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Downgraded from First Class by British Airways? You could get a 75% refund.

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In the last few days we’ve had a lot of questions regarding your rights if you find you have been downgraded on a flight.

The reason was the withdrawal of the Boeing 747 from the British Airways fleet which has reduced the number of First Class seats across the network.  British Airways has been downgrading many passengers who were booked in First Class on a 747 route, presumably in anticipation of replacing the aircraft with one without First.

Claiming British Airways downgrade compensation

Luckily, there are comprehensive consumer protection laws in place for such an eventuality. EC261 (and, from 2021, UK law) requires that airlines refund between 30% and 75% of your ticket cost if they downgrade you.

Here is the exact wording, from the EU law website.

Article 10: Upgrading and downgrading

1. If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class higher than that for which the ticket was purchased, it may not request any supplementary payment.

2. If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, it shall within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), reimburse

(a) 30 % of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less, or

(b) 50 % of the price of the ticket for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, except flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres, or

(c) 75 % of the price of the ticket for all flights not falling under (a) or (b), including flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments.

Bear in mind that the refund only applies to the affected sectors.  If only the outbound flight of a return trip is downgraded, you are only eligible for a refund on that particular flight, not the booking as a whole.

Where the flights on a single booking are not priced individually, the refund will be based on a pro-rata calculation of the distance of the affected sector.

It gets slightly more complicated. In a 2016 ruling, the European Court of Justice found that the percentage refund applies only AFTER any relevant taxes:

“the price of the ticket to be taken into consideration for the purposes of determining the reimbursement owed to that passenger, where he is downgraded on a flight, is solely the price of the flight itself, to the exclusion of taxes and charges indicated on that ticket, as long as neither the requirement to pay those taxes and charges nor their amount depends on the class for which that ticket has been purchased.

I’ll admit the wording is a little confusing, but my (non-lawyer) understanding is that

the reimbursement excludes the taxes of the booking if the taxes remain unchanged, ie. a downgrade from first class to business class

the reimbursement includes the taxes if the downgrade changes the rate of taxation, ie. a downgrade from premium economy to economy, where economy taxes can still be charged

It is also unclear how the carrier surcharges that British Airways charges should be treated. As you’ll see from the examples below, these are often significantly higher than the taxes themselves.

Let’s take a look at some real-world examples

Here are the lowest fares in the next 12 months to New York in all cabins on British Airways. In brackets, I have added the taxes that British Airways charges and which you can see during the booking process (click on ‘Price Breakdown’ and then ‘Taxes, fees and carrier charges’ for a full breakdown) or in your e-ticket email.

First – £2343 (includes £245 taxes, £428 in ‘carrier imposed surcharges’)
Club World (business class) – £1302 (includes £249 taxes, £428 surcharges)
World Traveller Plus (premium economy) – £556 (includes £249 taxes, £138 surcharges)
World Traveller (economy) – £268 (includes £115 taxes, £148 surcharges)

Since London to New York is over 3,500 kilometres you are entitled to 75% of the original fare back. Unfortunately, taxes complicates this calculation, as some taxes vary by class of travel (such as APD) and some don’t.

For simplicity, I’ll treat the taxes as a lump sum, although you may want to make a more granular calculation.

This is the cost of your flight after you get your refund, assuming both legs are downgraded:

First to Club World: £769 (£1,573 refund)
Club World to World Traveller Plus: £512 (£789 refund)
World Traveller Plus to World Traveller: £225 (£330 refund)

In most cases, the net cost to you is less than the cheapest fares in your downgraded cabin.

This is especially true in premium classes, where a downgrade to Club World would be just over half of what you’d normally expect to pay. After receiving your compensation, your flights might be the cheapest you ever booked!

You should also bear in mind that these examples use the lowest fares available. Where you have booked higher fares the savings are likely to be greater as the taxes make up a smaller percentage of the overall cost.

The maths is less favourable across shorter distances. A typical return trip to Amsterdam, for example, is £64 in Euro Traveller (economy) and £160 in Club Europe (business class). Because London and Amsterdam are less than 1,500 kilometres apart you are only entitled to a 30% refund.

This would mean, for a downgrade from Club Europe, you are effectively paying £74 for an economy ticket that would otherwise have cost you £64. Not exactly ideal.

What about Avios redemptions?

The same regulations apply regardless of how the flight was paid for. British Airways may attempt to refund you the difference in Avios between the two cabins, but there is no clause in Article 10 to suggest that frequent flyer redemptions should be treated differently.

Whilst there has been no clear ruling on the matter, EC261 suggests that it is only taxes and not carrier imposed fees that are exempt from reimbursement.  Given the significant level of surcharges BA levies on Avios tickets you are likely entitled to 30%, 50% or 75% of both Avios AND a portion of the cash paid in surcharges.

Do I get to keep my luggage allowance or lounge access?

In short, maybe. Last year, British Airways offered this guidance internally when it flew an A350 without a First cabin to Dubai:

“Baggage allowance, lounge access, Tier points and Avios earned will be based on the cabin of travel not from the original ticketed flight.”

There is anecdotal evidence that you can call British Airways to protect your original baggage allowance, although neither EC261 nor BA’s own guidelines set this out in writing.

You are less likely to be able to access the lounge class of your original booking, although again there have been individual cases in which British Airways has done so.

Conclusion

Remember that for EC261 to apply you must be departing from an EU (or UK) airport on any airline, or arriving at an EU (or UK) airport on an EU airline.

EC261 will continue to apply after the Brexit transition period on 1st January 2021, as this will automatically be converted into UK law.

The easiest way to make your compensation claim is to call or email your airline directly. If you are claiming for a  downgraded British Airways flight you can do so here.

Comments (82)

  • Will says:

    Is there Covid exemption on this as well as on cancellations?

    • pigeon says:

      Exceptional circumstances do not matter when it comes to downgrades.

    • Anna says:

      There’s no COVID exemption on cancellations, only on the compensation element (which only applied if the cancellation was within 14 days of the flight anyway). Right to re-routing and duty of care still stands.

    • Charlieface says:

      Not convinced Covid exemption applies in a lot of these instances (on cancellations). Just because Covid it doesn’t mean the airline has carte blanche to cancel flights or IDB at whim, especially at late notice. The whole point of EC261 compensation was to prevent last minute changes, there is no reason why airlines shouldn’t know even in the current climate what their loads will be more than 14 days out. (This all assumes no lockdowns in destinations, just low loadings)

  • Dominic Barrington says:

    I think in the vast majority of cancellations these downgrades (of which I have had several) have had more than 14 days notice. Doesn’t that rule out compensation?

  • Ed says:

    What is the refund situation with 2-4-1 companion tickets regarding downgrades? From what I gather BA are reluctant to pay the 75% for the travelling companion?

    • Rob says:

      Correct. Often requires a trip to Small Claims Court.

      • Graeme says:

        Which is typically successful, I hope?

        • Lady London says:

          Er… why do you think we hear nowadays of far fewer instances where people feel they were targeted for downgrade, especially from First, because it appeared British Airways hoped they might not have to pay compensation for downgrading the second seat on a 2for1.

          People have successfully argued cash diff between ticket prices at the time of the downgrade or BA’s own cash price they’ve sold avios for as a calculation basis for their case too.

          There is legend on flyertalk about downgrades and how people got their compo.

          Personally I’d like the right to refuse to fly and take cash or a rebook. If it was my honeymoon to the Maldives in First a downgrade would change the experience so much as to make it not worth flying at all if downgraded.

          • 1ATL says:

            I’m guessing you were/are a bridezilla Anna? 😉

          • 1ATL says:

            Lady London even
            Apologies Anna

          • AJA says:

            @1ATL I think the apology should also be to Lady London as well.

          • Alex M says:

            Had to google “bridezilla” and apparently there is such a word! there is even “bridesmaidzilla”. You learn something on HFP every day…

          • Lady London says:

            If it was me I would have cancelled the wedding as well 🙂

          • Anna says:

            1ATL – my wedding was a very modest affair actually (and you should know that we HFP require value for money above all things!). It was many years before HFP though, and our honeymoon was a late availability deal from Teletext travelling on a charter flight which I think only had an economy cabin!

  • Mark says:

    I have had a return leg downgraded for next year. Do I just wait to see what happens and call nearer the time to either hope first reinstated or try and get some form of compensation? It’s a 2-4-1 voucher avios booking. If accept the down grade do you ask the call centre for the refund of avios or do it post trip?

    • Anna says:

      I think you have to fly the affected leg before you can claim anything.

      • Phil says:

        I would be very interested to know if this is true as I am in the same position having a booking out to Canada and back from USA in 6 weeks which I have cancelled albeit after the downgrade
        They tried to charge the £35 pp but rolled over and gave me a full refund of all the cash and Avios and Amex or BA kindly automatically extended the 2 for 1 which was due to expire Sept 2021 to April 2022 ( ie making a voucher of no benefit whatever as the flight was 11 months after the booking
        I told them I would take a voucher if I could rebook later regardless of availability but they declined)
        A poster on here a few weeks ago suggested that downgrade was payable regardless of eventual flying
        BA have certainly told me that no fly no downgrade compensation

        Half of me says spend £100 odd on MCOL and see what happens and half of me wonders if it is the right thing to do to to kick BA when they are down, whilst being well aware that if the situation was reversed they would have no absolutely hesitation in kicking me.

        • Anna says:

          I can’t see why you would get compensation for an event which didn’t actually affect you as you chose to cancel the flight.

          • Phil says:

            Normally I would agree but BA misled me because I asked the You First what were my options and they told me in a recorded phone call that I was only entitled to difference in Avios which is a porkie.
            I would be minded argue in MCOL that had I been properly informed of my rights I might very well have decided that I would not cancel.
            Suppose that I had not cancelled and received the downgrade compensation and then cancelled later what would happen in terms of refund?

          • Lady London says:

            +1 Too late.

          • Lady London says:

            OK seen your other reply go for it and keep us informed.

            Although judgments in Small Claims Court do not set precedent for other cases or courts, I am sure BA is not going to roll over on this one. Quite often we hear that when BA is bullying someone and denying them their rights, a moneyclaim dot gov dot org they do finally react to and pay out before court.

            BA will fight this one ecause of the risk the court finds in your favour and there will be so many other claims ‘after the fact’ of someone having taken a refund but still being able to claim they would have taken a different decision if BA had advised them of their rights as they are legally obliged to.

            I love it. Go for it.

          • Lady London says:

            PS @Phil you do still have to fly in the lower class than booked before they would pay out otherwise your loss hasnt crystallised. Ditto for MCOL wait till you’ve flown and give them a bit more time to pay than they are meant to pay out in before you do an MCOL.

            Bur I see nothing wrong with filing the claim now as for one thing it gives you an earlier submission date and means you can follow up promptly after the flight without having to pfaff around with admin and makes sure you dont forget.

        • Magarathea says:

          EC261 Article 10.2 says –

          ” If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased…”

          I would say this means that if you don’t fly you are not placed in a lower class. Therefore no ticket reimbursement.

          • pauldb says:

            Agreed, and practically BA do not accept these claims until after the flight so you’d have to take a big chance MCOLing they before flying.

      • Lady London says:

        You have to fly to receive which is reasonable especially in these changeable times but personally I’d submit my claim as soon as I am downgraded. Then follow up for consummation as soon as I’d flown it.

        • Lady London says:

          MCOL if you’ve flown and they’re not paying. Your fee is refunded when you win.

        • AJA says:

          Consummation? I love that typo / auto correct. Claiming compo off BA for only joining the mile high club in Club and not First ? 🙂

          • Lady London says:

            the double entendre was just too tempting :-). But accurate to mean “cashing in” due to its Latin roots.

          • AJA says:

            Apologies. Didn’t realise it was a deliberate choice of wording. Well done on the obscure meaning. Made me laugh though 🙂

        • Phil says:

          @Lady London
          If I am being truthful we had decided to cancel the holiday and not fly long before the downgrade.
          Therefore I am going to bow out gracefully as it is clear that the consensus here is that BA were correct in telling me that We would have to fly before being given downgrade compensation and I also agree now is a logical view
          At least I got the £70.00 avios fee back.

  • ChrisBCN says:

    After 2021, if either the UK changes UK261 or the EU changes EU261, and the other party doesn’t change their law to match, which law would take precedence for a flight between the UK and the EU and back?

    • Blenz101 says:

      The same rules as apply to non EU airlines currently.

    • ChrisC says:

      From the EU to the U.K. then the EU rules no matter the carrier

      From the U.K. to the EU –

      If an EU carrier then EU rules apply

      For a non EU carrier then U.K. rules.

      So take a routing LHR-AMS-LHR for example

      On KLM the EU rules would apply to both legs

      On BA it would be U.K. rules outbound and EU rules inbound.

      Another say LHR-JFK-LHR

      On BA – U.K. rules would apply to both legs

      On AA it would be U.K. rules to the US but no coverage on the return leg.I.e. the same situation as now.

      • pauldb says:

        If the UK wrote its rules in the same way (that they apply to all UK departure and all UK-airline flights) then in you examples BOTH sets of rules would apply to KLM LON-AMS and BA AMS-LON. You would be able to demand whichever rights from either rulebook you preferred.

  • Graeme says:

    The BA page on this (which I could find last week but can’t this) says that they will try to seat you together in the new cabin etc. We had selected seats in First but have been moved down to CW (change of plane) – can they make us pay for selecting seats in CW? Surely – from what they said – it should still be free?

  • David says:

    Thanks for this article, which is pertinent as my partner and I have just had a flight downgraded from First to Club on the Heathrow to Cape Town route. Any HFP wisdom would be appreciated as I’m afraid to say I’m none the wiser having read the article… Sorry, Rob. I appreciate this is a massively confusing area(!)

    The situation: we originally booked a 241 companion voucher redemption Heathrow to Cape Town return for May 2021 in Club World. First availability then opened up on the outbound leg so we called BA and paid the extra avios and change fee to upgrade the outbound leg. The return remained Club.

    Now BA have downgraded us on the outbound leg from First to Club (it was due to be a 747 – now a 777. Eurgh!) Obviously not happy about it but assume we will be automatically refunded the difference in avios and – hopefully after a fight with the call centre – the change fee.

    My hunch is that this situation is too complicated to go through the hassle of claiming EU compensation as the article suggests might be possible, and the 241 drama potentially halves any compensation due anyway. So I’m minded to just call BA and hope for a nice representative to help with a decent outcome. That outcome to me is either First on the same route on a different date, or an upgrade of a separate Club booking elsewhere (we have another Club return already booked earlier in 2021).

    What do you think?

    • Blenz101 says:

      If BA are flying a first cabin on another date they will be open to moving you free of charge. In my experience they are also pretty OK with paying the downgrade compensation, as you say the 241 complicates things and you may not agree with their calculation. MCOL will be your best outcome here to get what you are due. There is zero chance of them upgrading an unrelated booking, will be a flat case of computer says no.

      You don’t say when your flight is, given the current situation in South Africa I wouldn’t count on the border reopening until well into 2021.

      • Lady London says:

        I am sure if you would like to move to another nearby route or date since you’ve been downgraded, then if you are having difficulty getting your EU261-subject operating airline to agree….

        I am sure a question “so is it true that for each of our seats we can claim back 75% of the cost for First Class we paid in avios/cash (whichever you paid by) under EU261 then after we’ve flown this route in the lower class you’ve moved us to?” might make them take another look…

    • AJA says:

      David I am not sure but I suspect you have to phone up to request the refund of the Avios and the change fee. That would be a refund of either 30k or 27k Avios.depending on whether it is a peak or off-peak That may be the simplest solution and you can do that today. But you are entitled to downgrade compensation of 75% of the First Class Avios fare so that would be either 76.5k or 90k Avios. And that should be per passenger, regardless of the fact that you paid on a BA companion voucher. You will have to actually fly and then claim the downgrade compensation but could end up getting a LOT of Avios. BA will fight you but that is what you would be entitled to.

      I think you will be out of luck claiming a reroute in First on the same route on a different date as it looks like BA are not flying directly to CPT with a plane with a First cabin. You could ask them to reroute you in First via JNB and then in Club internally on Comair or Kulula.com but their website currently says “Flight bookings is currently unavailable Based on the current COVID-19 travel restrictions and Comair Limited being under voluntary business rescue, all ticket sales, hotel and car bookings have temporarily been placed on hold. May you stay safe until we take to the skies and travel together again.”

      I think that getting BA to upgrade you into First on the other Club booking you have will be a no-go. It assumes that the other flight has a First cabin and that the difference in Avios between Club and First is the same as you already paid. It also assumes they would open up inventory to accomodate your request. That said no harm in asking.

      I think I would just go for the refund of Avios and change fee but ask for special dispensation to use the Concorde Room. If you are not Avios rich I might try your luck with the 75% downgrade compo after the flight. This might be worth doing as it is still a gamble that the flights will even happen.

  • John says:

    We’ve been downgraded from First to CW on a trip to Adelaide via Kuala Lumpur in March. This is due to swapping a 787-9 for a 787-8 on the KL route which doesn’t have a First cabin. Bit annoyed as only picked that instead of via Singapore and Sydney on a 777 because I wanted to try the smarter 787-9 First cabin.

    Paid cash. They won’t change the flights though, as KL to Adelaide is with Malaysian and said they cant modify or cancel the booking.

    Said I would be compensated after flying, but that means they get to hold on to my cash for 7 months and have somewhat spoiled the trip out as we now can’t use the Concorde Room either

    • pauldb says:

      What is your preferred outcome? If a refund and rebooking (paying the cash fare for another routing) I would insist on this from BA. If they refuse I believe you have a decent case under basic UK consumer law: it will only take a little hassle you test this and they’ll probably fold.
      Unfortunately a refund is not an EU261 right for a downgrade. However did they send you, as is often the case, an email saying you flight has been cancelled even though you’re rebooked at the same times: I’d have at least one attempt to demand a refund for a “cancellation”.

      • John says:

        Sent cancelled flight notification, with ‘click here to view options in my booking’ but wasn’t able to do anything other than accept the changes. Phoned up and they confirmed they couldn’t rebook me due to other operators being involved, even with code shares.

        It’s fine, sounds like I may get a reasonable chunk back if i just wait. Managed to nab decent seats, so dont mind too much beyond mild disappointment that it was meant to be a special trip and we were going all out. Still have First on the return via Singapore so get to use the Qantas First lounge in Sydney.

    • AJA says:

      @John, You are still getting a flight to KL in Club and will get the compensation after flying. You’re complaining that you can’t get the compo now but BA would still have kept your money if you were still flying 1st. I know you lose the Concorde Room experience but 75% refund of the fare means you will do well out of the deal.

      • Lady London says:

        ask them to keep your access to the Concorde Room.

        • Lady London says:

          …perhaps *before* you file any claim…! defo wait till after the flight to claim on that one 🙂

        • John says:

          I’m not sure how much luck I’ll have with that, as customer service team will only help me after I’ve flown. Pre trip team seemed unsympathetic to this and said I’d have to use the lounge according to my class of travel on the departing flight 😢

          • Lady London says:

            miserable g*ts. Try again.

            And if they still say no then they fully desserve to receive your full claim when you’ve flown.