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BA 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.

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

British Airways launches hand baggage only fares to North America

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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  1. Generally it seems the airlines are doing this so that in Skyscanner searches, their airfares will come up competitively with the likes of Norwegian and so on. Aer Lingus did it first for that very reason. It’s just making sure the game is equal as a fare comparison site shows the fare total only, not whether that fare includes or doesn’t include a bag, so the AA, BA, AY and IBs of the world were showing up as more expensive all the time.

    • Catalan says:

      Absolutely correct. It’s so that legacy airline’s fares get bumped to the top of the search.

  2. Isn’t this going to just be an excuse for BA to increase prices for flights with checked baggage?

    I’d love to be able to pack light but it’s just not feasible for a 2 – 3 week trip with children and an OH who scuba dives!

    • I pack loads of stuff and would never survive on hand baggage only. When I am on holiday I don’t want to think about cooking, washing and ironing! I take plenty of clothes so I don’t have to!

  3. Clive says:

    Is there any advantage to booking a flight through AMEX Travel rather than direct with the airline if the price is the same?
    I think I read that some US cardholders get extra MR points but I don’t think this applies here?

    • Optimus Prime says:

      If you pay with Amex PRGC you get 3 MR points per £1.

      • Clive says:

        Ah, good to know, thanks!

        • Prins Polo says:

          And if something goes wrong, you’re unable to process a chargeback as Amex will refuse to process a chargeback against Amex Travel…

        • Andrew says:

          The Financial Ombudsman may have something to say about that

        • More importantly, you can’t take advantage of things like BA’s free cancellation within 24 hours, and Amex Travel has its own fees such as £20 for changes in addition to the airline’s fees.

          BA and LH group airlines charge a GDS fee of £8 per journey which is £16 on a return, which is just factored into the fare you pay with any travel agent. And BA HBO fares aren’t available except directly from BA anyway.

          So only use Amex Travel when you are certain you won’t need to cancel or change.

          One reason to use Amex Travel is for booking ex-EU trips so you can pay in GBP at the IATA exchange rate. You’ll have to pay the £8 or £16 GDS fee, but the extra MR points and avoiding the Amex 3% forex fee will make up for it.

  4. Lumma says:

    This is so irritating for those of us who never check luggage, on the A380 upper deck there’s hardly enough space in the lockers as it is. It would make so much more sense to make it that you can check a bag, for free, but at the maximum dimensions of the cabin bag size, which seems to be the unofficial offer you get on most BA short haul flights these days anyway “your flight is full, you are invited to check your hand luggage”.

    The radical change that these airlines could make to compete with Norwegian would be to allow you to book flights as one ways in my opinion.

    • roberto says:

      You can book one ways……

      • Scott says:

        Maybe but they’re hardly competitive at say £1800 in Y on BA and £200 on DY.

        Even if you go one way cheaply to say the US, it costs loads to get back, even with redemptions so most of the time you’re better off buying the cheap return and then throwing it away if need be.

        • Lumma says:

          Yeah that was my point. Probably the number 1 reason I look at Norwegian is to use in conjunction with miles redemptions. Can book one way with miles and pay cash to Norwegian to get back home. Booking open jaws on the BA site is possible but very hit and miss when it comes to getting the cheapest fares.

          The frustrating thing about Norwegian is the pricing of the extras. I’d happily pay the seat selection fee of £25 to avoid the risk of sitting in the middle and exit rows don’t cost any more, the £25 for the food and drink would depend on the route and I’m not really interested in the checked luggage. Can pay £50 for all 3 but add £100 on return and it’s more expensive than BA, AA, Virgin, etc.

    • Great comments, I hate checked mini case luggage, they take too much space so people ram them in & I find this dangerous, I cannot see a desperate reason for not waiting for luggage to come off the plane unless perhaps you have another flight to catch & are on a tight timetable or any medication you need to take. Although I have a friend who takes her contact lens solutions which she needs but does she really to put it in such large hand luggage? We always fly CW so it’s not as if she hasn’t the weight. She does not take enough that she need a case a bag would suffice. I have loads of medication to take & obviously don’t put in hold incase my case gets lost but I use a small bag. It also delays flights by people trying to put in overhead lockers, surely cheaper for airline to take off on time?

      • Scott says:

        Personally, I take hand luggage as I don’t want to extend my journey at the destination any more than I have to.
        At JFK for example, I can be on the air train or in a cab 10 minutes after leaving the plane. Make that anything up to an hour or so if I have to collect bags.
        If I arrive late in the evening, I want to get to my hotel and not be playing the waiting game at a carousel.

        I suppose having status to get the pick of overhead space first helps and so does Global Entry to skip 25+ minutes extra for immigration, so I’m maybe biased here.

        Things like half hourly shuttle buses can be problematic. Out the door and you may catch it. A wait for bags, and you could miss it by a minute so more waiting. That said, I have had times where people have strolled up 35 mins after me and caught the same bus.

        • I don’t recognise the 25 minute plus waits at US entry points. My last 5 or 6 trips, have all been utterly painless getting through immigration using their fab machines in less than 10 mins. Even with family in tow.

          Now coming back to little old brexit britain is an altogether different matter with huge queues, half to three quarters of machines not working (saturday 17th Feb 19.00 T5 LHR) and those charmless individuals who man the UK Border…horrible experience.

    • More bags in the hold = less cargo space they can sell

    • The A380 upper deck has the side bins though… probably one of the most spacious

  5. Alex W says:

    Quelle surprise, BA is the stingiest of the 4 airlines. That said, I have no desire to fly long haul economy any more.

  6. simon says:

    What ever happened to the last minute offer of upgrades on the BA app that was discussed last year?? My brother in law was offered one to Mauritius last week at check in – £500 from econ to Club World. He snapped it up!… is this something new ??

    • Mikeact says:

      And will this somehow apply to Avios redemptions going forward ?

    • Bonglim says:

      Will that be the end of free upgrades?

      2 years ago I was upgraded to CW from premium economy at check in, for free, without asking.
      It was lovely.

      That was before I found this website, so will probably never pay for a long haul cash ticket again. Still it was nice.

      • simon says:

        I am in the same position. Been lucky enough to redeem in CW for the last few years. But the thought of being offered an upgrade to First for eg 25k avios at check in would be great….

        • Very difficult due to catering because BA now loads very little spare, hence the difficulty of getting your first choice if you are not Gold.

          Upgrades due to overbooking are different because those are known in advance, even if the exact people involved have not been selected, and catering adjusted.

  7. Just received an email from Iberia. 20% bonus on transfer from Amex MR to iberia during March

    • Read the small print. From SPANISH Amex cards only. This is going to be a mess.

      • And I was getting excited by a big bonus ☹️

      • Scott says:

        Glad you pointed that out. I scanned the small print but missed the bit about it being Spanish card-holders only. Why on earth has this been directed to UK card-holders?

        • Probably because it came from IB and they don’t know what cards anybody has (quite possible to have a Spanish Amex even if living in the UK and vice versa)

  8. This is not customer driven, it is driven by IAG dominance in the markets its serves and the because of the commercial arrangements it has in place which curtails customer choice and competition.

    It interesting that where there is competition the carrier has had to continue offering a free bag AA AY and IB. Where there is little or no effective competition, ie the UK there is no free bag.

    This is simply rip off Britain at its worst and BA needs to be broken up at LHR. Its the second time in two day that anti competitive behaviour by IAG/BA has been clearly evident in the market it serves.

  9. Quick question about group bookings.
    I am “meant” to be on a flight tomorrow to Geneva from Heathrow for a weeks skiing. It was booked as part of a package so we are in group booking for BA. As a BA gold does my fiancé and I get an extra checked in bag? Do the whole booking get it or not as booked as a group?
    Also I tried to remove myself from the group as easier for rescheduling in case of cancellations but BA won’t do it due to being booked by a travel agent and the travel agent can’t be bothered. I doubt BA prioritise a group booking (10 of us) for snow cancellations. Hopefully all better tomorrow!!!

  10. Surely BA cant actually compete with norwegian until they change their model and start selling one way tickets at appropriate prices rather than charging more for a one way than for a return.

    • But how many people only fly one-way? If BA offers one-way tickets cheaply this will just incentivise people to fly DY on the way back if that’s cheaper

      • Lumma says:

        It makes it easier to create complex itineraries and open jaws and you’d be able to use BA to get back from a one-way avios redemption rather than having to rely on an airline that will allow you do book one way (Norwegian or Wow?).

        I see it as being similar to short haul now. For a few days away, I often book BA outbound and low cost on the return. At the start of my trip I can often find a decent departure time from a central airport with BA and get my status benefits at a reasonable premium over easyJet/Ryanair who seem to have the very cheapest flights either stupidly early (first day is ruined as I’m too tired) or very late (have to pay for an extra night) or can use avios if the cash price is expensive.

        For the return it just a case if whoever is the chespest, I find Heathrow a depressing experience to come home to. Sitting on a tube train for over an hour. It doesn’t bother me as much at the start of my trip

    • Cate ⛄ says:

      Plus you can get 20% rebate on Norwegian flights to use against future flights. It’s a tough arena BA’s found itself in that’s for sure.

  11. Tom Cook says:

    Must say I haven’t taken checked baggage for a while, my Mrs hates that I push for this but she’s finally getting used to it. Not sure I could blag her to do this on a 2 week holiday though!

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