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British Airways responds to my question on 2-4-1 downgrade compensation

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I ran another article last week about BA’s treatment of downgraded passengers who are travelling on an American Express 2-4-1 voucher and claim compensation under EU261.

When downgraded whilst travelling on an Avios ticket, under EU261 BA is obliged to refund you 75% of the Avios used for that leg of your flight.  This is not in dispute and British Airways has always been happy to pay this.

What is currently in dispute is what happens when someone travelling on a 2-4-1 companion voucher is downgraded.  In the original case we discussed, a reader was offered zero compensation because he was told his companion ticket had zero value.  His partner, the BA Amex cardholder, received the full compensation due.  When he launched a case for compensation, BA settled based on the cash cost of buying 75% of the Avios value of the ticket.

British Airways BA A380 flying

Over the next couple of weeks we will get a real-time example of how this works because my contributor will be filing a claim after being downgraded.  His wife, who was the 2-4-1 cardholder and so would qualify for compensation, was not downgraded.

British Airways has now issued a statement to me explaining how they believe EU261 should be applied to 2-4-1 tickets:

To quote “the value of the purchase [is] split across the two tickets”.  This is, of course, the same as saying that the companion ticket has zero value.

If one person is downgraded – irrespective of whether that person is the original ticket holder or the companion – “the person on the voucher would be entitled to 75% of the value of the ticket – which would be calculated on 50 per cent of the amount of Avios paid for the pair“.

I very much doubt whether this would stand up in arbitration:

BA uses the word “value” rather than the “cost” of the purchase.  I doubt it means this, because the value could be either monetary or expressed in Avios.  It is difficult to see how it could argue the value of the companion seat is nil.  The voucher actually has a value of 100,000 Avios – or whatever the relevant value for the ticket it was used for – and if the voucher is not returned for reuse then the holder should be compensated for its loss.

You can argue that BA has accepted the voucher as ‘consideration’ in contractual terms for the second seat.  This means that it has value.

It is clear from the T&C’s that the Amex 2-4-1 voucher does NOT get you two tickets at half price. You get one ticket at full Avios and the other ticket at zero Avios.  There is an argument to say the voucher effectively entitles you to two half-price seats rather than one free seat, but a parallel argument that the voucher has a value of the seat it entitles you to.

What BA states above is not what they offered in the case of the HFP reader who was downgraded and filed a compensation claim.  He was offered nothing until he filed his case, based on the grounds that the companion ticket cost zero Avios.

Anyway ….. we now know where BA stands on the matter.  I very much doubt that my contributor will accept an offer based on the guidelines above, and if it goes to arbitration then we will all be in a ringside seat to see how it pans out.  This should then be the end of the matter as the result will be in the public domain.


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Comments (239)

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

  • mark2 says:

    And another thing.
    Many of us have persuaded family, friends, colleagues take the BAPP card on the basis of getting the Companion voucher. Imagine the embarrassment of this happens to one of the.

  • Lloyd says:

    None of this surprises me. When I booked the SYD F ‘mistake’ fare last year and part paid with avios, BA refused to refund them even though they were the ones who cancelled the ticket. Ended up claimed the monetary value of the avios through small claims where they duly coughed up.

    Cant remember whether I had to sign a gag order or not but sod it!

  • Joan says:

    Am I imagining this , or did I read somewhere that BA guarantee a minimum of two avios seats in each class on any flight ? If I haven’t imagined it , then if you are downgraded from say CW then they are not satisfying that promise

    • mark2 says:

      You are assuming that they only made the minimum available. When I book flights to Canada at T-355 there are often 9+ seats available in each cabin.

  • Rob says:

    Thanks for pursuing this Rob, seems a very important issue to BA’s frequent flyer community.

    • Will P says:

      Much appreciate you investigating this one Rob as it takes some considerable effort to accumulate a decent lump of Avios for those of us not able to launder large amounts of expenses through our credit cards.
      Makes me nervous about my current 241 booking in F to Miami which seems very popular and therefore a prime target! Keep up the pressure!!!

      • Joan says:

        I have a current 241 booking to Miami too Will . We are going out premium economy since no club world seats were available . Coming back club world . It’s me who got the 241 using my free BA Amex card so I had to spend £20,000 to get it . I am only bronze BA . My partner ( who’s effectively getting the ” free” seat , is Silver . We will have to see what happens

        • Genghis says:

          It might be worth ‘investing’ in the BAPP card instead of the free one. Assuming you can hit the 241 in 6 months, the c.£100 fee would mean you would get 5k more avios back for that £10k spend over the blue and a 241 that is valid for two years. You can then use the extra £10k spend to hit another 241 on your partner’s card or another sign up bonus. Having a voucher with two year validity means you can be much more flexible about dates and really can book at t-355 in the cabin that you want.

          • Joan says:

            Thanks Ghengis … I will have a think about that . Mind you I am not far off my next £20,000 spend 241 ( obviously I spend too much ! ) . But in the light of these discussions it might not be worth getting those 241s any more .

      • Mike says:

        You’ll be downgraded to J at worse, (unlikely) so no real hardship if the worse case scenario happens. J to PE now that’s a different challenge !!

        • Chris says:

          I don’t understand this response. J is for work travel. If I’ve worked my ass off for months, I expect to feel a little rewarded when I’m on my leisure time and I’ve paid for F (in Avios).

          I can’t get my holiday time back.

          • Will P says:

            I agree Chris….
            J is relatively affordable for those on middle incomes whilst F is a treat and probably unjustifiable on a cash booking

  • Rma says:

    It would be very interesting to know BA’s criteria for selecting passengers for downgrading, although they are unlikely to publicise this. What is the pecking order? Business travellers, personal travellers, Blue level BA exec passengers, package holidays, staff…. who knows?
    However, by downgrading some 241 passengers and then treating them disparagingly, they have introduced an element of doubt in the value of the 241 ticket. As consumers we expect to get what we purchase and if 241 is in reality a stand by ticket, then this should be made clear in the T&C.

  • paul says:

    Slightly vague, so excuse me, but…(and I’ve been desperately googling it but to no avail!)
    I think I remember some years ago, on a consumer forum of some sort, possibly radio, a dispute and advice for ‘next time’ as follows, Family had booked hotel 2 bed suite but were ‘moved’ to 2 interconnecting rooms. Their argument was it materially changed their experience which they had specifically booked the rooms for, i.e.’ being in the same rooms’. Mr. radio expert mused that had the family specified to the agent at the time of booking this requirement then action could have been taken to recover costs/damages as goods supplied (rooms not suite) was not as contracted.
    So what? Well, being 6’6″ tall, I don’t travel Club World for the excellent attentive service and delicious food (I’ll leave that to Qatari), but because the prospect of a 12 hour flight in even WTP let alone WT is enough for me to decide to travel elsewhere instead, so the idea of arriving at the airport and being downgraded to WTP or WT would indeed completely ruin the holiday to an extent I would probably have cancelled instead of going.
    The question arises if this is the case, that if I book a CW/F ticket, by whichever means (AX241 or avois, or even cash) and state somehow at time of booking (by email, or in phone booking??) that CW/F is the prime reason and vital to booking, does that provide more protection by means of breach of contract as opposed to conditions of travel?
    I’ll leave that for the lawyers amongst you to decide on.

    • Lady London says:

      Lawyers will correct me but the phrase to used to be to say the aspect you did not want to change was ‘of the essence’.

      There’s also stuff like a written contract overrides any verbal agreement made etc. I have no idea where agreements made digitally sit but guess in this contrxt they probably count as written agreements.

      No harm in ensuring communication about what you want is clear though and that you wouldn’t be booking otherwise.

  • Adam says:

    Frankly, BA are pushing what at best might be called an “aggressive” (think, misguided) interpretation of EU 261/2004 here. As we know, EU legislation is interpreted purposively. There are plenty of examples of this, but in the context of EU 261/2004, have a look and try and find where the provision setting out a right to fixed level of compensation for a delay (only, rather than cancellation). It wasn’t explicitly there in the text: it was a purposive interpretation of Regulation, bearing in mind the principle of equal treatment.

    The purpose of the Article 10 requirement for compensation is clearly to prevent airlines from unnecessarily downgrading passengers. Suggesting that the “free” (in Avios terms) passenger on a 2-4-1 booking can be downgraded with no compensation due gives BA an essentially free option to continue selling (or overselling). This clearly increases the risk of unnecessary downgrades, and so subverts the purpose of Article 10.

  • Simmo says:

    What happens to the £500 odd taxes and fees that the companion pays? does this apply for the EU 75% refund?

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