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More evidence of British Airways prioritising Avios bookings for downgrades?

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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.

British Airways BA 777X 777 9X

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)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Someone says:

    EU261 states that the should an airline downgrade you it has to refund “(c) 75 % of the price of the ticket”.

    In my mind the price of the ticket is different to how much was paid for the ticket. If you by a £10 CD but only pay £7.50 because you have a coupon for a £2.50 discount, the price of the CD is still £10. If it was defective the retailer would either refund the full cash amount (£10) or refund the amount paid (£7.50) and reinstate the coupon.

    In the instance of a 2-4-1 the price of a return ticket to Bangkok would be 300,000 Avios (150,000 x 2) but the paid amount would only be 150,000 because a voucher had been used. The fact that a voucher has been used does not change the the price of the ticket, it just changes the amount paid.

    Per my reading of the regulation, the refund calculation is made on the price of the ticket, not the amount paid for the ticket.

    • the real harry1 says:

      I like the logic. Quite clearly the price of the ticket – valid for both tickets – is the price paid for the ‘full’ cash ticket.

    • Brian W says:

      I agree entirely. No ticket is priced at zero so their 75% of nothing = nothing is nonsense.

      A companion ticket would be viewed in the same manner as a standard reward ticket in court I believe for the reasons you state, its value (price) is identical and the fact a coupon or voucher was used to reduce the price paid for it is irrelevant. The fact that Avios is the currency it was purchased in also becomes irrelevant. Standard reward seats are treated in exactly the same way as cash seats under EU261 and are thus entitled to the same compensation and the rules state this. I have experience of this on a RFS flight were I paid 15k Avios and £35 x 5 seats and got a cheque for 400 Euro’s per seat under EU261, just as a revenue seat holder next to me will have been awarded.

      BA are clearly bending the EU261 rules by declaring that a companion ticket is of zero value compared to that of a cash paying passenger and I look forward to them being tested on this one. It will also be interesting to learn whether this practise of overselling CW then downgrading 241’s is leading to BA breaking their promise of 2 x CW seats on every flight. That would leave a very bitter taste in my mouth after that was one of their devaluation pledges.

      • the real harry1 says:

        Anon should still have taken the £200 voucher though – as it doesn’t prejudice EU261

        • Anon says:

          I tried to accept the £200 as a pure gesture of goodwill.

          However the offer of £200 & its T&Cs of acceptance quotes section 7.3 of the EU261 stating that is being made in part payment of compensation.

          When I signed for accepting the payment purely as goodwill, I crossed out of the relevant sections referencing EU261, as a result I was then advised by the BA staff rep that management may deem me not eligible for the £200 in such circumstances, and I was advised it was not possible to give me the gift card and therefore it was in my own interests to allow the BA staff rep to submit a report to Customer Relations upon my behalf.

          This of course was all being conducted in the lounge in front of other pax, taking upto an hour of our time, when we were meant to be relaxing and looking forward to a CW flight I’d booked 11.5 moths earlier….

          • Yuff says:

            If an airline wants to deliberately downgrade a passenger, purely for commercial reasons, and said passenger can’t be persuaded to accept the downgrade and has no choice then BA should compensate them for the difference in cash, between the cabins, plus the stress caused by having to fly in a lower cabin.
            The passenger who should not have been in the cabin was the last passenger to book the seat not the ones who, in BA’s mind, has paid the least 🙁

          • the real harry1 says:

            ah right

            watch out for those titan triggerfish, I had a very scary encounter with one that came at me like a rocket, luckily all it bit was my fin as I kicked it away

    • JamesW says:

      Bloody good point.

  • Tom says:

    BA really don’t care about 241 vouchers. I had used 2x on first tickets to SEA for a family of 4. We had to cancel and it took BA a full month to put them back on my BAEC account..meanwhile the clock was ticking on their expiry, our ability to book disappeared (we’re restricted to school good luck finding redemptions unless you book 255 days out!). BA couldn’t have cared less. I spent hours on the phone to them onto be promised a variety of people would look into it and never did.

    Once I’ve burnt through my current batch of 241s I’m giving up on them and switching to spending my avios on RFS flights instead. It’s easy enough to get bargain cash fares with better airlines to destinations I want to go to during times I want to go! And along with all of that goes my loyalty to BA, which has been entirely enhanced away.

    • CV3V says:

      That’s odd, I cancelled a 241 booking a few weeks ago over the phone. The voucher was immediately recredited and i used it straight away for a revised booking.

    • JamesW says:

      Totally agree.

  • elwe says:

    EU261 is quite clear than 75% of the cost is due as a refund, including airline points systems. It is therefore quite clear that 75% of the 241 voucher is due as a refund. Since this was the difference between booking one seat and booking two, it is clearly the cost of the second seat.

    I would think 75% of the taxes and fees on the second seat are also due back, unless EU264 only covers the fare.

    If BA can’t manage to refund 75% of a 241 they should simply round it, which would be a whole 241.

    In any reasonably well argued case a judge should find this way. If I were claiming I would ask for the validity period to be the same as it was at the time of booking the downgraded flight. I can’t see a judge finding that unreasonable.

    This is the reason BA are folding court cases. They don’t want to set a precedent. While people let them get away with it they will continue.

  • Johan says:

    OT – does anyone know if breakfast is included in the HHonors WEEKEND NIGHT CERTIFICATE that comes with the credit card?

    • Alan says:

      No, standard redemption rooms (which is what you get with the voucher) don’t include breakfast. If you’ve got Gold or Diamond status you obviously do get it though.

  • Mikeact says:

    Having ploughed through all 200+ posts, I just wanted to clarify my position.The ‘arguments’ seem to be centered around the 2for1 voucher. My wife and I are currently in New Zealand and due to fly back from Australia to the UK at the end of April .We have never aspired to the heady heights of a 2 for 1.
    However, we are travelling back in Club World on two Avios seats.
    Are we saying that, ‘beware, you or your wife, or both, could be downgraded, at the behest of BA with absolutely no recourse at all while boarding in Sydney? ‘
    My wife would be absolutely gutted and probably wouldn’t talk to me again.

    • Crafty says:

      There is always a very small risk of that, whether booking cash or Avios.

      This article’s findings suggest that risk becomes greater for an Avios booking, and greater still for a 2-4-1 booking; and in each case the default compensation offered will be incrementally more ungenerous.

    • Ro says:

      If you get downgraded with an avios booking, where both of you have paid avios, the compensation can be a bit easier to claim because you have paid a set amount (the avios + taxes/carrier charges) that is definable and you would be covered clearly by EU legislation.

      The ambiguity comes with the 2-4-1 because what BA do is downgrade the “companion” who they argue has paid nothing, so is due a percentage of nothing.

      If you were to get downgraded on your award flight you could try and argue that they should put you in the same class at a later flight.

  • CV3V says:

    Wonder if BA’s lawyers are reading the posts in preparation of their response. Could be quite a few rewrites going on.

  • Cate says:

    Another possible consideration is the wording of the T&C’s that the companion has to sit in the same cabin as the voucher holder. Is that a Term or a Condition of using the voucher? My understanding IIRC is that a Term is mutually negotiable by both parties but a Condition is legally enforceable by either. If it’s a Term then surely they have to give reasonable notice that they intend to negotiate and not wait for Anon to turn up at the airport.

  • Oonagh cacioppo says:

    If being downgraded can you request a later flight but remain in Club or First due to bring in too much pain to sit upright for + or – 12 hours?

    • JamesW says:

      That is absolutely what I would need.
      If the answer is no then I’d not feel able to take the flight and would have to make alternative arrangements, booking a last minute business class fare with another airline – I can’t afford that but I would HAVE TO if I was stranded somewhere 🙁

      • mark2 says:

        If you were stranded why would you HAVE TO travel business class?

        • JamesW says:

          Chronic pain issues in my neck & back mean I would be in agony after a couple of hours stuck in an upright chsir . I need to be able to shift positions a lot and lie down too.
          Don’t give a sh*t about champagne, fancy food or a bigger TV.

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