What do you do when BA suspects you of selling Avios 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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Comments

  1. It tells you a lot about the airline that closes their gold tier holder’s account without producing specific evidence in correspondence.

    • Shoestring says:

      Fraud is fraud – Fraud Team no doubt are not meant to favour BAEC members just because they earn a lot of miles & get status.

      More miles to defraud BA with, they might think.

      • Fraud is fraud only when it is investigated, understood, confirmed and alternative explanations considered. Just because a data mining algorithm says there is a potentially fraudulent activity does not mean there is one. Just because an intern discovered an irregular redemption pattern does not mean a flyer is at fault.

        My bank stopped my credit card a few months ago – without any warning, without any explanation, some dodgy bloke phoned me up from a withdrawn number telling me I need to apply for a new one. The whole episode was a huge inconvenience, the communication was poor, I was made feel I am a fraudster myself, I must have done something wrong or illegal – turns out there was a suspicious activity pending on my card.

        BA should have assumed innocence and pinpoint exactly what transaction, what flight, on what day they have a problem with. There might be a simple explanation – and personally – I do not believe someone who was involved in criminal activity was pushing their case through websites like this one.

        BA were refusing to pay me a compensation I was due for 9 months – coming up with all sorts of excuses until I decided to invite them to a small claims court and then they paid up – they are not saints themselves.

        • Spurs Debs says:

          Peter I think you are being a little naive in not thinking people wouldn’t ask on websites like this. Just maybe they are asking to asertain if there are any loopholes so they can carry out a fraud in the best possible way, casing the joint if you like.

          But I have a very suspicious mind and trust no one in real life let alone on the internet.

          As for you being called about a block on card, what would you have preferred them not to bother and the crims get away with stealing your money.

          As for being a huge inconvenience, I’m sure being robbed would of been more of a pain. As for the random held number calling you that’s also easy, you hang up call number on back of your card and then you know who you are talking to, normally all sorted and new card on its way in 5 minutes.

      • There is no fraud here – even BA are saying it’s only a breach of terms and conditions. There would only be a criminal offence if someone had hacked into this man’s account and used his miles for themselves. And even then it probably wouldn’t be fraud in the legal sense as miles have no monetary value, rather it would be some computer/hacking related offence.

        • Shoestring says:

          You don’t know that unless you know the facts.

          Where fraud is ‘wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain’ – what if the complainant were selling tickets at half price (on his points)?

          He’d be wrongfully deceiving BA and making financial gain.

        • Not at all – BA would not have suffer any material loss under those circumstances. The avios would have been used to book a flight (or hotel etc), so they would have been taken from the BAEC account regardless of who used the flight or hotel. It’s not the case that if the person flying hadn’t been able to use the avios, they would have had to pay BA money for the transaction as there would have been numerous other options open to them.

          It’s the same principle which applies to ticket touts – buying large numbers of tickets online and selling them on at inflated prices is not fraud, because the seller has not suffered a loss, so the government had to bring in new legislation (the Digital Economy Act 2017) to tackle the practice.

          I have been involved with many actual fraud cases during my career and misusing loyalty points has never been prosecuted as such.

        • Shoestring says:

          I’m sure BA build in quite a percentage for Avios expiring without being used each year, ie liability being removed from its accounts…by using them incorrectly/ against the T&Cs, you stop this happening, in effect robbing BA

        • “Robbery” necessitates an act, or threat, of force (S.8 Theft Act, 1968). Under no circumstances would anyone face criminal prosecution for confounding BA’s assumptions about how many avios will or won’t be used each year.

        • john smitthens-patten says:

          As a victim of BA (involuntary downgrade), and then poster on FT, and seen everyone come to BA defence and tell me I am lying, I make room for the possibility the OP is innocent and that the investigators may have made a mistake. Similarly, it could be that an associate, in the FF community has taken advantage of this member. If there is one lapse, or error, and unknown to the member, then I think the punishment is fairly harsh.

    • ‘It tells you a lot about the airline that closes their gold tier holder’s account [allegedly] without producing specific evidence in correspondence.’

      I fixed it for you 🙂

      • Gold’s two a penny. Let’s see if this character follows up with Rob explaining how it ended.

  2. BA but slightly OT
    Would they match KrisFlyer Silver to their Bronze?

  3. There’s a lot of conjecture on this thread, mixed with an occasional, ugly dose of guilt presumption.

    Regardless of guilt or innocence, the affected HfP’er here has a potentially expensive legal fight ahead. Is it worth it for 150k Avios? I’m not sure.

    The big, bad corporation probably gets to win either way. How meritocratic.

    P.S. What’s the moral wrongdoing if Avios tickets ARE sold on? Corporate T&Cs DO NOT create moral legitimacy.

    • Shoestring says:

      Morality doesn’t really come into it in this instance. (You might conjecture that BA does some social or economic good & therefore any actions that harm it are immoral, I suppose – but quite a stretch.)

    • There is no suggestion of criminal activity here, so “guilt” and “innocence” are not applicable (except maybe in a moral sense).

      • That’s no consolation if you’re accused AND punished for doing something of which you’re innocent!

        In fact being non-criminal makes it worse for innocents as BA’s actions demonstrate.

        • That’s nonsense, it would be far more serious to be pursued for a criminal matter. As I keep trying to point out, words like “innocence” and “punishment” have no meaning whatsoever in this case.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Might be worth it for 20k tier points if they had a realistic chance of getting GFL

  4. There are 1000’s and 1000’s of BA Avios for sale on that well known auction site…. buying them I guess is also a no no ?

    • It’s a breach of Ts and Cs on both sides, plus I have read somewhere that it’s impossible to transfer them into your account once you’ve “bought” them so it would be a complete waste of money.

      • Shoestring says:

        I’m sure it could work, ie you buy the Avios a/c in the name of Bill Smith, change password, change a/c address, add yourself as HHA or F&F member, buy ticket in your name using your new points.

        What strikes me is that they actually seem to go for pretty high prices, you’d have thought people would be worried by the perceived risks and the item would only achieve a correspondingly low selling price.

        • I’ve only ever heard of people trying to sell avios and offering to transfer them, not an entire account for sale.

        • Shoestring says:

          It’s done with accounts in their entirety, same as they used to do with Tesco Clubcard Points. You’re buying the whole a/c – name, address, points, password.

  5. Interesting read Rob, thank you. It’s rather entertaining to see what other GOLD “BAEC” colleagues get up nowadays.

  6. We had similar problems with amex who sent our accounts for review after we changed the name, and just the name of our house. Another confounding factor was we had kept our own names after we were married. Our credit rating went into free fall as we came off the electoral roll under the old address and waited for the new address to be loaded; flagging us as potential problems to all our credit providers.

  7. I once offered a colleague £150 cash for their £100 of Tesco clubcard vouchers because I wanted £300 in Uber credit. They refused and instead spent their £100 in store. Uber credit to me is like free money. Best redemption from Tesco.

    • I once paid for someone Tesco vouchers got declined returned to original account and person said they didn’t get them back, was a work colleague :/

    • Uber is quite easy though as the Uber code can be added to anyone’s account.

      • Yes Uber would be easy, my redemption attempt was years ago before they did these e codes

    • Mr(s) Entitled says:

      Perhaps you should have been more generous than offering them a 50% return and you 100%. I’d tell you to do one too.

      • No MSE or HFPer should pass up a £50 bonus but clearly the person had no clue spending them at face value!

    • Some people just don’t like to do things that aren’t the most obvious route, if I someone offered me £150 for something I was redeeming at £100 it would be silly of me to decline,,,,

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Madness. The Uber credit is just a code that can be passed on with no repercussions.

    • Shoestring says:

      One of the worst redemptions if you can’t use it

  8. John Sims says:

    Having worked for BA in the past, there are many reasons accounts are suspended. Children using parents cards without there knowledge, cardholders lending out there cards to friends to gain lounge access, booking flights from a cheaper destination but not using a sector are most commonly used, the list goes on

    • Charlieface says:

      A big problem for companies is they (or their staff) don’t understand the difference between types of fraud. Take those 3 examples: the first is external fraud not done by the customer, the second is customer fraud as discussed in the article, the third isn’t fraud at all.

  9. Avios does have a real world value especially when you consider a lot of people could have earned cash back instead of points, so I get why people would try their best to get their accounts back.

    Can’t really see there being a legit way of cashing in Avios unless your already spending on travel already, instead of looking for ways to sell Avios I think not collecting them in the first place and looking at cash back alternatives makes more sense.

  10. could easily be the person was advertising the usage of their avios – either an upset buyer or a “jealous” onlooker, got the persons name and details and reported him to BA.

    issue is a lot of this is grey – so many people had/have those 99p listings on ebay – saying use my referral amex link and get xxxx thousand avios when you sign up..

      • And the seller is part of the BAEC Gold+GGL+Premier FB group.

        • And a student at St Andrews according to their eBay listing giving their address! Interesting turn of phrase too – “The minimal value I have on Avios is 1p per point which means I am not expecting anything more than £542 out of the auction” – surely they mean anything LESS than 😉

      • 54,200 Avios and zero tier points ! ?

        • Qwerty Bertie says:

          My wife and I have about 235k in our household account and a voucher, but each have zero tier points.

      • From the listing: “A discount will be given for bank transfer”… Or to put it another way, of you deliberately lose your right to a refund via PayPal by back transferring instead then I will give you a discount!

        • Anyone could get a screenshot of a BAEC account page and purport to be selling the avios. If this was legitimate they probably wouldn’t be encouraging a bank transfer either. And if they are not based in the UK there’s no chance of them ever be traced once they have the money.

        • Transactions of non physical goods aren’t covered by PayPal, so the problem is not that. And giving a discount if you don’t use PayPal and the seller doesn’t have to pay all the PayPal seller fees seems logical

  11. Seaviews15 says:

    I’m a BA Silver Card holder and 3 weeks ago BE emailed telling me my account had been locked. 10 days later another email arrived advising me my account had been unlocked but change the password for security reasons. My husbands account mysteriously became uncoupled from our Household account and BA system would not allow me to change my password.

    After contacting BA EC as we’ve got 3 holidays coming up, 1 in 2 weeks time, I cannot get into account to find, print anything off and BA won’t speak to me as I don’t know the Booking refs as they are held in my BAEC!!

    Fraud dept then calls me another week later – a shortened version- a friend of a friend of mine gifted me Avios, as i didnt quite have enough for return trip on a 2 4 1 voucher to Caribbean, which transpires have been bought through a stolen card!!! I apologised immediately,gave her the details of the person who gifted me the Avios and asked if I had done something stupid and she said “we all do silly things once in our lives and I’ll call you back next week” she did advise me of the various outcomes, saying “I don’t think it will come to that”when I asked her if my account would be closed

    BA fraud lady v pleasant, said she would call back this week, so I’m waiting to see if they reinstate my Silver card and I’m allowed to go on all the holidays I’ve booked with them for this year – I’m very nervous and still locked out of my BAEC account

    • Shoestring says:

      just search e-ticket in your email to get the booking refs

      • Big Dave says:

        or call the call centre give them your details and they should be able to pull up the booking – pretend you want to upgrade some items on it or book a seat and are computer illiterate

    • Your friends have friends who use stolen credit cards? Why would you not just ask someone you know and trust?

      • The Savage Squirrel says:

        A “friend of a friend” bought Avios with a stolen credit card and then just gifted them to you? Why exactly would they do this? Wow, even the edited and idealised version of the story you’re presenting here sounds dodgy as hell….

        • Lol! 100 percent!

          Look, so much of what gets discussed here is grey and could easily result in a closure of your ba, virgin, amex (and previously Tesco direct) accounts

          Rob, can escalate direct on his own Behalf if caught out. For others, it’s game over. And these companies ban for life

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