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How did readers get bills of up to £206 for calling British Airways?

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Looking at reader reports there are, at the moment, big delays in getting through to British Airways on the telephone if you don’t have elite status. Even if you do have a Gold card, service still appears to be far worse than it was.

This may be linked to the pingdemic, but it is also true that the call centres are moving to a new telephone system. Irrespective of the reasons, many people are spending an hour on the phone in a queue and then being automatically cut off.

If you’ve called an 0344 number, this is annoying but isn’t expensive. If you’ve called an 0844 number from a mobile, the cost can be horrendous.

British Airways call centre premium rates

The reader stories below have different causes and don’t even relate to the same entity – some are about British Airways and some are about BA Holidays. The problem is the same though – the use of 0844 numbers.

The BA Holidays 0344 number has an 0844 version with crazy pricing

The standard BA Holidays contact number is 0344 493 0787. This is charged at local rates and, on a mobile, will be covered by your inclusive minutes.

Unfortunately, there are two versions of this telephone number.

  • 0344 493 0787 is charged at standard local rates
  • 0844 493 0787 is charged at premium rates

The first report I received about excessive charges was from reader A who was charged £206:

“A warning about the BA Holidays call centre. I usually only book flights through BA but because of the double points offer I booked hotels as well. BA cancelled my flight to Porto with no alternative offered so I had to call them. Took most of a day, then when I received my O2 bill, it was for £206!! Seemingly Holidays uses a premium number.”

I looked on the BA Holidays website and it only shows the 0344 version. It turned out that reader A had initially called BA Executive Club and it was BAEC who gave her the 0844 number for BA Holidays. This was an expensive mistake. She was also not given the necessary warnings by Executive Club about the cost of the call – although these warnings are very ambiguous as we will see.

(UPDATE: Reader A dropped me a note this morning to say that, on my advice, she made a formal complaint to BA Holidays. They agreed to refund her £206 and the money was paid the next day, so full marks to BA Holidays for resolving this.)

British Airways executive club call centre premium rates

British Airways itself is no better

Here is an email from reader M who spent £148.90:

“If booking an open jaw Avios flight you MUST phone BA – you cannot do this online. The number the Executive Club and the BA website direct you to is 0844 493 0747.

This directs to a call centre in Manchester which I have just been told IS NOT MANNED. One of two things happen – you wait in queue for an hour then they disconnect you (ALL BA calls disconnect after one hour even if you are talking to a human being at that point so make sure to tell them to call you back at the start of the call) or they won’t even put you in a queue – a pre recorded message tells you they are very busy and to try again later and they disconnect you.

I only found this out by calling BA direct on 0344 493 0787. I spoke to two different staff and they confirmed this regarding the Manchester call centre. They said to either call the 787 number and asked to be transferred to a manned Avios centre (which worked twice for me albeit after 16 minutes and 56 minute waits but it worked) or to call the Warrington Avios call centre direct which is manned on 0800 597 7580.

After six days, 29 phone calls, 7hrs 40mins on phone and £148.90 in additional phone bills I got an alternative flight booked.”

Here is reader J:

“I know you have an in into BA.  Can you ask them how I’m supposed to use Future Travel Vouchers when it’s impossible to get through to the Executive Club? I’ve spent £88 so far in phones calls waiting before getting cut off.”

Here is reader S:

“I probably sound like an idiot but trying to contact BA Executive Club at their request cost me £35. They told me that the number is 0844 493 0747 at 7p a minute but if I had called 0344 493 0747 it is free. I feel scammed by BA. I tried for many hours over five days to speak to them.”

Reader S was lucky – she was calling from her home landline so there was no ‘access charge’. As we will show, she would have paid up to £350 had she called on a mobile.

Here is a comment sent to me on Twitter:

“I give up on Executive Club. I’ve phoned them 19 times in the last five days costing me over £30 in call fees. I’ve been cut off EVERY SINGLE TIME. I hae an Avios flight booked for two days time that I need to cancel.”

Reader T emailed to say:

“BA Executive Club number is advertised as 0844 and is 7p/min plus my mobile operator charges 45p/min. I had a £65 bill which covered 2 hours on the line. I wrongly expected 0844/0845 to be within my inclusive minutes.”

Huge telephone bills ringing British Airways

BA only pockets 7p per minute, so where does the money go?

ba.com says the following about calls to its 0844 numbers:

“Calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge”

Arguably British Airways will claim that a rate of 7p per minute is acceptable – albeit with many people sat on the telephone for an hour and then getting cut off with a £4.20 bill, it probably isn’t.

However, what percentage of people are calling from a landline?

Here is Vodafone’s price checker tool. Type in 0844 493 0787 and you’ll see that ‘pay monthly’ customers are charged a shocking 65p per minute, plus the 7p that BA receives. ‘Pay as you go’ customers get the ‘bargain’ price of 45p per minute plus the 7p service charge.

This means you would pay £43.20 on a Vodafone mobile for the privilege of spending an hour in the queue to British Airways, just to get cut off at the 60 minute mark.

What calls does BA charge at premium rates?

Here is the ‘Contact Us’ page on ba.com.

For ‘Make a new booking or check prices for flights, holidays, hotels, car hire or upgrades’ you are given the 0844 number.

However, under ‘Enquire about changes to an existing flight booking’ you are given the identical number but the 0344 ‘local rates’ version.

0344 numbers are also given for:

  • Enquire about an existing holiday, hotel or car hire booking
  • Help with special meals and name corrections
  • Get help with seating and baggage enquiries
  • Enquire about group travel bookings
  • Enquire about refunds for flight bookings
  • Enquire about refunds for holiday, hotel or car hire bookings
  • Other enquiries including Advanced Passenger Information (API)
  • Contact Customer Relations
  • Help with your delayed baggage
  • Get help with baggage claims

Reader comments below suggest that it is an offence to use 0844 numbers for anything except new business acquisition. Our first reader with the £206 was definitely misled by BA Executive Club, since she was dealing with an existing BA Holidays booking but was told to call an 0844 number.

The £148.90 ‘open jaw’ flight booking made by our reader was, to be fair, a fresh booking for which the rate is stated at ‘7p plus your mobile operators access charge’. However, as you can’t make open jaw bookings online, the reader had no choice but to call.

If the call was answered quickly and the booking made within a few minutes, then even 72p per minute via Vodafone may be (just about) acceptable. However, as it is virtually impossible to get your call answered quickly at the moment, and there is a very high chance that you will be cut off after an hour with no answer, it simply isn’t on.

What should British Airways do?

At the very, very least, British Airways should make it clear to callers that the ‘access charge’ for 0844 numbers is likely to be many multiples of the 7p base charge that is quoted.

I doubt anyone who reads the line “Calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge” would expect the ‘access charge’ element to be as high as 65p per minute.

It also shows a level of contempt for the customer. Basically, BA is so desperate to pocket 7p per minute from your call that it doesn’t make any real attempt to warn you that you could be paying Vodafone 65p per minute.

The fact that various parts of BA are verbally giving out 0844 numbers without saying they are premium rate and knowing that 0344 free versions exist is also unpalatable. It is also potentially an offence if these numbers are knowingly given to existing customers.

The bottom line is that, unless you have status, British Airways call centres have been (unavoidably, admittedly) offering a poor level of service during the pandemic. It appears to have got even worse in recent weeks.

To continue to charge people up to 72p per minute and then expect them to sit in a queue for an hour before being cut off is not acceptable. All 0844 numbers should be suspended immediately until BA is able to offer a high quality service.


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Comments (164)

  • Zoe P says:

    I got a phone call from Germany today which I ignored as I thought it was a scam. Then I got a text message saying BA tried to call me and to contact them on 0344 number. I had waited a week for that callback. So be warned all… if you get a random call from Germany it may be BA.

  • Robert says:

    Just been cut off the Gold BAEC Line after 17 mins, then when calling back told by an automated voice ‘they aren’t taking calls at this time’ and then came here and seen your article! Hoping I haven’t been too badly stung on the 0208 gold members number

    • 1ATL says:

      Why wouldn’t you just call the 0800 (freephone) number on the back of your gold card?

      • Robert says:

        I just called the number that has been saved on my mobile phone for at least the past 6 years! Thanks for the tip that there is an 0800 number I can use. I should also point out that there is a recorded message at the start stating that the number is changing to an 0207 number on 1st September. I have no clue what the charges are for 0207/0208 hoping someone in here can advise thanks.

        • Chas says:

          Those are both London numbers, so should be comparatively cheap to call (most likely included in any bundled minutes you have).

        • NFH says:

          020 has been the area code for London since April 2000 followed by an 8-digit local number. Currently London numbers start with 3, 4, 7 or 8, but the first digit no longer has any geographic significance, unlike when London was geographically split into 0(1)71 and 0(1)81 from May 1990 to April 2000.

  • Kevin D says:

    This is disgraceful. From an airline that wants to be one of the best in the world. This is as bad as Ryanair. Terrible. Whats worse is that inability to do some things on their website, meaning customers MUST phone.

  • Barnaby100 says:

    Being BA gold and flying first naked no difference

    200 plus cancelled flights and I have given up on BA. Jet2.com and KLM moving forward

  • Dubious says:

    Well it wouldn’t make any difference – things will get stuck in the seat mechanism regardless of status – though that might turn you a different colour than gold.

  • Collector says:

    This article fails to address the most important question: which credit card should we be charging these multi-hundred-pound phone bills to in order to generate the most Avios points?

    • mr_jetlag says:

      forget Avios, £206 is enough Virgin points for a Gregg’s sausage roll, donut or hot drink. On the premium card can even stretch to a savoury / pasty.

  • Yorkieflyer says:

    Grateful if someone could refresh my memory please. I know if BA cancel the flight we can now rebook per the 8 July memo up to a year from original travel date, however, what are rights plus BA policy on a timing change by 6 hours plus?

  • Nigel Moorhouse says:

    Gold card. Waited 37 minutes and they cut me off. Now back at the end of the “ losing the will to live” queue. Lot worse than even March last year.

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