What do you do when British Airways suspects you of selling Avios points and closes your account?

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Like virtually all other frequent flyer schemes, British Airways Executive Club lets you issue tickets for other people using your Avios.

Unless you are in a BA Household Account, there are no restrictions on this.  Some airlines take a harder line – Singapore Airlines, for example, will only let you issue tickets for people on your ‘friends and family’ list and restricts how often you can amend this.

Yesterday I got the following email from a Head for Points reader.  I have edited it for clarity:

“As a long time subscriber to your blog I wanted to know if there is any way you can help me.  I am a British Airways Executive Club Gold member, or least I was until Friday.

I received a email from BA last Tuesday telling me that my account was being suspended and investigated.  I am suspected of not keeping with the terms and conditions.  Basically BA suspects me of selling mileage tickets and asked me to email them with my response.

I emailed them to say that I have never violated the terms and conditions.  On Friday I received another email from them telling me that my account has been closed “due to Brokeridge activity” that contravenes their terms and conditions.

I tried to contact them by telephone but couldn’t get a response.  Obviously this is not the case – I have never sold tickets in my life.  I have been a BAEC Gold member for over 13 years and, yes, I have bought tickets for family and friends but I thought that’s what the mileage was there for. 

I’m asking you if there’s any way that you can help me with this as I have over 150,000 Avios and companion tickets and over 20,000 accumulated tier points.  I’m completely devastated and I don’t understand why they would treat their loyal customers like this.”

For clarity, I am not taking sides in this case.  Executive Club has an aggressive anti-fraud programme, and rightly so.  In general, when I receive an email like this there is often something else going on which has raised suspicions.  I know – having personally issued tickets for many friends and family members over the years – that BA does not come after you automatically.

What should you do if British Airways closes your Executive Club account?

Why would British Airways threaten to close your Executive Club account?

If BA does close or threaten to close your account, it will have looked at your Avios redemptions over the medium term and spotted patterns which are deemed suspicious:

Were all flights booked to depart from the UK?  If you were booking flights which either did not touch the UK or were flying TO the UK and then back, this looks more suspicious than booking tickets FROM the UK which are likely to be for genuine friends and family.

Were you using your own credit card to pay the taxes?  Not paying the taxes yourself raises a flag.

Were the surnames of the passengers different to yours? 

Obviously there are honest reasons why you could give Avios tickets to friends and family which would still trigger the fraud alerts above.

There is also one other fact that BA knows and which you don’t know:

Have any of these passengers travelled on tickets issued by OTHER BAEC members?

If British Airways sees a person flying on tickets issued from a number of different BA accounts then this clearly looks like someone who has been buying tickets from other members.

If you were thinking of selling Avios by booking tickets for random people, the one above is where you are most likely to come unstuck.

If your account is flagged, British Airways may put a marker on certain tickets to question the passenger at check-in.  It is easy for the check-in desk to casually ask how they earned so many Avios, or to ask if the passenger gave a nice gift to the person whose Avios were used.

What should you do if BA closes your Executive Club account?

This was my advice to the reader who contacted me (who, remember, has lost around £1,500-worth of Avios and his chance of hitting ‘Gold for Life’ status):

Make a list of all tickets you have issued for third parties in the last couple of years

For each ticket, explain how you know this person and why you would want to voluntarily issue an Avios ticket for them without any money or reward in return

Where the surname differs from yours, get each person to send you an email confirming how they know you and that they did not pay you, either in cash or gifts, for the Avios

Whilst BA can, in theory, do what it wants, they are likely to act responsibly in the face of evidence.  Irrespective of the Executive Club T&Cs, it would also be possible to make a money claim against BA if you believe that your account is totally clean – but you’d be foolish to do this if there is any chance that they have real evidence.

After all, it only takes British Airways to show that one person you issued a ticket to has previously bought tickets via a known ‘mileage broker’ and your case will be thrown out.

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  1. I’ve always wondered about the legality of this. While there are no doubt clauses saying the Avios and tier points are valueless and belong to BA – that is clearly not true in reality. Is that likely to be struck out as an unfair contract clause?

    Same when Amazon started closing loads of accounts for returning too much and keeping all their credit. BA and Amazon deciding they no longer want you as a customer is fine, but I’m not sure they can really get away with keeping the points/credit if you push them in court.

    • Avios are not valueless – tried to find that in their T&Cs, but you can’t find it. But they don’t tell you the value.

      Anyway, the last evidence was the airberlin. They got some cash for their miles…

    • Have you read the terms of your iPhone recently? You may own the dead phone but you don’t own the operating system and Apple can shut you down at whim.

      You certainly don’t own the music you bought from iTunes – https://www.zdnet.com/article/who-owns-your-digital-downloads-hint-its-not-you/ You can’t give it to me or even lend it.

      • That wasn’t my question though. My question was whether the terms are legal. If Apple wrote that they own your first born child, I think we all agree that would not be enforceable – whether you click accept or not!

    • I’m pretty sure you have to agree to the Ts and Cs when you open a loyalty account, so effectively you’re agreeing that BA or whoever can claw back the points if the Ts and Cs are breached. Recent case law suggests that they are only assigned a monetary value once they have been converted into goods or services.

      • The fact you don´t own them doesn´t mean they don´t have a value. How would you react if you had 1M points, and suddenly BAEC decides to remove them?

        • If you’ve agreed to terms and conditions which say that BA can do this then it doesn’t matter how you feel, you’re pretty well stuffed. You could possibly make a civil claim against BA if you bought the avios for cash but if they had been awarded from various reward schemes I really don’t think you’d have a leg to stand on.

        • Well… good for you then.

          But Avios have a value… and even though I don´t own, I have the right to earn and use them (which makes it more complicated for BAEC because how can you earn and use something you don´t own).

          Anyway, there´s enough passt cases where clearly it has been demonstrated that miles/points have value. The latest case, airberlin topbonus.

        • A German court ruling would carry no weight in this country. You have no intrinsic “rights” to earning or using avios, they are awarded and redeemed at a company’s discretion. Though if you can show me anything which details such a right, (as opposed to it being subject to a company’s Ts and Cs), I will be happy to stand corrected.

        • If the German decision interpreted EU law then it would point towards how an English court would decide the same issue. The favt that there are T&Cs shows there is a contract and if a points provider breaches their contract or has terms that are legally unfair then you can take action under the Law. Not sure why you are so against that

          • German courts decided years ago that you should get 10% back on cancelled hotel rooms as no cleaning was needed. Not seen anyone else copy that.

        • Actually Rob – the law in the Uk does mirror that although it is a little more complicated. A hotel can only claim losses and not the whole cost of the booking therefore they cannot claim for eg cleaning, breakfast etc. A clause requiring a 100% cancellation fee is likely to be invalid under consumer protection law. Don’t just take my word for it though

  2. David Lawton says:

    I’m a little scared now after reading this. I’ve been saving my Avios for 4 years now, and have 1 BA Amex 2 for 1 Voucher and almost 700,000 Avios. I intend to get 1 more 2 for 1 voucher and then use it for myself and 3 friends to go NY First Class (I have seen 4 seats available in first if you book early enough on that route). Does this mean it will get flagged as fraud because 3 of the other names won’t match my surname or will i be ok because i am also on the booking?

    • This should be fine as you will all presumably be on the same booking – plenty of people travel with companions who have different names from them. To be extra sure, pay the taxes & feed yourself and get your friends to reimburse you for the cash element (unless you’re a really, really good friend and are covering this as well!)

    • You’re fine if you’re on it. You’d be fine anyway, almost certainly, because 2/3 things I highlight would be fine – flights are from the UK and you would settle the taxes.

  3. Dominic Dunn says:

    Had never heard of the “Avios Broker” however a quick google brings this up:

    You do sense how someone who gets serious avios could be tempted to financially benefit from them ….

  4. Lady London says:

    Cases elsewhere (incl UK and I think US) have judged the other way. The miles are the property of the person travelling not the firm.

  5. So my friend living in Poland and buying ticket for me on HKG-TPE and PVG-HKG would be suspicious then? He has some miles to burn and wanted to use them for something useful, instead of letting them expire. He earned them on HKG trip from Europe before devaluation couple of years ago.

    I bought tickets for number of people and no one has the same name as me, simply because I don’t have close family and didn’t change my name after getting married. Looks like I’m in worse position, because I’m outside of acceptable template. Only buying tickets for strangers (friends).

    • But, at the end of the day, you should be fine if you know you can produce evidence to show that these people are all your friends and didn’t pay you.

      Couple of short Asian redemptions are unlikely to raise many flags. Book them on Cathay First Class from New York to Hong Kong using 80% of your Avios balance and it may be a different story.

  6. Wow this is all news to me. The most unethical or illegal thing is missing last leg of BA flight. I did not think/know you can purchase them.

  7. Any update on this?

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