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Air Berlin files for insolvency – what happens next?

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Yesterday’s news was dominated by Air Berlin’s insolvency. As I’m currently in Germany I got to read about it from all sides.

Things haven’t been great for the German airline in recent years, partly due to the delays in opening the new Berlin Brandenburg airport which would have provided Air Berlin with a strong home base.  The airline had invested heavily expecting in advance of this.

Etihad owns 29% of the airline and has been injecting a lot of money over the last six years.  As well as direct loans, it has injected funds through backdoor routes (taking control of the Topbonus loyalty programme at what appeared to be an inflated price) as well as helping out with pilot training and fleet management.  None of this was enough.

Now Etihad has decided to not ‘loan’ any more money to Air Berlin – €250m of a €350m investment went in as late as April – and it had to file for insolvency after a further promised €50m from Etihad failed to arrive.

According to Der Spiegel Angela Merkel and Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr visited Abu Dhabi back in May to talk about the future of Air Berlin and were promised financial support until Autumn 2018.  Looking at yesterday’s news this promise was broken within a few months, probably driven by the departure of Etihad CEO James Hogan.

For now the biggest issue for those with booked Air Berlin flights is whether or not they will be able to fly to their destinations.

For Head for Points readers, the main concern is likely to be over Avios redemptions.  Air Berlin flights from North America to Germany represent excellent value, as the tax can be as low as £4 one way in Business Class.  My review of an Air Berlin Business Class flight from New York to Berlin is here.

Thanks to the German government, who announced a loan – unlikely to be seen again – of €150 million to Air Berlin yesterday, there shouldn’t be any issues at least for the next three months.  This keeps the airline alive until after the German elections.  Tickets are still being sold and the current flying schedule will be met.

Of course, new ticket sales are likely to be very slow, and suppliers are likely to want paying in advance from now on.  Even solvent European airlines tend to lose money over the winter season.  The €150m may not be enough.

No one knows for certain what will happen next.  Talks with Lufthansa are far advanced, as was well known.  The Financial Times (paywall) quoted Mr Dobrindt Germany’s transport minister: “There is no transfer of Air Berlin as a whole to Lufthansa — there are parts of the business that will go to Lufthansa and there are interested parties for other bits of the business, so we do not expect cartel difficulties”.

Etihad was reported to be negotiating for additional flying rights to Germany as part of any transaction but that is now off the table, clearly.  Lufthansa’s Eurowings subsidiary would benefit from being merged with the Air Berlin short haul routes.  Lufthansa’s willingness to enter the long-haul market from Dusseldorf and Berlin is not clear.

easyJet is also reportedly interesting in taking over part of the short-haul operation, potentially just the Airbus-operated fleet.

Should you be worried if you have an Air Berlin Avios ticket booked?

oneworld has issued a statement that Air Berlin will continue to be part of the alliance throughout the insolvency process.  Air Berlin’s NIKI subsidiary is not in administration and continues to operate as normal.

If you have a trip to North America booked on Avios, any of these things may happen:

You fly as booked – if Lufthansa take on the long haul routes, it will take longer than a year to integrate them and the existing timetable and bookings should be honoured

Your flight is cancelled – British Airways rebooks you via London or possibly Madrid

Your flight is cancelled – British Airways refunds all of your Avios and taxes.  You’d still need to find a new flight but you’re not out of pocket.

However it works out, you should be fine.

Be grateful that you do not have any Air Berlin Topbonus miles, because reports on Flyertalk last night state that redemptions on Etihad or any oneworld airlines such as BA are now blocked.  All you can book is Air Berlin ….

Interestingly, if you need a short notice Avios reward flight to North America, take a look at Air Berlin.  There is a lot of availability right now.  Our main article on how to redeem with them is here.

We will keep you posted on updates.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (December 2022)

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

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

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £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 UK’s most valuable card perk – the 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 £12,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and unbeatable travel 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

10,500 points bonus – the most generous Avios Visa for a limited company Read our full review

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios 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 a £200 Amex Travel credit every year 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 (57)

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

  • Concerto says:

    I had a lot of TopBonus miles. Luckily I used most of them up on difficult to get but very good value upgrades to the US. I’m stuck with about 64,000 now, mostly because they’ve been printing them like Yugoslav Dinars lately.

  • AAlsc says:

    There are strict rules against state aid but as this was provided by Germany, those rules will be ignored.

  • the real harry1 says:

    decent F Times article here – no paywall (might be the same as in the article)

    they say the 2 interested parties are Lufthansa and EasyJet

    • Matt says:

      Yes paywall – if you want to get around the FT paywall you need to go direct to the article from Google, e.g. by searching for “Financial Times Air Berlin”

  • czechoslovakia says:

    I don`t see any difference here between Germany/Airberlin and Hungary/MALEV, so fully expect the EU to have something to say about it…..
    For once, I actually fully support Sky marshall O`Leary in complaining.

    • Michael Jennings says:

      Sadly, I think there is a large country / small country double standard here. If an airline in a small country (Hungary or Belgium) gets into trouble, then the state aid is (quite correctly) ruled illegal and the airline has to fold. On the other hand, the Italian government has been able to get away with endless bailouts to Alitalia.

    • RogerWilco says:

      The difference between MA & AB is that the German gov’t seems to have a plan, while the Hungarian one had no clue what could/should have been done. An early show of incompetence by Mr Orban and his posse.
      Operations continued one day after SN and SR went belly up. When MA did, (mos of) the planes were flew back to the leasing company the next day.

  • James says:

    Have a couple of longhaul J redemptions (made with Top Bonus points) coming up in November, hopefully they’ll be honoured.
    I’m sure the crew won’t be especially chipper 🙁

    Might turn out to be a poor use of points as cash prices might drop significantly. Even worse use if they screw me over.

    Only have 7k left now so not the end of the world as long as existing bookings in Nov are honoured. Mind you, I’d be quite happy to be moved onto Etihad J instead !!

    • James says:

      Feeling a bit worried now as my November longhaul (TopBonus points redemption) J flights are for a destination no other One World airline flies to and neither does Etihad (who own TopBonus as I understand it) so potential options of switching airlines & routes don’t even exist in my case 🙁
      Think accomodation can be cancelled until 31st October without penalty.
      Nuts. Could do without this hassle / stress.

    • zsalya says:

      Currently their cash pricing seems to be extremely high on the TATL flights I looked at.

  • Lev441 says:

    Big loss for low cost avios opportunities!

  • Simon says:

    Looking at their results it just seems a basketcase of a company, although it seems that plenty of consultants have done well out of it due to their numerous strategy reforms.

    Why is it that Ryanair seem an unacceptable option, but Easyjet are seemingly ok?

    • zsalya says:

      I can vouch that Easyjet treat their customers much better than Ryanair do.
      I suspect the same applies to their staff?

  • Roger says:

    I was in DUS Air Berlin Lounge on Sunday and their DUS-JFK flight was cancelled.
    May be the decision to file for insolvency was already made and they could not get fuel credit from the supplier?
    DUS Air Berlin lounge is also coming off Priority Pass network at the end of the month. Coincidence?

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

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