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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)

  • stuart says:

    As coincidence has it, my wife’s 2-4-1 came through this week. In the email it describes:

    When you book a Reward Flight (departing and returning to the UK) on any British Airways mainline flight with a BA flight number, your Voucher gives you a second seat for a companion, on the same flight and in the same cabin.*

    What’s that little * all about? T&C’s at the bottom the email perhaps, where on the first line (looking all new and out of place) reads:

    “Companion Vouchers are subject to availability.”

    Could this mean “availability at time of booking” or “availability at time of flight”?

    Also, something that’s a bit different from expected (my CAPS):

    “Companion Vouchers must be exchanged for a RETURN ticket and all outbound travel from the UK must be taken before the expiry date of the Voucher(s). ”

    and:

    “Return flights MUST BE booked at the SAME TIME as the outward journey is booked.”

    Both of which seem contrary to what is the commonly perceived wisdom…

    • Genghis says:

      Yes – and also contrary to the Terms and Conditions that I accepted when I took out the card and they need to give me 3 months’ notice of any amendment.

      • JamesW says:

        Oooh, interesting. What are the card Ts& Cs you refer to ? Where can I find them ?? (Obviously in the TS & Cs but something more specific would be great !).

        • Genghis says:

          If a term is not mentioned as part of the T&Cs you accept, then it is not a T&C. I.e. no mention in the T&Cs I accepted of return being booked same time as outbound.

    • Andrew* says:

      That clause isn’t ‘brand new’… a little digging through old emails shows it’s been there since at least September next year…

      More importantly, is it being enforced?

  • Anon says:

    Hi folks,

    It’s dark here at the Conrad Rangali now, sunset was lovely as was complimentary afternoon tea and Happy hour.

    Just got off the phone with a very nice & caring, attentive lady in the Manchester BAEC office confirming our missing bag will be here tomorrow, huge relief to see that when it gets here, our options for evening wear will be less restrictive that the snorkeling shorts I’ve been wearing for the last 2 nights… 🙂

  • mark2 says:

    If anyone else wants to write to American Express the address is:
    American Express Card Services,
    1, John Street,
    BRIGHTON,
    BN88 1NH

    I think that the main point to mention is their reputational risk as their name is all over this offer.

    • Nigel says:

      Yes, it’s their voucher, Amex provides it – and given that quite a few Plat card holders also have a BAPP, it’s a problem which could affect some of their ‘better’/higher-spending customers…

    • Paul L says:

      Mark,

      Have you a physical name to write too? A particular head of a department?

      • mark2 says:

        The person at Brighton told me that all correspondence goes to Executive Services who forward it to the correct person.

  • Ian Hubbard says:

    I have a 241 voucher and am (or maybe was) planning to use it to go to the U.S. Sept 2018 in first class. Like others I am now very uneasy as I believe it has the potential to totally screw up a holiday. Question, how far could I be bumped i.e. club, premium economy or economy? Looks like I will be downgrading my BAAE card……….
    In anticipation thanks for taking the time to answer.

    • the real harry1 says:

      people need to be a bit more rational, keep things in perspective & stop acting like the only gay in the village (nothing personal to OP & just a reference to a silly character in Little Britain)

      you can clearly be bumped down anywhere or off the plane entirely

      BUT

      you are unlikely to be downgraded
      you are unlikely to be downgraded more than 1 class
      you are unlikely to be bumped off the plane especially if you check in ahead of time as far as possible

      • Anon says:

        Do you remember Robs story from 2013 when his 2 yr old was selected to be bumped off his DXB-LHR flight?

        • the real harry1 says:

          ISTR he reacted rationally & sorted it out

        • Rob says:

          Indeed he was. BA did book him into a five star hotel for the day and issue him with a ticket for the evening flight, though, which was thoughtful of them.

          That was a cash ticket and both me and my wife were Silver cardholders at the time. Obviously the lad wasn’t, which may have been why he was thrown off.

  • Michael_S says:

    Rob, every time you post an article about BA squeezing something here and there, I tell to myself “wow, this must be their lowest point ever”, until you post another one. Then they complain you are biased against BA!

    I have 241 BA 001 coming up next monh. What are the chances of me being put in a bus from LCY to LHR and shipped to NYC in economy (or cargo?). Don’t tell me it can’t happen, we all know there’s – hopefully only a slim – chance!

    • Jovanna says:

      Only 11 pax on board when I was on BA1 a few weeks ago. You’ll probably have the whole row to yourself!

    • Mike says:

      I’ve a 241 on BA002 for the summer.
      I’m not particularly concerned. It would have to be a truly exceptional situation for there to be nothing available in J between NYC and LON on any particular day across both airlines.

      I know there are only a few data points but something like Male seems much more at risk.

      • Anon says:

        Agreed, apparently the Caribbean destinations are another “nightmare” for the BA rep to have to deal with disappointed customers.

        • Rob says:

          That’s probably because people booked to the Maldives on non-refundable tickets have a weird habit of actually turning up for the flight, unlike business travellers to JFK on fully flexible tickets …..

          • Anon says:

            The real nightmare part is trying to reroute them to their Caribbean destination via the USA when they don’t have a visa, and this is prior to more recent restrictions with immigration in the US…. :/

        • Anna says:

          Hopefully that’s from Gatwick. My 2 4 1 Caribbean CW redemption this summer is from Heathrow!

          • Anon says:

            Dont want to spook you, but can you see availability for cash bookings on your CW flights?

            You could phone up BAEC to ask if your flight is going to be intentionally overbooked?

            That way at least you are provided with enough info to decide whether to risk keeping the booking or to cancel and make alternative arrangements.

          • Anna says:

            Anon, just out of interest did a dummy search for 4 x CW seats and got a quote though we don’t go till August. However, that’s their low season and in any case GCM doesn’t attract a huge number of British holiday makers, despite being a British territory. We try and keep it a secret lol!

  • Josh says:

    I don’t even have a BA Amex any more, even though I did get 4 x F return tickets to Canada with it. I’d rather use up more points to fly on another airline or just pay for a J ticket on another airline than have to fly BA.

  • Anon says:

    The real harry – Thanks for the laugh! 🙂

    However unlikely, if the policy of delibrately making cynical & calculated overbookings on popular routes (and lets call it what it is, ie “gazumping”), if you have a flight booked to high demand & low frequency destination, I would suggest BA now consider your 241 booking to be a “Standby Companion” Ticket and nothing more.

  • Anon says:

    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…..