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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)

  • Stu says:

    I find service onboard BA to be generally pretty good; sadly this can’t be said of the majority of back office teams. Sometimes it feels like they work for a different company, and are counteracting the half decent onboard service.

    It took me 50 hours to get a ‘sorry there’s nothing we can do’ reply from BA to a DM on Twitter last week. Compare this to EasyJet who replied within 7 minutes advising that my suspicion of an overcharge on a flight change was correct and that they’d refunded the difference there and then.

    Yesterday, I uploaded two sets of vaccine documents for me and my partner for our flight tomorrow – one got checked with 14 minutes, the other (uploaded first) took over 11 hours to be confirmed! When I phoned to chase after about 8 hours fearing there was an issue, I endured a 30 minute wait only to be told my documents were still in the queue waiting to be checked and that they were dealt with strictly in the order they were received … clearly not!

    I see the option for online chat looks to have disappeared too. Further sorry times at BA it seems.

    • Ray says:

      BA recently cancelled our Avios flights to Cape Town in October, no explanation just an email. As it was an off peak flight the system doesn’t allow you to change the flight to a peak date and pay the difference in price / Avios points, you have to contact the service centre.
      So for over a week I’ve tried at various times of the day from 08.00, when they open, to end of day, lunch times etc. Sometimes you don’t even get the option of holding to speak to an agent but when you do you’re left holding for an hour then the line drops, this has happened many, many times, the most recently ten minutes ago, so I’m holding again.

      There has to be a better way than this?

      • Harry T says:

        Ray, we also had our CPT flights in October cancelled. It took my poor girlfriend many hours to get through to BA Holidays. She eventually called the US number using Skype and got through after a shortish wait. Alternatively, you could maybe try calling the executive club number rather than the main number, as your flights are booked with Avios?

        I agree, it’s appalling. I hope you get through.

  • Anna says:

    As mentioned yesterday, BA are losing custom and good will hand over fist because they won’t get their IT sorted out so that requesting refunds and redeeming FTVs can be actioned online. They would also be receiving fewer calls if their systems allowed for things like open jaw bookings using companion vouchers.
    I too have had markedly better service from Ryanair and EasyJet during the pandemic. We are currently planning a lot of travel for 2022 and beyond as a retired couple and those bookings are not going to BA due to their appalling customer service. I hope someone with influence at the company has read this article!

    • Mikeact says:

      @Anna. As BA seems to be off the cards for you going forward, perhaps I could have your Avios for any proposed BA flights not now required. Thanks.

      • Ls says:

        Anna has a reasonable point. Normally BA really do lock you in with avios: you’ll lose everything if you walk away. But they’ve chosen a bad time to offer atrocious customer service: when you can cash it out miles for 0.8p to nectar.
        This is what I have steadily been doing on a monthly basis.

    • Doug M says:

      How do you know they’re losing custom, anecdotal internet comments are not evidence to base much on. In terms of goodwill airlines don’t care, BA is not the best, or the worst.
      All companies make judgments about lost business versus cost if additional staff.

      • LS says:

        Look at their load factor, even on short haul. It is far below pre-pandemic levels. EasyJet at 80% of prior levels. Wizz at 100%.
        I personally have avoided BA on two flights so far: once for an indirect flight on Qatar, which was cheaper and got more TPs, and once on EasyJet. Both had great on board service.
        Again, the plural of an anecdote is not data, but it really seems BA are losing ground.

  • Patrick says:

    Can HFP organise some pressure campaign like Which? would?

  • Ian says:

    Everyone must surely know that 08x numbers will cost money (except 0800)

    03x numbers were brought in a few years ago to stop 0845 numbers initially.

    It is now against the law to promote a number that costs money to customers without also providing a number that is inclusive in plans.

    BA can however promote a premium rate number to non customers who are yet to book. But not to customers.

    Therefore if BA have promoted such numbers illegally then they should refund or take them to court.

    Either way I have little sympathy with anyone who claims not to know how much an 0844 will cost.

    • Pb says:

      You could argue that beginning another number with 08 is misleading. Everyone got used to 0800 being free . I find myself checking every such number these days just in case something else has slipped in for a charge .

      • CarpalTravel says:

        +1

      • NFH says:

        I agree. 084 and 087 numbers should never have been allowed, and instead should have been confined to the 09 premium rate number range.

        But it’s not difficult to tell the difference, as 080 numbers are free (currently only 0800 and 0808 are in use).

    • John says:

      I moved to the UK in 2006 and I got a surprise phone bill of £8 in the first month from calling an 08 number. Since then I’ve known to never call these numbers.

      Unless they are new to the UK someone spending £200 on a phone call is wilfully ignorant or £200 is nothing to them. My phone bills for the last 5 years total less than £200.

      • Zain says:

        Are you saying your phone bills annually are £40? So that’s a shade over £3/month for unlimited calls, text, data etc? I’d quite like to see that because there’s no way that is true. Please stop spewing nonsense over the internet.

        • AJA says:

          Technically my phone calls via my mobile have cost me £0 over the last 5 years. I currently pay O2 £10.14 per month for an all-inclusive pay-monthly contract but that is really for the sim card and the10gb monthly data connection. I have unlimited calls to any UK network. All calls to UK 01, 02, 03 or 080 numbers are included. Calls to UK 07 numbers are also included.

          • Lady London says:

            If anyone wants a new contract Three is doing 12Gb for £8 currently.

  • Concerto says:

    Rob, why is such a poor level of service unavoidable? I just don’t get why Corona is always used as a convenient blanket excuse for the incredible degradation of service that we are seeing everywhere. And while I get that most of you here might have a patriotic or emotional association with this airline, I really don’t get why you continue to support it. I don’t buy the reason that living in London gives one no choice. The London airports have a huge number of other flights.

    • Thywillbedone says:

      He was referring to the ‘pingdemic’ rather than the pandemic. Irrespective, it is clear that WFH does not ‘work’ for certain types of job which are often the refuge of the congenitally lazy …

  • ChrisC says:

    BA needs to introduce a secure message facility so you can message them about various flight issues so people don’t have to call them and wait for the phone to be answered.

    Few weeks ago I got a message to call them about a flight. No indication of what the issue was so I called. Waited 30 mins then gave up as had other things to do. So switched to the chat feature where I was eventually told it was a problem with my credit card so that meant another call anyway which I did the next day.

    They could have been dealt with by a secure message with them saying “we need your cc detail please tell us what they are” and I could reply with the info then some agent could just trawl through the messages and process them in a lot less time than a phone call.

    Such a feature could be used for a whole host of things. You could even request rebooking via it by completing a form.

    Security would be dealt with by accessing through BAEC account. An email could be sent when they have replied saying “we’ve sent you a message please check your account”

    • John says:

      They could do it like that but it would cost them money and they wouldn’t get paid when people message them, unlike when calling.

    • Simonbr says:

      There is the Chatbot, accessed online on the contacts webpage. Problem is you can wait an hour or more starting at position 90 in the queue and when you finally get to position 0 you can be told there’s nobody available from BA holidays and get cut off. BA holidays are very difficult to get through to ATM and nobody else seems able to help even if the issue is a flight cancellation or change made by BA.

      • ChrisC says:

        I have used the chat function several times but it’s not suitable for some issues

        Whilst the person chatting to me told me the issue was with my credit card the chat function isn’t suitable for giving BA my payment details because it’s not secure.

        Which is why a secure message function accessed only from your BAEC would be a boon.

  • TimM says:

    I had a similar experience last year calling BA from my landline. We have an internet and calls-inclusive package and the bill is usually exactly the same every month. One month it doubled, after I had twice called BA to attempt to use a future travel voucher. I failed – the conditions on a FTV involving Avios are very strict but I still had to pay through the nose for my attempt.

  • SydneySwan says:

    Jeez. And I thought Qantas was bad.

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