Odd things are happening when you add a return to a one-way British Airways 2-4-1 flight ticket

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British Airways seems to have tweaked its rules on how you can book a return ticket using a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher, assuming you want to book as soon as tickets are released.

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.

Booking a British Airways american express 2-4-1

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.

British Airways Premium Plus 241 voucher

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.

Using a british airways 241 voucher

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.

You can learn more about how the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher works in this ‘Avios Redemption University’ article.

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!

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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  1. Only at the end of September did a CS agent still add the extra taxes on my 241 booking coming back from Rio (open jaw, outbound to Lima). Obviously I merged it into one booking to get the avios refund. Should I had just been given the avios refund and kept two tickers at singles with significant tax savings?

  2. David Jones says:

    Virgin Atlantic refused on 2 occasions to merge a return flight with s previous outward ticket. Only on a third call and a lot of persuading did I manage it but at a cost of £30 pp ticket change fee which was non negotiable
    However on the app and online the return fees are higher (as per this BA article) for booking an online separate return.
    The only App and online in UC was with connection but both flights Delta 1st and UC. However the agent said her system only allowed Economy (connection) / UC despite it appearing live during the booking process.
    Even after the booking was made the connecting flight availability was still showing on VA web site for miles!

    • Mel Saunders says:

      I have had similar problems booking our UC flights over the last few years with Virgin. This year I called several times in advance to find out what the policy was. Got 3 different answers, from yes you can add it on, to no you can’t, to no you cant if the outbound is a Delta. This years I’ve just booked and as with yourself, had to persuade them to add the return on. I’ve also had similar problems with the agent saying the flight isn’t available when its in front of me on line and ended up booking online.

      I’m glad I’m not the one one who is up at silly o’clock to book the flights.

  3. Yes, for at least my past two 2-4-1 bookings the return flight was treated as a separate booking, I was not aware of the tax/charge implications! So which locations apart from Hong Kong does this work?? At least I will know for my next redemption… Thanks.

    • Brazil is strange because BA are charging YQ on redemptions only. The inconsistency versus HKG (where YQ is not actually outlawerd any more) is perhaps not worth lingering over!

      I can only see it working for Japan (-£90pp) and SYD (-£60) these days. Most of the Far East used to work but seems to have rebalanced.

    • Avios.com doesn’t charge the surcharge for Brazil so best to book via that. Used my Lloyd’s upgrade voucher last year to fly CW for and paid just £20 or so in taxes. One of my best redemptions to date!

  4. Yorkieflyer says:

    This has been the case since January. I have 2 booking refs for our Christmas 241 trip. For our destination the additional cost was marginal, ie not visiting Trumpworld

  5. Trying to find a BA office that actually answers the phone at midnight can be quite stressful.

    As BA will allow the return leg to be booked online with the then messing about of claiming the Avios back afterwards, but now not the additional fees, surely it wouldn’t be that difficult for BA to simply allow the system to recognise the return booking of a 2-4-1 and avoid all this rubbish?

    They do seem to make this as complicated as possible for the user? Then again maybe I shouldn’t complain because if it was easy perhaps there wouldn’t be as many seats available????

    • If BA really wanted to make it easy for the user they could just not allow adding an extra flight to an already ‘used’ 2-4-1 voucher. They’re under no obligation to do so. It would be far simpler for all involved to simply cancel the booking, refund avios, taxes (minus cancellation fees) and voucher and then just let the customer make their entire booking in one go.

      Sometimes we should be careful what we wish for. The current approach massively favours us dedicated avios collectors who first even know that this is possible and secondly are willing to be up at midnight trying to call the other side of the world.

      • Don’t the Ts and Cs entitle the voucher holder to a return trip though? I think they’d have to amend this if they were going to say that you can only use the voucher for one transaction (either a return flight or a one-way).

    • “Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult…”. You’d think, wouldn’t you… but then BA struggle with IT systems that manage baggage/file flight plans at the moment. I’d hope (but you can never be sure!) that their IT teams and contractors would focus on systems that keep planes flying for now. Although it’s a bit of a sorry state of affairs…

  6. luckyjim says:

    Booking online you can have your tickets in the basket and paid for in less than a minute. No way is calling faster. You might get tickets to Abu Dhabi but if you are looking for somewhere like Florida in the school holidays you would have no chance.

    • Shoestring says:

      calling may not be faster but the call agent can reserve the tickets/ put them on hold for you in the first few seconds they become available

      • luckyjim says:

        So, do you call early and have the agent tapping the refresh button at midnight? Even then, when the seats come up they would need to read the details out to you. By the time they’ve done that I’ve autofilled the form and clicked ‘confirm’.

      • Sussex Bantam says:

        As long as you can get through…

        I called at 00:50 in September and didn’t get through until 01:10 by which time the tickets I wanted had gone…I was quite unimpressed..

    • Here’s the thing. I tried this as an experiment a few months ago. Didn’t work, tickets were taken from my basket before I got to payment.

      • Spurs Debs says:

        Same thing happened to my for my return from Tokyo. All my info was pre loaded my credit card on file I got the two returns in basket in the time it took to hit pay I’d lost them.

      • luckyjim says:

        How do you know it wasn’t me beating you to it?

        • Spurs Debs says:

          Why would I care if it was you or anyone else? We all know rules 2 CW will be available fastest person there gets them. If you lose out have a back up plan.

      • Spurs Debs says:

        Same happened to me for return tickets from Tokyo. All my info is pre loaded my credit card on file I got the two tickets in basket the time it took to press pay I’d lost them.
        The next day I pondered best course of action and thought as I’m flying out first I’ll call the first number to book return. I called them first to check they would do that, and called back 8 mins before 1am to get through security checks. The agent didn’t mind chatting and refreshing page. As soon as tickets were released he nabbed them and they were mine.

        • luckyjim says:

          That’s a good data point. I guess a lot depends on the agent. My only recent experience with agents is booking Aer Lingus flights through BAEC and it certainly wasn’t speedy.

  7. Eh? This has been like this for over a year. Booked LHR-NRT and NRT-LHR via two bookings online and called to get merged with avios refunded, but the taxes remained the same, and remained two bookings/PNRs.

    Basically if you are flying to states you get screwed over due to the taxes, elsewhere, like LHR-NRT its the same cost with two bookings.

    • Should have asked them to reprove then, as it definitely hasn’t. Had two experience of doing it and getting it reprised, May and June. Annoying this has now changed.

    • Lady London says:

      Umm..I believe Japan / Japanese airlines, is one of the places where there is low taxes on departure. So better prob to keep as 2 one ways.

      Brazil was same – even though BA was apparently illegally charging high taxes – but I’ve got an idea Brazilian government might having changed that. HKG on the list too, I think.

  8. The big question is which number to call? And how do people do it? Skype? The charges calling these foreign call centres quickly add up

    • Skype all the way – somewhere between free and pennies. The USA number or Japan normally.

    • I call Australia. and swallow the phone call cost. Too risky to use skype as the connection can drop mid way if wifi drops

    • dialacode if you really need to directly call an overseas number

    • I used Skype to call CS from the Cayman Islands and it was one of the clearest connections I’ve ever had, much better than a normal mobile call. It cost 0.05p for 10 minutes. I also like booking T-355 flights when we’re there as the time difference means I can bag my seats at 8pm instead of staying up past midnight which I find quite hard these days 😂

  9. Neil Donoghue says:

    Some folks here must have huge Avios balances! I don’t have the margin to book 2 one way F tickets to Sydney outright so sadly I still have to call it get it added. I just don’t know why BA can’t improve their IT so we can do this online.

  10. Also be careful now when using a 2-4-1 to book reward flight saver tickets at T-355 days, with the return booked online. You need to know select a different price option than in the past (maybe this is not news, but was news to me!)

    My experience: I booked 3 one-way economy tickets LON-DAL for October half term using my companion voucher at T-355 days (yeah not the best use of the voucher but we will be with a new baby so didn’t want to fly far). Booked the return tickets online on the desired day at 2 minutes past midnight and called up the next day to merge the bookings and use the voucher for the return flight. I had opted to pay the usual 10K avios + £17.50 per person for the return as that would be the taxes I would have paid if I had booked the return with the voucher.

    The agent said it was impossible to use the voucher for the return as the £17.50 option is now considered a “cash top- up” and I should have selected the higher avios + £1 option. Because the price options on the outbound and return were now “different”, he could not merge the bookings and I had two options :1. use the voucher only for the outbound (complete waste) 2. Cancel the two bookings and hope the seats were dropped back into the avios inventory so I could book them again together (fat chance of that happening for seats over half term).

    So looks like your only option in this case- if you want to add the return and don’t want to use extra avios per person- is to call at midnight.

    • That sounds like typical rubbish from a CSA! As far as I know there’s nothing in the Ts and Cs to support this; refunding the avios for the return is done manually so it should have been possible. Next Easter we are flying out in F and back in Y (for good reasons lol), in that case the return also cost a different amount of avios and taxes/fees but there was no issues with getting half the avios refunded the morning after I booked the return leg online. Having said that though, I did make sure to call the UK office where they tend to come out with less utter garbage than their overseas colleagues.

    • I had the same situation. Booked an inbound at 2 x 20k + £25 (CE) and was then unable to get the 50% refund. I was told a “new style RFS” is incompatible with the voucher, so I had to cancel, hope, and rebook as a return booking.
      I’m not sure I believe what you were told about the £1 option. If it’s correct it is not too bad at the high end: net 25k + £1 for two is no worse really than 20k + £50. But if you book the outbound with a voucher you are only offered the old style £17.50 / £25 option, not the £0.50.
      So for short haul I think you have no option but to call (or “reserve” online at midnight, then cancel and rebook).

  11. Emily Apple says:

    Newbie here. Just to check, can I still book the outbound 241 online and then add the return leg on the phone later when it is available (even if the taxes are higher) ?

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