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British Airways now charging £35 cancellation fees – not £1 – on short-haul Avios flight tickets

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British Airways started offering short-haul Avios redemptions for as little as £1 in taxes and charges last year.

As we have covered numerous times on Head for Points, the £1 deal is a bad deal.  If you look at the sliding scale of Avios and cash combinations you are offered when booking, for example:

£1 Avios cancellation fees

….. the best deal is usually the one which one is nearest to the old-style £35 taxes (or £50 for Club Europe) option.

In the example above, for example, taking the £1 deal vs the £35 deal means you are saving £34 in cash to save 9,000 Avios.  This is terrible – you are basically ‘selling’ 9,000 Avios to British Airways for just 0.38p each.  I cannot see any scenario – any scenario – under which this makes sense.

(The easiest way to work out the best deal is to apply your value of an Avios point.  I value them at 1p, which is conservative but sensible.  Applying a 1p valuation, the six options above turn into £176, £153, £130, £120, £132.50, £137.  The best value is the fourth – ie the ‘original ‘ £35 taxes option.)

There was one positive upside though, which benefitted everyone ……

The trial came with one upside – £1 cancellation fees

It is meant to cost £35 per person to cancel an Avios booking.

Because of limitations in the British Airways IT system, however, this was never really the case.  Because ba.com was not set up to demand more money from you when cancelling, the reality was that you paid ‘£35 or the taxes you paid, whichever is lower’.

When the £1 trial started, BA had to make another tweak.  Online cancellation for short-haul Avios bookings was set at just £1!  A one-way flight was just 50p.

Importantly, this was irrespective of which payment combination you used.  Even if, in the example above, you had booked the 8.500 Avios + £35 combination, you were still only charged £1 to cancel.  You got £34 back in cash.

British Airways now charging £35 cancellation fees

You can no longer cancel Avios bookings online …..

For the last three weeks, we have been encouraging people to try a couple of workarounds devised by readers to get refunds from British Airways.  These allowed you to ‘force’ ba.com to show you the page for online cancellations.

This method now seems to be dead, at least for people using a PC.  I see the occasional success for Mac users.

Cancelling a short-haul Avios redemption now requires a call to British Airways.

…. and British Airways is charging £35 on the telephone

In recent days, according to reader feedback, the British Airways IT system has been changed.  It is now impossible, even if the agent wants to do you a favour, to cancel a short-haul Avios redemption without paying a £35 per person fee.

You need to pay the £35 in cash to the agent.  Your existing booking is then cancelled and the entire fees and taxes you paid are refunded.  Even if you only paid £1 tax in the first place, you need to pay £35 to get the refund.

(To be fair, the avios.com system always worked like this in the days before the Avios Travel Rewards Programme was closed.  Few people knew it because, unless you were trying to cancel a one-way booking with £17.50 of tax, it never came up as an issue.)

Some people will have to pay £70 per person!

It gets worse.  For anyone who booked their redemption as 2 x one-way flights, you will be charged £35 each way.

Imagine that a family of four had booked 4 x one-way flights on Avios to Amsterdam and 4 x one-way flights back.  They were expecting to pay a grand total of £4 to cancel them all (8 x 50p one-way cancellation fees).  Instead, British Airways will now ask for a whopping £280 (8 x £35).

British Airways now charging £35 cancellation fees

Is there any way around this?

Not that I know of. 

All I can suggest is that you hold off cancelling as late as you can, in the hope that either:

online cancellation returns and you can again get away with paying just £1, or

British Airways cancels or substantially retimes your flight, in which case you can request free cancellation

One of the readers who contacted me about this had booked reward flights to Spain for most weekends in the Summer to lock in the seats.  His plan was to cancel most of them for £1 and just fly a couple.  They were all booked as 2 x one-way tickets.  He is now facing a very expensive raft of cancellations ….

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Comments (274)

  • Matthew says:

    For me…most of my European flights were booked as 2 one ways. All flights I intend to fly but now on the hook for £35ew cancellation instead of £17.50 RFS and then less I’d return taxes were cheaper.

    Same for intra Asia flights booked for next year with £3 tax are now subject to £35 to get my Avios back if I need to cancel. Hopefully won’t need to but waiting for BA to cancel my May flights for example is stressing me out!

    • Citywaiter says:

      I’ve got something out of LCYi mid May and unluckily it’s one of the flights still showing with others cut throughout the day. Just not mine! Hoping LCY will remain closed forcing a cancellation

      • Relaxo says:

        I’m in the same LCY situation early May. Hoping it’s cancelled but If they automatically transfer me to a flight to LHR am I entitled to cancel without being charged a fee?

        • Matthew says:

          Yes as a re-route is your option to take or cancel for free. They are trying to do you a favour by auto doing re-route but you will need to call and decline.

          • Lady London says:

            Doesn’t BA try to claim LHR, LCY and LGW are all London so they refuse you refund or rerouting even if you are not happy to change airports? Not saying they’re right but have seen many comments saying this.

  • Cheshire Pete says:

    Rob, what’s your general advise on paying the balance on BA holidays in order to save the deposit? Current scenario. BA Holiday May 7th to BRU. Package cost £653. Deposit paid £50. Balance of £603 was due Apr 3rd. Called last week to extend deadline to Apr 17th. That’s now a week away and no cancellations yet from BA. Do I plough £603 into the booking to keep it alive by 17th, or just leave it and probably lose £50 deposit, or may be a rebook option if I call. Hmmmmm….

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Have to ask yourself would you go if the FCO advice and lockdowns are lifted? As that’s the gamble if they aren’t lifted you’ll be refunded anyway since it’s a holiday booking.

      If you pay the balance and It all gets lifted before May 7th (unlikely but possible) then that’s what you could be faced with, as inclination not to fly isn’t a valid reason for a refund or s75/insurance claim.

      • Cheshire Pete says:

        I want to go, yes. So your advise is pay the £603 by the 17th and then see what happens with cancellations by BA & FCO advise in the 3 weeks after that.

        • JRC says:

          What are you going to do when you get there? Brussels is likely to extend lockdown til 3 May and possibly longer…

          • Cheshire Pete says:

            I think this is a misunderstanding. I “want” to go, as in to just get out the house and have a break away! But I don’t need to based on current advise to stay at home. The underlying question is really if I don’t pay the balance by 17th Apr, and BA don’t cancel anything, will I forfeit my £50 deposit.

    • terry says:

      My experience is that I asked BA for a voucher for my deposit on 2nd may holiday to madrid without paying balance. Initially refused as non refundable element said to be more than deposit. As hotel shut i challenged BA on this point. When FCO changed advice to indefinite last week, I asked Ba again for deposit voucher and they agreed.

      • Lady London says:

        I’d have wanted the money back in cash not voucher as under ATOL they would have had to refund you everything very promptly even if just the hotel was no longer available.

      • Cheshire Pete says:

        That’s interesting. My packed hotel is the Crown Plaza, which has now extended to end May refund even on non refundable rooms and even via a TA, such as BA. So this portion should be refundable to me anyhow, although BAs t&c still say non refundable hotels are forfeit….

        • Lady London says:

          If you booked it as a holiday then if even one element of the holiday changes beyond ATOL conditions, or is cancelled, then that gives you the immediate right to have the whole thing refunded to cash.

          No way will BA not refund you promptly and in cash for a BA Holiday booking because unlike pure flights, the penalties for not refundingyou properly in cash and promptly are serious under ATOL

    • Rob says:

      Given that BA crew are furloughed until 31st May, albeit in 3 week chunks, it is unlikely it happens. You WILL get a cash refund if it is cancelled, unless the Government caves in to ABTA lobbying, so from that point there is modest risk.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        For a minimum of 3 weeks so after 4 they could all be back.

        I suspect european flights will start up before long haul.

        If they extend their lockdown past May 7th then I’d say you’re 100% likely to get your money back so the risk from paying off your holiday is low as long as you’d want to travel if nearly everything was open.

  • Nick says:

    Well the reader who block-booked all the seats to Spain fully intending not to use them all and in the process stopping everyone else getting them deserves to be hit for the full whack of cancellation fees. Avarice is not cool, I’m happy there’s some kind of natural justice here.

  • Gary says:

    Thanks Rob for this, we had a couple of trips booked for family of three to France as we have a place there and have now decided if all gets back to near normal to drive instead.

    The workaround does the trick on the iPhone in Safari. It’s straight forward:

    Login into your Exec account
    Find booking
    Go flight and change/cancel booking
    Then wait until you get the continue button
    Turn off JavaScript in Safari under advanced settings
    Press continue
    You should get the refund page instead of the voucher page
    Check full cash and Avios you expect
    Turn on JavaScript
    Press Continue
    Wait until flights refunded and you receive confirmation email….

    • Matthew says:

      When I disable Javascript (in IOS) it goes to the page that ask if I am a passenger in this booking – but when you select the radio button – I can’t advance to the next page. Even when re enabling Javascript. Any ideas?! Thanks

    • Mike P says:

      Hopefully someone from BA will see this and close this loophole too.

      • Matthew says:

        Why? I have booked a one way using 30,000 avios and £70 RFS (4 pax). If I cancel online I’d get the avios back but lose the £70 – fair enough. Now i have to phone and pay an extra £70 ontop of the original £70 to get my avios back?

      • Harry T says:

        @Mike P
        Why? I think plenty of people were expecting to cancel their RFS for the usual £35 per person per return, not pay an extra £35 per person on top of that. I appreciate what’s written in the T&Cs but BA practice has differed for a long time.

        Also, I knew about the £1 cancellation fees but was fully prepared to pay £35 if the IT was updated – I am not happy to pay £70 per person and waste my valuable time calling BA. BA forcing people to accept useless vouchers or call their overwhelmed call centres demonstrates rampant unprofessionalism and avarice. Those phone lines need to be kept open for people trying to get home, and I’d rather not take up a line knowing that.

        Also, I think it’s hugely unethical that BA is deceiving most honest, normal people who won’t have an in depth knowledge of BA, Head for Points, EC261, and tweaking JavaScript in browsers. How many people do we think BA has duped into accepting vouchers when they thought they were getting a proper refund, or assumed that a voucher was their only legal option? My Mum was conned by a holiday cottages firm and would have doubtless been duped by BA if I hadn’t taken over for her.

        • Lady London says:

          It’s not just unethical if BA @Harry T it’s outright illegal.

          I will have no faith in our regulators if they do not fine BA an amount or a % of turnover that lets BA know that such behaviour is going to be punished and it w I l l hurt their profits

          ATOL did it so the CAA and the EC Transport Commissioner need to show they’ve got teeth and are not just cuddly pussycats.

          • Doug M says:

            Exactly. BA are far from the best example of sharp practice, just highlighted here because of UK centric site. EU airlines long abused EC261 and do so because there are no meaningful reasons not to. Worst outcome for them is they eventually pay up, offset that against all the people that either didn’t know, or gave up during the process and it’s a huge airline win.
            Based on forum postings elsewhere, the non-EU airlines that have liability under the flights from EU part are even worse, yet continue to operate to and from EU with no penalty for ignoring their obligations under EU law.

          • Mr(s) Entitled says:

            Illegal is a strong term. That carries criminal, not civil, penalty. Seems a bit strong and one hell of a high bar to prove.

          • Lady London says:

            @Mr(s) Entitled but BA’s deliberate actions ARE illegal. Same as if I do an illegal right turn in my car. A camera sees me, and I get fined a fixed penalty. In this case the offence is decriminalised but a fine is still payable.

            Where’s the penalty to BA in stonewalling payment of EC261 compensation to passengers apparently as a matter of policy. BA fails to communicate, refuses, tells lies claiming that the reason was some sort of exceptional circumstance, delays their processing of claims, delays payments that are due, even with a court judgment against them, for months and requires chasing perhaps multiple times first to respond to, then to deal with, and finally to actually pay money due according to accounts here and elsewhere.

            As the other poster implies, how many ordinary members of the public, who don’t have frequent flyer knowledge, just give up in the process of making BA pay the money they are due? BA avoids paying lots of money, ever, this way. And if they do pay, the BA takes so long and is keeping what it earns on the passenger’s money meanwhile.

            BA will only stop breaking the law when the behaviour we see is forced by the regulator to become less profitable than obeying the law. There needs to be not just civil recivery – BA is making that difficult – but recovery by the regulator. In other words, fines and penalties (which incidentally, open the way to civil claims as well).

            Let’s be fair as other posters have said it’s not just BA that’s just the one we know best.

        • Mike P says:

          Because a lot of people were exploiting what they knew to be a loophole by booking flights they didn’t need and expecting only to pay £1 each to cancel them. Selfish behaviour which impacts negatively on other peoples’ availability to use their Avios sensibly. BA is only enforcing its own T&Cs here. I’d much rather T&Cs were enforced and loopholes and workarounds such as the Javascript one closed down.

          • Rob says:

            Eh? Decide what you want.

            Fair enough, you agree that BA would impose their T&Cs and charge the £35 to cancel. OK.

            So why do you support BA doing the javascript block to stop people getting back the cash refund to which they are entitled under BA’s T&C’s

          • Mike P says:

            I’m in favour of BA enforcing their T&Cs and closing down any loopholes which prevent them doing that. If the Javascript workaround means that people are able to avoid paying cancellation fees then I’m in favour of it being closed down. I think BA should be playing fair however and refunding what is due under their T&Cs and it shouldn’t require a workaround for customers to obtain refunds.

          • Doug M says:

            Mike P. The JS workaround was to enable people to get the refund to which they are legally entitled. Supporting closing this down is supporting a business breaking the law to retain passenger cash to which they are not entitled. The JS workaround became necessary because BA in a blatant cash grab disabled functionality on their website, forcing people to call them at a time they knew full well they had insufficient staff to handle the calls. Your support of a company working it’s way around consumer protections is very strange.

      • AJA says:

        Mike P I think you are in the minority on this. If BA hadn’t closed down the normal online cancellation function then the JS work around would not have been necessary. BA is in the wrong on this. It is doing it to.avoid its legal obligation to refund cash if the customer wants it. It is making it deliberately difficult. It is showing that it has utter contempt for its customers, making them struggle to get through on overloaded phone lines and is not exactly treating its own staff, the hardworking customer service teams, well by artificially increasing their workload.

        • Mikeact says:

          MikeP is most definitely in the wrong on this one. Nothing illegal, immoral…call it what you like. And as for the £1 comments today , again nothing wrong. It was a BA option which they were obviously happy with, and me too. If people can’t be bothered to check out what they are booking and how and why, then fine. But don’t start having a go at us because we took the time to explore all options. I value my 7 figure pot and will always maximise my redemptions, and there are many, many ways to do that, not least, keeping up to date on various forums for start.

    • Harry T says:

      @Gary
      You’re a legend, sir. Just used this to cancel some RFS flights that I had booked for January (no abuse of the system, just don’t want to go to Salzburg anymore – I booked a return for two people).

    • Lady London says:

      Actually isn’t it possible to download Safari browser to a pc as well as to Android? It could well be worth your time to try if you haven’t got an iPhone and need to cancel your flight.

      • Doug M says:

        I think officially Apple withdrew Windows support for Safari back in 2012. I think you can download a version from 3rd party sites, but that would have a huge risk attached to it.

    • Stuart says:

      Is this for the mobile site on iOS safari? I’m trying with no luck…
      You get two options: one to change flight, which takes you to the page where you can select a new date, or hit the cancel option which then just says you can’t cancel online.
      When I go try this through the flight change page, it says ‘flight information is being returned’ and never loads in.
      Anywhere I’m going wrong?
      Thanks

    • EJH says:

      Champ! Thanks for sharing

    • Jk says:

      Thank you, this worked for me exactly as described. 50p per person fee as it used to be. Much appreciated.

  • Ben says:

    Is the removal of online cancellation of rears tickets deliberate or is it just related to the current situation and the fact that they are offering vouchers for so many flights? How can it make sense to increase call volume so much for something that could previously be done online?

    • Rob says:

      Because persuading me to take a £2000 voucher instead of taking £2000 cash for 4 x CW Avios redemptions is a massive boost to BA’s ever-shrinking cash pile, and if that means everyone else has to queue for longer on the phone it’s a good trade off.

      When a business struggles, cash is everything. Look at Patisserie Valerie, cutting butter from its pastries and leaving a massive hole in the roof of one factory unfixed so the rain poured in. (This takes you back to the role of auditors, of course, because whilst it strictly isn’t in the remit of the auditor to question why a factory has a massive hole in the roof or why pastries no longer use butter, it could have been a subtle hint.)

      • Ben says:

        Chances of online cancellation returning when things pick up (whenever that might be)?

      • Lady London says:

        Hey Rob could you suggest a source where I could look at how Patisserie Valerie went down? I was a very regular customer of the original Patisserie Valerie shop in Old Compton At in Soho, before private equity got hold of it, and I would love to know details of how it went down.

        • Rob says:

          There will be an official report at some point but that won’t have all the gossip! There were a few in-depth newspaper articles done in the aftermath (not immediately after it collapsed, a few weeks later when the story had emerged) so a Google should bring them up.

          • Lady London says:

            Tx Rob. I will hope to come across a source that will give the gossip then. Sounds juicy.

    • John says:

      It’s deliberate because the call centres seem to be coping fine right now.

  • ECR says:

    I think they have also sneaked in an avios devaluation. At the 50p price point I recall it being 7500 avios for an off peak one way short European flight, but this has now gone up to 8500. The cash element for using less avios also sooms to have gone up. For 4000 avios it was £15.50 after they introduced the 50p option, but now it is up to the old RFS fee of £17.50.

  • Maxine says:

    I feel very scared, worried and upset. I booked 3 Avios flights for 24,000, 33,000 and 33,000 Avios. They were flights that all got cancelled. So BA sent me 3 vouchers.It was for me, my 12 year old son and my 10 year old daughter.

    I don’t have many Avios left on the BA site around 25,000. BA won’t let me have my Avios back. It is challenging to find 3 flights to replace the 3 that were cancelled. Miami to Antigua, Antigua to Tobago and Port of Spain to Miami were our flights.

    • Harry T says:

      @Maxine
      Did you ask for the flights to be refunded as vouchers? And did BA cancel them? They should have given you the option to receive a refund in Avios and reimbursement to your credit card.

      • Jim says:

        she said the flights were cancelled

        she also should not have accepted vouchers.

        • Lady London says:

          I am sure she could get cash based on the fact that BA did not advise her of her legal rights when the voucher was issued. She had a right to choose a full refund under EC261/2004. BA is required to advise her of her rights when a flight is cancelled by them and clearly they did not

          It might take a fight I personally would do a call stating the above and demand a cash refund + or the other right she has which is for BA to provide the same travel (even on another airline) on a later date of her own choice.

    • Anna says:

      What exactly do you mean by BA won’t let you have them back? If you’ve accepted vouchers then the Avios form part of those vouchers and can be used to book other flights at a later date. The issue may be availability of award seats, however, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this at the moment.

      • Rob says:

        Yes, but these are now very restrictive. Remember that the voucher expires in 12 months – so the Avios will be lost if not used – and the bookings made with the voucher are non-refundable. You also can’t add a 241. You can’t even change the zone – if a flight to North America was cancelled, you need to rebook to North America.

      • Doug M says:

        The only person that would accept a voucher is someone that doesn’t understand what they’re giving up. They’re exchanging cash and Avios for no benefit and a large potential downside. If airlines really want to retain cash legitimately and not by ignoring the law, they could incentivise people to accept them with some additional benefit.

  • Harry T says:

    The Safari JavaScript workaround is legitimate – I just refunded an RFS booking for next January for a cancellation fee of £1 per person. Avios already back in my account.

    If anyone is struggling to get a refund from BA, I would recommend making a flyertalk account and messaging “BA Refund Helper”. They are a verified BA employee who has been sent to enable the flyertalk community to sort out their refunds. I did this and received my refunds for the two bookings within two to three days. I had been waiting a lot longer. I believe BAFH can’t message anyone back now due to the volume of PMs, but will call you if you include a number (I didn’t include a number, did not receive a reply, but the refunds were actioned).

    • Anna says:

      How is this person managing to do this? I would be a bit concerned about giving details to a stranger.

      • Rob says:

        There is a Flyertalk tag for verified employees, if you search for a post they have made.

      • Harry T says:

        The moderators have also publicly verified this person as a BA employee. Don’t have to give them much information anyway – names, dates and booking reference.