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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.

  • Ian says:

    I never take a checked bag. Even when I went to Australia and New Zealand for 4 and a half months. When you’re travelling a lot having a checked bag becomes very annoying, packing and unpacking plus all the wasted time checking it in and waiting for it at the other end!

    Will they offer a discounted CW handbaggage only fare or only economy?

    • John says:

      Why not unbundle CW. Don’t need checked bags, priority check-in/boarding, onboard food, amenity kits or IFE. (Let me have status benefits though!)

    • Rob says:

      What is the point of discounting a £3k CW fare by £20 if you have no bag?

      • Lady London says:

        Same point as there is in Economy.

        • Lady London says:

          Let’s unbundle the whole plane. First included. If they say this is to give us choice then let them give us real choice across the aircraft.

          Or is British Airways only thinking it is necessary to give choice to chavs and cheapskates in Economy? Let’s see how much the privileged classes welcome ‘choice’.

    • IzzyI says:

      ‘Four and a half months’ – the time period doesn’t really matter. I can survive off one bag for months on end if I have access to a launderette or throw away clothes. But I’m not doing that on a ten day holiday. Also: what about the overhead bins? Or are you one of these people that boasts they only need one bag, but are one of the ‘problem people’ who can never find anywhere to put their carry-on?!?!

      • Leo says:

        At last some one sensible! Like I’m going to spend my holiday doing washing…and no I’m not spending £20 having a t-shirt washed either.

        • Kathy says:

          I’ve just spent 16 days on a tour of New Zealand where we were no-where for more than 2 nights at a time and in most places for only one, and often arrived after 7pm and were leaving by 9 am the next morning. I took a checked bag but one of the group had travelled hand baggage only. She got to the stage where she was complaining that her clothes actually smelt and was wearing swimming togs for underwear, because she simply couldn’t do laundry often enough during the trip.

  • Kenny says:

    Sounds like another reason people will shy away from BA on long haul, not a full service product and never knowing really what’s included in a headline price, rather than a reason that’s going to make BA more appealing.

  • Scott says:

    Mixed feelings for me.

    Very rarely check a bag anyway so as long as I still get benefits of status and there’s no effect regarding Avios and TP earnings, it won’t bother me.
    If I can save say £30 on a fare, that’s money in my pocket although BA would have had that from me on a normal fare when I had chosen hand luggage anyway, so they’ll lose out in that case.

    I can see why they’re doing it with Norwegian charging say £199 for a basic fare and BA a bit more for the same thing.
    Getting food included may sway people who would rather not pay another £20-£30 each way for a meal on DY on top of the other extras.
    Knowing BA though, they’ll either retract that food at some point in the foreseeable future and/or go BoB.

    • Genghis says:

      There was some chatter a few months ago internally about LH BoB but not heard anything since.

  • Trent says:

    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.

  • Anna says:

    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!

    • Liz says:

      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!

  • 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

        • John says:

          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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • paul says:

        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.

    • john says:

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

    • John says:

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

  • 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.

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