kiss and make up I just hope they are too.

      Also not a whisper on our missing bag, very quiet on that front despite the best efforts of folks here at the Conrad…

    • JamesW says:

      Until this year I always used my 2-4-1 as they offer incredible value (if they can be relied upon to get you what you booked) if used well, even taking into account the £200 card fee.
      However being a single chap, I have found myself unable to make use of the 2-4-1 this past year and one of my 2-4-1s actually expired this Feb.
      Felt gutted as it had cost me money (card fee at least, bit of switching spend from one card to another – losing points on the other card).
      With Qatar J fares coming up at such decent prices ex-EU (albeit worse now thanks to Fx) I’ve fallen ut of love with BA and am falling out of love with Avios too. I do find them very useful for shorthaul trips & positioning flights but the faff is just getting too much and with BA’s standards dropping so much there’s truly very little difference with a LCC now. If the LCCs started offering garaunteed empty seats next to you for a premium I think I’d never make another CE redemption / flight again !

    • JamesW says:

      You, Sir, are a genius.
      I’m in.
      Let’s protest this change by just booking up seats we never intend to use & releasing them at the last minute.
      Of course sadly they’d just revoke that benefit instead of looking to remedy the real problem.
      But it would certainly p*as them off in the short-term.
      I’m in
      Perhaps we need a dedicated thread on FT to organise the systematic sabotaging of BA’s new ‘policy’ in this manner.
      I like it 🙂

  • Markw says:

    By entering into an agreement with Amex and BA that you can have a 2-4-1 voucher for spending £10000 are you not entering into a contract with them? If should BA then not adhere to that agreement are they not in breach of contract? I hope everyone affected by this sue BA if they do not offer compensation to the same value as a cash purchaser as others have said.

    • flyforfun says:

      The contract with Amex is for voucher for 2 for 1. It’s not class specific. You can use it for Y travel if you want.

      If you get downgraded, but still get 2 seats for the price of one, then Amex has met its obligations. It’s BA who are screwing around with this. I blame the accountants who don’t understand the damage being done to Brand BA. It’s just another LCC in my mind now and as such that’s how I treat it. My last J long haul flight was so poor, the traveling on some Asian carrier’s Y class is a better experience.

      • Fenny says:

        Don’t blame the accountants, they just provide numbers. Blame the actual people who make the decision. Whatever people think, “beancounters” are not the people who sit there picking out who to downgrade.

      • Mike says:

        I disagree…….. you have your opinion and I respect that. However, the overwhelming majority of 241 holders don’t want to use it in Y as it would be cheaper to pay cash for a Y ticket. BA and Amex know that’s the case. I’m sure contract law would prevail in this set of circumstances. In furtherance to Markw’ comment, you pay for a specific class of cabin, you hand over your 241, a shed load of avios and £1000 on taxes and they accept your booking – contract formed. They then break that contract by downgrading you.

      • CV3V says:

        A requirement of the 241 is both pax are booked into the same cabin. The 241 offers little value in WT or WT+, another reason why customers use it for CW or F. BA are in breach of the Ts n Cs a reed with Amex on their own BA branded card.

    • Joan says:

      With my non paying Amex I have to spend £20,000 to get my 241. I will go MAD if they downgrade us in May

      • Polly says:

        Joan, you,would be well advised when you refer your OH or if you get a new BA Amex, that you pay the fee get the BAPP, bank the 26k avios, plus referral bonus, then spend fast as you can to get your 10k spend, and get a pro rata refund.,it’s such a hard slog to have to spend 20k for only a 1 yr 241.
        Let’s hope we get a straight answer from BA soon.

  • Andy says:

    Thanks for highlighting this Rob and also for at least challenging BA regarding the EU261 compensation. Personally, I would go further and actually ask them to articulate what criteria applies when downgrading passengers and whether a company policy exists which covers said criteria (clearly there will be). That way, we can establish whether those travelling on reward tickets are included in said criteria (we believe they are) and what the pecking order is for those to be selected for a downgrade (we clearly believe that those travelling on reward tickets will be first to be chosen).

    If the above question is posed, my expectation would be that BA respond in an open and transparent way. If they choose not to, and the issue is explored further, then there may be a substantial number of individuals who collect AVIOS in all guises who could pause and ask themselves whether they would wish to continue to participate in the scheme. I do accept that many just wouldn’t care but a fair number of us count on the fact that we can book premium cabins and not have to expect that there is a greater chance at being downgraded or treated as a second class passenger (pun intended) purely because we are travelling on a reward ticket. A lot of us invest a lot of time and effort to collect AVIOS including a credit card fee etc. and I for one am concerned by what Rob has articulated in this article.

    • JamesW says:

      There’s a TV documentary in this & how BA are falling in quality and abusing loyal customers.

  • Anna says:

    If an airline is found to have deliberately oversold a flight, and as a result has forced a passenger into a lower class of cabin, it should be fined in line with other companies which have been sanctioned for mis-selling, e.g. Vodaphone in 2016 were fined for “mis-selling, inaccurate billing and poor handling of complaints” yet it seems to me that BA gets away with this routinely!

    • JamesW says:

      Bloody interesting perspective.

      • Rob says:

        But what do you do about bankers who get their PA to book them a flexible seat on every flight out of JFK one evening so they can rock up and jump on at their leisure, leaving another 5+ flights going out with an empty seat that BA could otherwise have resold?

  • Fenny says:

    Surely anyone who travels regularly on an airline will collect loyalty points and use those for reward flights. To target redemptions is as likely to catch regular passengers as those who only manage to fly in the higher classes because they have spent the last however long amassing loyalty points via other means. Actively overbooking and targeting 2for1 redemptions seems to be a level of discrimination that could be queried in a class action.

  • Ric Parker says:

    We flew back from Warsaw in January having booked two Club tickets with Avios and 2-4-1 voucher. Because of the cabin crew strike a charter plane was substituted which was all economy. BA have said they will refund the difference I.e. A few Avios for one passenger and some tax. I do not feel this is good enough. I have complained but they will not shift.