Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

British Airways throws Alex Cruz under a bus (again) in a Sunday Times interview

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

There is a fascinating interview in The Sunday Times today with Sean Doyle, Chairman and CEO of British Airways.

We can’t show you it because it is behind a paywall (the link is here). To put it simply, all of the problems at British Airways have been dumped on ex-CEO Alex Cruz, who left the airline in October 2020.

This is, I think, very disingenuous. The lead time to get anything done in aviation is measured in years, not months.

This isn’t the first time that it has happened. I wrote a similar piece to this one back in May 2021 after an article in the Mail On Sunday.

Alex Cruz british airways

It is not true that Sean Doyle is the architect of all of the changes that are now coming through. Whilst HfP was far from being Alex Cruz’s biggest cheerleader, I personally liked him and in many ways he was simply a puppet for Willie Walsh, then Chief Executive of BA’s parent company IAG.

(Before someone points this out in the comments, I should admit that HfP did well from its critical coverage of Cruz’s early cost cutting. It got us our only mention in The Economist and drove our hat-trick of wins in the 2017 Business Travel Journalism Awards, including Editor of the Year.)

Alex Cruz was appointed to run British Airways because he was an expert at cutting costs. He founded Clickair, a low cost Spanish airline which was acquired by Vueling. Cruz was made CEO of Vueling as part of the merger because of his experience of running a low cost operation.

He was moved to British Airways to bring the same mentality to the UK carrier. He shared the mindset of Willie Walsh, the previous BA CEO who became CEO of BA’s parent IAG and to whom Cruz reported. Willie’s nickname was, of course, ‘Slasher’ Walsh because of his approach to cost reduction.

Whilst – to be clear – these words do not come as direct quotes from Doyle, the article today gives him implied credit for:

  • the new Ozwald Boateng uniforms, commissioned by Alex Cruz in 2018
  • the new Boeing 777-9X fleet, ordered by Alex Cruz in 2019 (and now delayed until at least 2026)
  • the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 fleets, which (for the latter at least) were mainly delivered under Alex Cruz and were actually ordered whilst Willie Walsh was CEO of British Airways
British Airways Club Suite

There is no mention of three highly positive initiatives signed off by Cruz:

  • the introduction of Club Suite, which briefly made British Airways the only European carrier with ‘closing door’ suites in business class
  • the signing of a catering contract with Do&Co at Heathrow, the best regarded airline catering group in the world
  • the construction of the First Wing at Heathrow Terminal 5

Cruz IS blamed directly in The Sunday Times for leaving British Airways with ‘too many ageing jets’. This makes little sense, given that Cruz was in charge when the 777-9X fleet was ordered. In any event, the life cycle of any aircraft order – which can take 10 years from initial specification to final delivery – will always cut across multiple CEOs.

Doyle is given credit for persuading IAG to invest in a new British Airways IT system. However, the fact that this investment was not approved immediately after the huge BA IT outage of 2017 – it has taken FIVE YEARS from that crash to get IAG to release funds for an upgrade – makes it clear where the blame should sit.

Where Alex Cruz went wrong, arguably, was linking his reputation too closely to cost cutting. The airline was putting out regular staff announcements on what had been cut from the in-flight and airport product. Cruz was telling staff that cost cutting should be in their DNA, and that any day when budgets were not reduced was a day wasted.

In reality, Cruz’s plan was more complex:

  • invest in the premium product (Club Suite, First Wing, Do&Co catering) – not to the level that would give a Middle East carrier any sleepless nights, but certainly better than European rivals Air France KLM and Lufthansa
  • cut costs in short-haul to compete with Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air etc – something which was done relatively successfully. BA has retained a more civilised level of service than those carriers and arguably has a better short haul business class product than any of its major European competitors. Long haul Economy cabins were reduced in size – it is low margin business the airline was happy to lose.
Sean Doyle British Airways

The British Airways premium passenger experience can be pretty good

If anything, British Airways has failed to control the narrative about what it offers. Perhaps this was the Alex Cruz problem – associating the airline with a cost cutting mentality which didn’t always filter through to the customer proposition.

After all, anyone who ever visited both the British Airways and easyJet head offices would be left in no doubt that one of them was clearly carrying excessive overhead. Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, told me recently that it took the pandemic to shake out the fat that had built up in his business, and it is now a far leaner operation.

Take my typical short haul flight as a Gold card holder. I can be dropped off outside the First Wing part of Terminal 5. With no checked luggage, I am at security literally within 60 seconds of getting out of the taxi. I am in the lounge 30 seconds after clearing security. However little I pay for my flight, I can eat and drink happily in the lounge for an hour or so.

If I fly Club Europe, I get an empty middle seat. I get (as a Gold) usually Row 1 due to the Gold block in place (or if I’m in Economy I get a blocked seat next to me unless the flight is full). The Club Europe food is pretty good these days and far better than anything Air France KLM or Lufthansa Group can deliver.

British Airways is, in many ways, a good airline. It could certainly do some things better (IT being the key problem) but the reality on a good day is far better than the perception. The impact of the Alex Cruz era may look better in 20 years time.

PS. The A380 is to get Club Suite, apparently

One interesting titbit from the article is confimation that the A380 fleet will receive Club Suite as well as the new First Class product.

There is no timeline for this. However, we know that the Boeing 787 fleet will be next. This work has also been delayed – when we last wrote about this we said that it would be started in late 2023 but we understand that it has now slipped into 2024.

Assuming that only one fleet can be upgraded at a time, we probably won’t be seeing a new-look A380 fleet until 2025.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (September 2023)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review

There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Run your own business?

We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

EDIT: Applications for this card are temporarily suspended due to IT issues with the British Airways On Business SME loyalty scheme.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.

Comments (266)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • GS says:

    For me the biggest issue is that investment in customer service is lacking. This is one key area that can differentiate from the budget airlines, but BA can’t seem to get their act together. I’ve had multiple poor experiences, you fill out a form for customer relations, and nothing happens. You can’t catch them on the phone either. 3 examples from the last couple of years. Example 1: I’m currently pursuing a MCOL because despite multiple attempts at a seemingly clear cut downgrade reimbursement, I’ve had nothing back. Example 2: I’ve had a “confirmed” £200 refund promised by a customer service agent for a cancelled leg of flight mysteriously turn into just £50 refunded with no way of following it up – simply misinformation, very sorry, someone quoted you the wrong number. Example 3: The regional connections are often delayed in my own experience, yet I recently booked CE MAN-LHR for a family member to connect to a Virgin flight. 2 hour delay, lost luggage, they had to take the next flight without anything. Filled in the form and still waiting many weeks on with nothing back. In summary, poor experiences happen (maybe too often in BA’s case), but if they can’t deal with them properly it just leads to resentment. I have shifted my own loyalty towards Virgin (plus redeeming via AF/KLM/others etc) as a result of this happening all too often.

  • x2000traveller says:

    Cruz was an engaging character who fully recognised the challenge that BA has with competing on shorthaul routes with FR, U2, Wizzair and others as the market shifted to be interested in low fares/few frills (yes, even in Economy class on BA!) The reach of the low-cast carriers’ networks is now huge and they have adapted their offer (a bit) to attract business travel. But neither he or many other airline execs have worked how to combine the push to ‘low cost’ with a putting on a decent proposition for business travel. That’s become much more a problem now that eg. 25% of the high yield people are on Teams and not planes these days. Offering attractive Club class fares helps a bit (and is clearly filling BA’s long haul fleet very well) but, in the longer term, the temptation will be cut the size of the CW/CE cabins again, up the service and fares for the remaining seats and switch the rest to economy. Companies outside the financial and oil sectors are still severely limiting business travel budgets….this is probably a permanent feature of life these days.

    • vlcnc says:

      I disagree he was an engaging character and his solution for BA was very simplistic and stupid in just trying to ape what the low-cost carriers were doing. People who fly BA not flying for business on company expense, choose to fly them for a reason and their decision to isn’t solely on price alone. It’s getting the right mix right and he went too far. And here’s the thing even the cuts in shorthaul economy don’t make sense – you mention companies limiting business travel budges, actually this was even happening in finance. I was freelancing at a merchant bank a few years ago and they had stopped people flying in business shorthaul, only economy travel was allowed. One of the things people enjoyed still flying economy on BA was getting a full bar service – it’s not much but after long days in meetings in Europe somewhere, getting G&T complimentary gave a lot of good will to people who might then be willing to travel in their own time and on their own money with BA. You couldn’t buy that type of marketing.

      • Rob says:

        Yes, the failure to exploit the fact that many business travellers can’t expense alcohol is arguably a miss, although it’s also true that these people are often tied into corporate contracts and have to fly BA anyway.

        • vlcnc says:

          That is true, but previously it was a positive thing – “well least good ‘ole BA will give me my G&T on the way back home”, it was a small ditty of joy that left a good halo for BA. Now it is leaves a negative impression because it feels stingy especially in the context of having it before. Like BA should be striving to instill loyalty, getting people to WANT to fly with them and crucially people willing to pay to fly with them. You don’t get that from being miserly and stingy.

          • Londonsteve says:

            +1 They underestimate the pull of a free G’n’T on board. The perceived value is the £7.20 they charge, the real cost is pence to distribute duty free miniatures. The free drink and sandwich would make me inclined to pay an extra tenner on the fare right away. In reality they ride the ‘free refreshments’ thing while distributing a thimble of water and a cereal bar which is verging on being fraudulent in their advertising.

        • Londonsteve says:

          I’d love to know which firms have corporate contracts that tie their employees to BA. I worked at 3 banks and we were compelled by travel policy to choose the lowest cost flight (subject to flexibility about airport and departure time, etc.). In practice many flew BA justified by the lower cost of getting to LHR or LCY, or because colleagues were more likely to be living in west London, but this is byproduct of London’s size and the high cost of ground transport which works to BA’s advantage.

          • Rob says:

            Proper bankers use their own money to pay the difference for Business Class in this scenario, rather than be seen down the back 🙂 It’s generally a good investment too given the cost vs tier points and extra Avios earned.

            Before it’s too late, learn that the ‘Alex’ cartoon in the Telegraph is not a comic, it’s your instruction manual.

  • Gareth says:

    Yes there are some good things now and BA club out of Heathrow for us gold members is as good as it gets on the ground , only a few airlines beat it in the air. But BA was very slow upgrading it’s club world product. For a long time was seriously behind the times.

    There is no sign of them upgrading the Gatwick longhaul fleet, and it’s not as if they are any cheaper per mile than Heathrow.bIn my case we would fly direct with BA to Capetown from Heathrow even if it had old seats, rather than two flights with others. But on many of Gatwick flights would not pay for BA with cash. Only reason using BA for Mauritius flight is managed to use a 241 voucher.

  • Chris Pocock says:

    Lots of comments here on seats, meals, lounges etc. I’m more interested in BA’s record on delays and cancellations. Poor, I believe. And how they deal with the affected passengers. Badly, I know from recent personal experience.

  • Joe says:

    Honestly so much of the woes is down to poor training and poor quality control when it comes to staff imo. There is no reason why service quality in the air can’t be at the level of a middle east airline. You just need staff to take pride in their work and know that anything less in front of the customer will not be tolerated. With great service comes forgiveness on so much else.

  • M Raggett says:

    The board appointed Walsh. They knew his history. Why have they still got Waterside and all those expensive execs when the company is shrinking? That money saved could be spent onboard for the pax

  • Ian Flyer says:

    after many years of cr*p treatment onboard and on the ground, including particularly ignorant customer services, I’m an ABBA fan.
    The culture extends from management through to the lowest cabin crew in denigrating anyone travelling in Economy.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.