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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:

    It is ironic that so many people say that they will never fly on BA again, but BA can still overbook.

  • Kinkell says:

    BA do have an overbooking policy, and details of the compensation schemes are available, but you have to ask them for it…….at checkin, according to the blurb at the very bottom of the MMB page.
    What the paragraph does say
    Whist we make every effort to provide seats for which confirmed reservations have been made, there is a slight chance that a seat will not be available on a flight for which a person has a confirmed reservation, and no absolute guarantee of seat availability is denoted by the expressions reservations, bookings, status OK and the timings attached to them. British Airways operates a compensation scheme for passengers with confirmed reservations who are denied carriage without reasonable grounds.

    So for previous posters commenting that BA are breaking their contract because the pax seat/ booking, whatever, is ‘confirmed .’… BA ‘s dictionary has a different definition to mine and others!
    Well, I’ll just have to wait and see whether I can proceed with on line checkin on 22 April.

  • Danl69 says:

    After some digging – I have a novel legal angle

    A downgrade would happen if the airline had ‘knowingly’ oversold the flight .
    If you are on a 241 redemption – 1 hour before the flight closes try to buy the seats – if they are asking them at inflated pricing ( recently I did this to be sure on a 241 lhr to hkg club) and they were selling seats at £5.5k each way – I did screen shots

    My legal argument is that the refund should be that price – as that is the cost of the seat at time of downgrade ( i.e. The inflated price ba took to push 241 down )
    If I refused to board – that’s what a fair would have cost to fly – so that’s the true cost of the downgrade

    A thought for all you lawyers out there

    • Brighton Belle says:

      I can accept downgrades for operational factors but I can’t accept BA waiving off lower revenue travellers who have made a long term commitment to the airline and burnt through £10k at Amex just because some money bags rolls up and they see a chance to grab some extra cash. Even Trotter Trading Airlines has better customer relations. Amex must stand up to BA to stamp this profiteering out for it is Amex’s card product and their integrity that’s on the line too. If their partner fails to deliver what was contracted after paying the high membership fee they really are devaluing their brand too.

      But does anybody really care about integrity when the bottom one is under stress?
      Just looks like more corporate weaselling dishonesty that they hope no one will notice. Buyer Beware. The World’s Shiftyess Airline?

  • Danl69 says:

    And whilst I’m here
    Isn’t it sad we have to be worried of these things as loyal customers to – let’s be honest – an average airline

    I doubt much such chatter is happening about Cathay , etihad , emirates etc etc on the same issues

    Very sad

    I’m interested more now in status match as that’s the route I’m most likely heading

    Cintgratulations ba

  • Roberto says:

    One other concern with regards to overbooking is that I often pick up my 241 booking on the day that flights are released at midnight meaning pretty much every other seat sale on that flight happens after my purchase has finalized a couple of minutes later.

    If they want to over sell it why should they be looking at me (the early bird) and not the last two pax who bought tickets for a forced downgrade? No spin can paint this “enhancement” as anything other than revenue raising.

    • Liz says:

      I agree – it should be last in first out regardless of how you paid for your ticket!

      • Genghis says:

        Ah, the LIFO method of downgrades

      • Nick says:

        Last in often pays the most, so that isn’t really going to work.

        I would be very surprised if on most flights there isn’t someone who would willingly take a downgrade for a reasonable pile of cash. I’m not really sure that involuntary downgrades are necessary other than in very rare circumstances.

    • Tony says:

      Hi Roberto,
      How do you get your 241 flights at midnight, I thought BA had stopped this route and you could only book when offices open in the UK at 7.30am?

      • Genghis says:

        See my post the other day for how I went about it

      • Kinkell says:

        Very nice lady in India sorted my booking for next year..confirmation came in at 00.02 hrs. My 2 CW Avios 241 redemption sorted! Phoned a US number found in the depths of the BA contacts list…routed to Dehli. No issues with dealing with it.

  • krys_k says:

    I’m not getting into the legal side of things which is both complicated and for me boring (which is why I dropped out of a law degree and switched to the arts) – but I’ll have a guess of what BA are doing now (based on a number of projects I ran for big companies with some similarities). BA will have gone to their counsel and asked for their opinion on this issue – legal get outs, risks, chances of winning loosing etc. If they feel they are on strong ground, they will stick with this policy (albeit, taking into the caveat that follows). If they are on rocky ground, they will, in the quietest way possible (not possible in respect to the experts that frequent this and similar sites, but rather to the general public who make up by far the greatest portion of passengers) change direction. The caveat is, if they are on strong ground, a spreadsheet will be created looking at all options and costs e.g. downgrading cash customers, downgrading 241, downgrading Lloyds etc – and there will likely be a cheapest option for BA. They will also attempt to understand what the risk to reputation (and therefore further earnings) is amongst each of this group as well as the general public. At the end – there will be an option that is cheapest for BA that poses the least amount of risk to future earnings. I may be wrong, but thats what I’d do.

  • Nicholas Danks says:

    I’m wondering if we should crowd source for the contributor a legal fund to test it?

    • NFH says:

      Why would you need to crowd-source a legal fund for a case in the Small Claims track of the County Court? Each side pays their own legal fees (if any) and the loser pays the court fees. The only legal fees incurred would be if the contributor hires a barrister to represent him. And remember that no precedent would be set unless it goes to appeal.

      • Nicholas Danks says:

        I guess I’d fast forwarded to the appeal :S

        • Alan says:

          That’s assuming BA were willing to take it to appeal and risk setting a precedent – I’d suspect they wouldn’t be wanting that…

  • Tommy W says:

    Top notch customer relations

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