Let me recap the position for the benefit of readers who are not fully familiar with it:
Unlike most airlines, BA guarantees to release 2 x Club World or Club Europe seats and 4 x World Traveller or Euro Travellers seats on EVERY flight as soon as booking opens up at 355 days before departure.
Many more seats, including First and World Traveller Plus, are usually made available over the next 355 days. However, if you absolutely MUST travel on a certain date to a certain place, your only guarantee of Avios tickets is to call an open BA call centre at midnight (1am during BST) 355 days before departure and grab some of the six guaranteed seats.
The reason you need to call – even though the seats also appear online at midnight – is that call centre agents can put tickets on hold during the payment process. If you book online, it doesn’t matter if the seats are in your basket or not. They are not yours until you’ve filled in all the passenger and payment details and hit ‘Pay’. You have usually lost them to a call centre agent by that point.
The obvious snag with this process is that you can only book your outbound flight initially. You need to wait 7-10 days (or however long you plan to be away) before the return flight opens up.
So far so good.
The historic position for booking your return flight was this:
You would call British Airways and tell them you wanted to add a return flight to an existing one-way booking
The call centre would do this and charge you the additional Avios and the difference between the taxes you paid and the total taxes for a return flight
BA even waived the £35 per person change fee!
However, in the last year or so BA has allowed you to do something else:
You book the two return flights online for full Avios (this requires you to have enough Avios to do this) and full one-way taxes
At your convenience, you call British Airways. The two bookings are merged into one – leaving you with just one booking reference – and you are refunded the additional Avios you used for the return flight and any excess taxes paid.
I think the reason BA wanted to encourage this was to reduce the volume of calls at midnight.
What has changed?
According to reports from HFP readers and Flyertalk users over the last few weeks, BA is now implementing a new position if you book your return flights online and try to merge them with an existing outbound flight.
When you call up:
BA refunds you the extra Avios you used for the 2nd ticket to reflect the fact it is ‘2 for 1’
You do NOT get your outbound flight merged into your inbound flight. This means that you retain two separate booking references.
You do NOT get any excess taxes and charges refunded. You are stuck with paying 2 x one-way taxes and charges rather than the taxes and charges on a return flight.
Why is this is a problem?
The taxes and charges on 2 x one-way flights are NOT the same as those for a return flight.
This is because BA manipulates its charges based on what the local market will bear. In particular, tickets which start in North America incur substantially higher charges than those which start elsewhere.
Here’s an example:
Return Club World Avios redemption to San Francisco: £662.57
One-way Club World Avios redemption TO San Francisco: £440.37
One-way Club World Avios redemption FROM San Francisco: £485.90 (+ £440.37 = £926.27)
People who have been booking their return flight separately and asking BA to merge it into an existing 2-4-1 redemption are now having to pay an additional £527.40 (£263.70 x 2) in taxes and charges for a couple.
How can you avoid this additional cost?
If you need to contact British Airways to add a return leg to an existing 2-4-1 one-way booking, do NOT book the return online and call BA to merge the two flights together. You are likely to end up overpaying your taxes and charges.
Instead, call up British Airways and ask them to book the return seats and add them to your existing booking. Your wallet will thank you.
PS. There are a couple of places where this trick could work in your favour. Some countries cap the charges that airlines can add to their tickets. Some ban them entirely.
Here is an example for Hong Kong:
Return Club World Avios redemption to Hong Kong: £576.37
One-way Club World Avios redemption TO Hong Kong: £377.37
One-way Club World Avios redemption FROM Hong Kong: £34.50 (+ £377.37 = £411.87)
In this case, you SHOULD book the return leg of a 2-4-1 online and call BA to have half of the Avios refunded. As long as they keep your two bookings separate, a couple will save £329 (£164.50 x 2) in taxes and charges!
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