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What do you do if British Airways 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.

18 months ago (I am updating an old article today as we’ve spent all week finalising the new site design!) 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 British Airways 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 British Airways closes your Executive Club account?

What should you do if BA closes your Executive Club account?

This was my advice to the reader who contacted me (who, remember, had 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.

Comments (44)

  • Goldmember says:

    I’ve used the Gold perk on several occasions to make redemption space available on Feb Half Term ski flights to Switzerland in the past for my wife’s boss and his family. The fare is often upwards of £700pp return paying cash compared to in the region of £360pp using Avios (taking into account the purchase of the Avios and the RFS cash component). Wife’s boss gifts the amount of Avios to my account (rounded up by a significant amount to make it worth my while and so I’m never out of pocket) and I complete the transaction with their credit card. Gold seat allocation rounds off the experience and everyone is happy. Guessing as they’re always on my friends and family list (despite me having never met them) it’s not going to trigger any suspicious activity algorithm.

    • Andrew says:

      I admire your optimism but I’d be very nervous doing this. As a gold member presumably you have a decent number of avios already in your account. If so purchasing/receiving an incoming transfer of a large number of avios (when you don’t need them) to then immediately redeem them for a third party sounds exactly the sort of behaviour an algorithm could be watching out for.

      • meta says:

        And also posting it in public with quite a lot of detail!

        • Goldmember says:

          But hopefully with sufficient info missing to reveal anything with any certainty. I might have gotten the country wrong for example.

    • Doug M says:

      How do you know he’s not doing this with others. He’s paying you a commission in Avios to take advantage of your status. It’s exactly the kind of thing they’d close your account for. You only get seat selection if you fly with them, no?

      • Goldmember says:

        Sorry I should have said I include me in the travelling party at time of booking then cancel me off at a later date once seats are secured. The seats selected remain for everyone else left on the booking.

        • meta says:

          That’s really bad. This is absolutely grounds for an audit and terminating account.

          • Goldmember says:

            @Meta It’s a benefit of being gold. It’s also a benefit of any Avios booking to cancel any seat from the reservation upto 24hrs prior to travel for a £35 fee so in this sense it’s perfectly acceptable. You don’t need to provide a reason for cancellation or proof of illness to do so.

        • Chris Heyes says:

          [email protected] Perfectly correct for you to do !
          Of course you would need to cancel yourself off the trip if you became unwell lol
          Done it myself (but with hotels) booked me & my daughter & granddaughter into hotel using my gold card but myself unable to travel never had a problem (daughter happy upgrade, me got points without being there) i see no difference lol

          • meta says:

            He’s effectively selling his miles. He’s done it repeatedly and deliberately. I presume if he was ill he had documentation as proof? It is also for someone outside his household!

            For hotels, it’s different because some hotels allow this and it’s in their terms and conditions. Actually you don’t even need to pretend. If you call a hotel in advance, no problem. Some chain hotels do have a policy (Marriott) which does allow someone else to stay, but no points. Hilton actually allows you to book reward stays for someone else in your household.

      • Goldmember says:

        Ultimately I don’t but I’m fairly certain he doesn’t. Skiing at half term appears to be the extent of their foreign travel according to my wife.

        • Andrew says:

          In all seriousness ask yourself how you’d feel if BA cancelled your BAEC account tomorrow. If it would cause major annoyance then at the very least tone back what you’re doing. You’re currently partaking in 3 dodgy acts any one of which could bring you to the attention of BA:
          Using your status to reserve seats for others when you have no intention of traveling yourself
          Using your status to open up award availability for others when you have no intention of traveling yourself
          Receiving a commission to do so

          • Goldmember says:

            Using tier status to assign me and others on the booking seats at time of booking is a permitted tier benefit. If BA were smarter they’d cancel the seat assignments off when the booking no longer includes a gold tier member but they don’t.

            Cancelling any combination of redemption tickets booked prior to travel is also permitted for £35. One of the benefits of redemption bookings. I don’t do it within 24hrs of booking which would be without charge and in my mind would look more suspicious.

            Opening redemption space (at twice the amount of avios of a regular redemption) is another permitted benefit of gold.

            This family aren’t on my household account as household members, they’re on my friends and family list and have been for several years now. I’m not palming them off as living at my address. I don’t update my household account or F&F list with new names at every given opportunity.

            Apart from the intent of not ever travelling which you could argue ethically isn’t in the spirit of BAEC membership, it doesn’t appear to be in the terms and conditions of membership so it would be interesting from a legal sense where BAEC would go with that. There’s no prerequisite to provide proof of hotel accommodation as an example and not should there be.

            The commission you speak of would be the amount of avios which get returned to my account when my reservation is cancelled.
            The wife’s boss purchases the entire amount of Avios (including my ticket) as a gift which BAEC allows on an an annual basis. This transaction doesn’t exceed this amount. The tickets are all purchased with their credit card which they can show at check-in if required.

            I’m not being deliberately ballsy or obtuce by boasting in order to gage reaction, the whole point of sharing was that this thread is extremely relevant. I’m not advertising the services of my membership in public or indeed shady places to garner profit or broker a deliberate scam. It’s one family who my wife knows a member of but who I don’t. They travel once a year. If that does her any favours in her professional life then I don’t have a problem with that but that’s not the aim of the game. It just using eligible benefits available to maximise financial saving (£1500-£1700 on grossly overpriced 1hr20 flights ew in school holidays). All I get out of it is the Avios equivalent to the redemption for my ticket.
            BAEC are perfectly able to tighten up in these areas of they deem it an area of concern but they choose not to.

        • Chris Heyes says:

          [email protected] wow you created up a storm there lol
          some people seem to think it’s ok to resurrect dead moggys over and over again but think making £4/5,000 selling a seat is a no no lol
          not that i’m accusing you of that lol ?
          people know the risks most weigh them up then either do or don’t whatever it’s up to them
          I’m not averse to some dodgy dealing so I’m not going to take some high moral ground like some on here (i’d be an idiot if i did)

  • ChrisC says:

    Flyer talk is littered with posts about having accounts closed and not just BA.

    AA is very active and has software to find miscreants and will then close accounts after human review. If you try and sue or complain to the DoT they will be very robust in describing what you did publicly.

    People usually start complaining they they had done nothing wrong but drop by drop details emerge that show that in fact either they had done the offending activity themselves or that their ‘friend’ had priors.

    I recall one BA one where someone had their BA account closed and all flights cancelled (Whilst they were abroad!) because of illicit activity involving their lodgers paying for his tickets using their avios in return for him letting them use other parts of the house as this happened more than one it got picked up.

    • Doug M says:

      The rent payment one was a cracker, gradually revealing bit by bit that the tickets were in lieu of rent. I just can’t understand why BA wouldn’t let me fly!

    • Ricatti says:

      “their ‘friend’ had priors.”

      That occurrence should have nothing to do with You and your transaction / your reasons to book an Avios ticket for that person. There must be some presumption of innonence.

      • J says:

        “There must be some presumption of innonence”. Why? Outside of a criminal trial, it is rare to find examples of presumed innocence – many companies drop customers because of actions taken by friends and family – at least here they would be directly linked by a transaction.

  • @mkcol says:

    So what was the outcome?

  • ChrisW says:

    There’s usually a LOT more to the story than “I did nothing wrong”.

    If he did nothing wrong he has nothing to worry about…

  • DA says:

    I’m willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt but several years ago my account was frozen and audited and I’ll admit I had been up to some slightly dodgy behaviour. Fortunately it was unfrozen a month later and all avios reinstated and I’ve been squeeky clean every since.

  • Vistaro says:

    Be interesting to see a more general blog post on this and not just for BA. There’s a plethora of brokers facilitating this, many of them have been in the business for ages and as such there must be a market for it and it would be good to know the bigger picture, I’m surprised there don’t seem to be brokers doing similar for AMEX and similar.

    • Rob says:

      There are. Amex is easier because the seller issues a supplementary card in the name of the buyer which allows the transfer to go through with no risk.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    i posted a few days ago if you need to get rid of some avios due to no longer flying.
    Put the recipient on your friends & family list before you give (sell !) your avios ticket saves a load of bother, hardly any chance of flagging up anything (if on your f & f list they could easily pay what the avios is worth ?)

  • Gavin says:

    I booked a one way from Majorca to Heathrow for a friend using Avios last year, perhaps as this was a first occasion I got away with it. I didn’t ask any money from the friend, they had to get back to the USA around that time anyway and the Avios flight meant we could catch up for the weekend before they did so.

    Perhaps more cavalier was adding my in-laws who lived overseas to the household account to benefit from the 15k Avios their flights would get,
    and lying that they were resident in my property. Now I’ve burnt all the Avios I don’t mind admitting this.

    • Anna says:

      In the first instance that’s perfectly acceptable – you weren’t “selling” your friend the avios so no breach of Ts & Cs.

      I don’t know how BA views where people actually live – presumably there are people who have residences in different countries anyway?

      • Gavin says:

        In terms of how BA view addresses, I just claimed they were resident at my address, obviously they aren’t as live overseas – this was the only BA flight they were ever going to take.

        Their Avios eventually became a crate of wine!

    • Chris Heyes says:

      [email protected]’s not a problem in it’s self you can get a flight for a friend anytime the only problem would be if you “made anything” from doing it (that would be against terms & conditions)
      although not illegal
      doing it on a regular basis “might” flag up
      that’s why f & f is “very” useful