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British Airways to launch Hand Baggage Only fares on long-haul transatlantic routes

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In a ‘not really unexpected’ move to see off the challenge from Norwegian et al, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia and American Airlines are launching ‘hand baggage only’ fares on transatlantic routes.

These fares will be available from April.

For American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia, these fares will be called Basic and on Finnair they will be called Light.

These fares allow you to “personalise your journey”.  That said, very little is actually changing:

British Airways launches hand baggage only fares to North America

Everyone still gets free food

Everyone still gets free IFE

Everyone still gets free headphones and blankets

What you will NOT get on a Basic or Light fare is:

Checked backage

Seat selection in advance of check-in

Where this is going to get confusing is with additional benefits for status passengers.

As we know from the introduction of hand baggage only fares on short-haul routes, British Airways was forced to backtrack on not allowing free seat selection to Gold and Silver members of British Airways Executive Club.

So ….

If you have a Gold or Silver status in Executive Club or oneworld equivalent, and fly BA, it is my expectation that you WILL still get free seat selection if you buy a Basic / Light ticket.  You will NOT get a free checked bag even though one of the benefits of your status is ‘an additional free checked bag’.

However ….

If you have status and fly American Airlines, Finnair or Iberia, it appears that you will get both free seat selection and 1-3 free checked bags.  In which case, there is literally no difference to what you were buying before if you only check one case.

This chart tries to explain it.  The airlines listed on the left look like they should apply to operating carrier rather than whoever issued your frequent flyer card (click to enlarge):

When buying a Basic ticket, a Gold member should look to fly on American where they will receive three free checked suitcases.  If you are Silver, AA will give you two cases, Finnair / Iberia one and BA nil.  If you are Bronze or equivalent, AA, Finnair and Iberia will give you one free suitcase – BA will give you nothing.

Status members will continue to receive fast track security, lounge access, priority boarding etc.

This is, I think, a sensible move by the airlines.  However, due to their unwillingness to go the whole hog and start charging for literally everything, the headline price gap with the upstart carriers will remain.  With many travellers now accustomed to travelling without checked baggage, there is a risk to the airline that many people end up paying less overall.

Further details are on the BA Travel Trade website here.

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Comments (88)

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

  • Lux says:

    I’d be fascinated to know what the airlines’ own research told them about the hand baggage-only market for transatlantic routes, on the assumption that what you pack for a weekend in Paris may be different to a week in Boston. Who knows? As you say Rob, makes sense from a marketing angle. Let’s hope complete unbundling of fares doesn’t come to BA, as it would likely only make total costs higher.

    • shd says:

      Friend of mine who has BA GGL and a CCR card travels with hand baggage whenever he goes away, even if he’s going to the US for several weeks.

      • Rob says:

        I have not checked a bag on a solo trip for probably 15 years. Hotel laundry is great.

        • Alan says:

          Must say I’ve never used it – looking at the prices I’d only need to wash a couple of items and it would seem to be cheaper to pay for a checked bag!

        • Tom C says:

          Probably about 8 years for me. My last trip was for 3 weeks on a paid F ticket and I still only took hand luggage. Our next one is for 5 weeks to Australia on another F ticket and I’m still only taking hand luggage. Less things to carry, less waiting at airports, less chance of things going missing, less overall hassle.

        • Ian says:

          Er, well yes hotel laundry is “great” if money is no object (or the company is paying). However for most of us it’s unaffordable. On a recent trip to BKK I took a bag of washing to a helpful local laundry outside the hotel where it was washed, ironed and ready the same evening. They charged by the kg and when I compared the price with what the hotel would have charged (I’m not exaggerating) it would have been some 20 times higher.

        • John says:

          Well Ian, Rob pays £250 per night for hotels so the cost of laundry is probably negligible. Us cheapskates have other tricks.

        • Cate says:

          @Ian and John, you don’t have to use the hotel’s laundry facility if you consider hotel stays as a home away from home instead of just being a hotel. Some hotels have their own customer coin laundry or laundry’s close by i.e. where the hotel takes your laundry after they’ve put their 100% mark up 🙂

          Another tip is room service. I usually only manage to eat half the meal so I take a small plastic tub, put half the meal in there, bang it in the fridge and when I’m out next day pick up a bag of prepared salad and use the hotel’s microwave to heat it back up.

        • John says:

          @Cate, being a cheapskate I handwash all my clothes and do you think I would ever pay for room service???

          In November I got upgraded to a Presidential Suite which came with a washing machine 🙂 Paid £70 for that room

        • Mikeact says:

          We take the kitchen sink…….

      • Anthony Burns says:

        Yes have Aussie friends who come to Europe now with hand luggage only.

      • Lady London says:

        This ‘credit card travel’ tends to be restricted to the wealthier classes IME.

    • insider says:

      I guess for the airlines, it’s just a way of putting a lower price in the market whilst trying to limit everyone buying it. Same thing happened on shorthaul, the lead-in fares of the low cost carriers could not be matched as they were effectively a different product

    • Lady London says:

      You can be sure British Airways will say ‘customers preferred it’.

  • Richard says:

    As much as this is caused by norweigan, realistically would the OW transatlantic group be doing this if the Skyteam group hadn’t already moved to unbundled?

  • roberto says:

    Also announced yesterday was that “Executive Club Members will be able to use their Avios to pay for and reserve seats in advance via Manage My Booking”..

    This is a coming soon enhancement with no set timescale. However in light of the unbundling of fares I foresee options to pay for bags with avios in the near future too..

    Whilst I appreciate you dont get many avios for LH ecomomy fares but as a Gold I would get significantly more on a Ba flight than I would on say an AA one. The mathematicians out there will not doubt be able to work out if its cheaper net net to fly BA and pay for a bag/seat/whatever and earn more miles than flying AA/IB and getting a “free” bag in the hold.

  • roberto says:

    Also announced yesterday “Executive Club Members will be able to use their Avios to pay for and reserve seats in advance via Manage My Booking”

    No timescale was alluded too, just soon…….

    • Andrew says:

      It’s interesting that was announced around the same time as this HBO initiative. If BA wanted to make all reward flights HBO now would seem like the perfect time. Devaluation whilst dressing it up as offering more choice to customers.

  • shd says:

    I think BA should proceed with full “unbundling” as fast as they can. I’m sure we can get IAG’s profitability even higher!

    How about:

    WW/EF fully experienced crew [ ] + £150
    MF crew fresh out of college [ ] + £50
    Robot crew [ ] – included

    • Cate says:

      There was and still is I believe research going on to introduce one pilot cockpits and train one of the cabin crew to assist.

  • Ian says:

    If I’m travelling for less than a week to somewhere hot, I travel with hand luggage only. I have a fold up sports bag in case I buy anything and check it in on the way home.

  • Bruno says:

    We are usually willing to pay a little more to get flight tickets of an “old” carrier which is paying its staff – hopefully – slightly higher wages than the ruinous low cost carriers. It’s sad to see that BA is flying in this direction because they can’t compete anyway with them. At least I would appreciate if they preserve some attitude, pride and service for a little higher price.

    • shd says:

      BA are very happy to take your money, and given their cost-cutting DNA, must be laughing all the way to the bank 🙂

  • DRB says:

    Works for me, as both business & leisure traveler. Haven’t checked a bag for over 10 years and, as a result, developed both a sensibility about what you *really* need when away + an appreciation of the value of “treading lightly” as you travel this world.

    • Intentionally Blank says:

      ^^^This ^^^

      Managed several days in the Lake District with down jacket, Scarpa GTX pro Mountaineering boots, two pairs of gloves, etc, etc in just a hold all. Of course, it is amazing just how much stuff you can also get in the permitted computer bag 🙂

      I’ve even worn my horse riding helmet and boots before to ensure it wasn’t checked 🙂

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