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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.

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (June 2024)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review

There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £15,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points. These points convert at 1:1 into Avios.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 16TH JULY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Run your own business?

We recommend Capital on Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

Capital on Tap Business Rewards Visa

10,000 points bonus – plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and FREE for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.

Comments (357)

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

  • Pol says:

    This makes me very nervous for my upcoming CW flight to jnb. Booked 5 redemption seats, including using 2×241. Not sure I could face 11 hours without a bed.

  • Mohammed says:


    I booked couple of days in Jakarta Thamrin holiday inn for 5k points under the IHG promotion. I wanted to change the dates of the booking but it seems the points needed has gone back to the usual 15k. Why is that? Other destinations from the current list are still showing the 5k points but not this one

    • Rob says:

      Each hotel has a fixed number of nights available at 5k. When that number is booked it reverts to the usual price.

      • Mohammed says:

        So can I change the date by a day earlier? Will I get the same rate or will it be the standard rate?


        • John says:

          Once all the 5000 point rooms have gone for a particular date you won’t be able to change to that date. It looks like all dates are gone for your hotel.

  • Ben says:

    Im working towards earning my first 2-4-1 at the moment. Are there any specific routes that are favourites for 2-4-1 redemptions for eithet availability and/or value? Will probably look at West Coast USA or Carribean….

    • Rob says:

      San Jose (California) and Oakland are new West Coast routes which are far less popular than LA, San Francisco etc.

    • mark2 says:

      Seattle and Vancouver seem to have good availability too.

    • Anna says:

      1. Do a few dummy bookings first so you’re familiar with the process – e.g. you have to tick the box specifying you want to use your voucher at the start of the booking or it will quote you for 2 x avios.
      1. Stay up late at T-355.
      2. Be flexible with destinations, and also with dates – mid-week redemptions seem easier to get than weekends.

      For the Caribbean, you are more likely to find availability in low season (May to November) than in the high-demand winter months. I have CW redemptions for August to GCM, travelling out on a Friday as well, so I think season can be more important than when the school holidays are for some destinations.

  • George says:

    It is of course not a good experience to be downgraded, but it happens and BA are entirely justified in applying a policy of downgrading miles bookings first (although if I were them, I would also look at the colour of the BA card of the passenger). And equally it makes sense to downgrade the beneficiary of a 2-4-1 ticket as they are (taking that individual flight alone) the least commercially important passenger.

    IMO it is not the downgrading or even the targeting of the miles bookings that is the relevant point here. Rather it is two things:

    1) do BA ignore the 2-4-1 booking when overbooking flights? Ie do they overbook by an extra seat on top of what they would
    normally do, on the basis they don’t care what happens to this passenger? If so, that is outrageous. If not, then the downgrading is just something that has to be lived with as part of air travel (and let’s be thankful we have the EU regs that apply here).

    2) BA need to pay proper compensation for the downgrade. It is important to ensure they are held to account for this.

    So I get why people are upset, but downgrading happens, it makes sense to target miles bookings first, and within that category to target the 2-4-1 ticket. It is how BA deal with it afterwards, and any skullduggery regarding overbooking that are the real issues.

  • David says:

    Have not experienced this problem using 2-4-1 flying First. Was wondering if there is any evidence if status is a consideration here. Could the reason we have never been downgraded when using the 2-4-1 or flying on a regular redemption ticket be because we are both BA Gold, and they may not think it worth risking our taking our business elsewhere?

    • Brian says:

      Wouldn’t they think that, as Gold status holders, you are more likely to keep flying BA to take advantage of the benefits you get as BA Gold?

  • Neil says:

    In theory, I wonder does this make the Lloyds upgrade voucher a little bit more valuable!? Overall, it’s still bad form on BA’s behalf and I for one will be dropping the Premium card after I hit the £10k spend next month. It’s time to start earning Amex points and converting the points to airlines who actually appreciate reward bookings. After all, these airlines make money selling the points in the first place!!

    • Lev441 says:

      Perhaps, although the problem with the Lloyds Avios card is that for popular routes, you can’t add a return trip at midnight when flights are released at t-355 days like you can with BAEC…

    • mark2 says:

      Are you sure that the LLoyds upgrade could not be rolled back?

      • Lev441 says:

        Not exactly sure what you mean by rolled back… i think you can add the voucher to a booking *BUT* only by phoning avios which open at 8am – by this time seats on popular routes could be taken by 00:05!

        • mark2 says:

          I meant downgraded at checkin like the 241

        • Kathy says:

          I’ve had this problem. Going to try paying full Avios amount at midnight and then calling to get the voucher applied to the booking. Will probably require booking at and then cancelling and re-booking in so the call centre can see the booking. Will be a massive pain!

          • Lev441 says:

            If booking online, seats also show up at midnight at….?

          • Kathy says:

            No, they don’t show up at midnight on, they show up about half an hour later. I sat with both websites open at midnight hitting refresh to determine that.

  • Jason says:

    OTT…delayed 8hours on return fight booked with BA from USA to Lon, was a code share with AA. Who is responsible for the compensation? BA are saying AA


    • Genghis says:

      It’s not fully clear from your wording. If you flew BA metal = EC261 potentially. If AA metal = nothing.

      • Rob says:

        …. but on a codeshare?

        If EU261 is not valid on codeshares operated by non EU airlines then you would expect airlines would be obliged to tell you when booking.

        • Marc says:

          It´s all about the opearting company. It´s also our responsibility to be informed correctly.

    • Rob says:

      If BA issued your ticket with a 125 ticket number then your contract is with BA.

      Note that flights TO the UK on a US airline are not covered so AA owes you nothing. Question is whether a codeshare with BA makes it a UK flight.

      • Jason says:

        Was a BA ticket but was on a AA plane, so potentially nothing?

        • Marc says:

          Yep, nothing. In the case fo EU261/2004 it´s all about the opearting comany. Since AA is not a company from a member state (+Iceland,+Norway,+Switzerland) and your are flying TO the UK, EU261/2004 does not apply. Would you have flown BA, then you would be entitled to compensation.

  • NFH says:

    It is not true that the cost of the companion’s ticket on a 2-4-1 voucher is zero. There is always a cash element of the booking, which remains substantial even after the price of fuel came down, as BA disingenuously renamed it from a “fuel surcharge” to a “carrier imposed charge” rather than reducing or removing it. But a more significant point is the number of Avios paid. BA cannot claim that Avios element of the companion ticket is ‘gratis’, ‘free’, ‘without charge’ or similar, because to do so would be a breach of Schedule 1 Paragraph 20 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Given that the companion ticket is given on condition of paying Avios for the first ticket, a court would find the Avios cost of the companion ticket to be half of the total Avios paid for both tickets.

    • Mark says:

      Exactly. By legal precedent the amount refundable in the event of a downgrade is 75% of all charges for the sector downgraded, with the exception of taxes and third party fees. For a straight redemption (no 2-4-1) that would be 75% of the avios plus 75% of the “carrier imposed charge”.

      In the case of a 2-4-1 it would cover the avios (on a half each basis as you suggest), the “carrier imposed charge” and the value of the 2-4-1 voucher which I would argue equates to the value of the avios saved for that booking.

    • Mark says:

      Could you not also argue that the companion ticket has another cost in the form of having to spend £10,000 on a BA Branded Credit card?

      • AH says:

        That is exactly what my argument would be!
        Its not free – £10,000 had to be spent to earn it + paying taxes.

      • Genghis says:

        But that opportunity cost is lower than cost of avios

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