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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.

Here is an email I got from a reader a few years ago when I first looked at this topic:

“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.”

What should you do if British Airways closes your Executive Club account?

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 British Airways does not come after you automatically.

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 British Airways 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 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 British Airways can, in theory, do what it wants, they are likely to act responsibly in the face of evidence.

As it turnes out, our reader DID get his account reinstated after providing the airline with details about the flights he had issued from his account.

Irrespective of the Executive Club T&Cs, it would also be possible to go to Money Claim Online and 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.

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards

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

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

Comments (93)

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

  • ukpolak says:

    Blimey – good tips if I ever do the same.

    In FS, analytics is now a lot more common place to spot outliers / oddities and I wonder if any of it was to blame for the recent debanking stuff.

    Does make me wonder about regulation in this rewards space and if you didn’t get a satisfactory outcome, where could you dispute this (ie equivalent of FOS or FCA). I guess “buying into” an airline rewards scheme has its risks with devaluation and what not, but this is a very useful article indeed with top tips.

  • Paul says:

    I don’t have any objection to BA stance or indeed any other organisation but there should be a transparent right of appeal and a wholly independent adjudicator. Miles and points have a cash value and as such the determination on an account cannot solely rest in the issuer of the points.

    • meta says:

      Please read Executive Club’s Terms and Conditions.

      • Will says:

        The position where you sell points for cash and then state in the terms they have no cash value (or nominal cash value) is ludicrous and i very much doubt they would want that tested in proper (not small claims) court.

        • meta says:

          @Will Lufthansa got a judgement against them precisely on this and are still selling miles and still closing suspicious accounts…

          In any case, MCOL judgements have already determined what the value of Avios is (same as what BA is selling it for) but these are not binding.

          It’s also not that part that I am thinking. It’s the part of T&C where it says that Avios are not yours and BA has the right to terminate the scheme at any point without owning you anything.

          Anyway, who has that kind of money to spend on lawyers?

      • cin4 says:

        Terms and conditions are rarely legally sound.

    • JDB says:

      Your only recourse is through the courts. I don’t think you will find many, if any of these loyalty schemes offer recourse to free independent services like FOS/CEDR. I think you will find airlines, supermarkets etc. might also dispute the ‘cash value’ argument and as, @meta says, you should read the terms.

      Given how casual some people seem to be in the propriety of operating their credit card accounts, it’s no real surprise that people are also messing about with Avios/miles accounts.

      • meta says:

        Even if you went to court, you would really need to arm yourself with multiple legal arguments and points and be prepared that BA would put the top lawyers on this case.

        • Ken says:

          “The Top Lawyers”

          What to defend a MCOL claim that may be a few thousand quid ?

          Doubt if they are instructing Lord Pannick at £5k an hour

          • JDB says:

            @Ken BA instructs counsel to act in any claim that goes to a hearing, however small, even though their in house solicitors have rights of audience at MCOL. They don’t need to instruct leading counsel to see off these sort of amateur and dubious claims but they will use someone appropriate to the size and type of claim. It’s pretty difficult to get a tenancy as a barrister, so even the most junior will almost always be very smart.

          • meta says:

            I would argue that this won’t be looked at small claims court as it will dismissed immediately once it becomes apparent it is not just about the value of the Avios but about the closure of the account and BAEC’s terms and conditions in general.

  • shanghaiguizi says:

    It shows that the line between gaming the system to maximise reward value, and cheating, can get very blurry indeed.

    In the past I’ve used my avios to purchase multiple flights originating outside the UK for friends and family. There are many perfectly reasonable and legitimate reasons why one would want / need to do this.

    The takeaway here is nobody should have any reason to worry as long as you’re not using your avios to buy tickets for randoms from the internet.

  • Richmond_Surrey says:

    I never buy tickets for people with the same name, simply because I don’t have family. So, am I suspicious then? But most my tickets are from LHR or to LHR.

  • CarpalTravel says:

    They could be paraphrasing, but that terse and closed response of:
    “I emailed them to say that I have never violated the terms and conditions.”

    I really, *really* hope that they did more than reply with that. If I were in the same position I would have immediately done some of what Rob suggests – review all my activity for the last 12-24months and then provide some initial details of each item (assuming it relates to tickets bought for others, who they are and my relationship to them) and offer to provide further clarifying information, if they so require it.

    If they did not do that, then I would struggle to see how BA could come to any other conclusion, having already had their alarms triggered.

  • Manya says:

    Probably more of an Amex criteria but are referrals also treated in a similar manner in that you can only refer to friends and family?

    Hard to see the logic in that one as surely all parties benefit?

    • Rob says:

      How do ‘all parties benefit’ if you advertise Amex referrals on eBay to people who are going to apply anyway? I don’t see the value for Amex.

      • Manya says:

        But were they going to apply anyways or was the increased sign up bonus the added incentive to apply?

        • Rob says:

          If they on eBay searching up people with a referral link then I suggest there were ….

  • GR8PA says:

    …and the result in this case was……(?)

  • Steve S says:

    Was it ever resolved?

    • shanghaiguizi says:

      One of the last comments from when this article was last posted last year was Rob saying he has no idea what the outcome to this was.

      • meta says:

        It usually never is as there is always some part of the story that is omitted…

      • Jonathan says:

        It would’ve been good if the unfortunate HfP reader gave Rob an update, but unfortunately sometimes that’s the way life goes sometimes. It’d be interesting to know how often this happens and how many people get their bans overturned, and reinstated with everything they had previously

        • shanghaiguizi says:

          The top comment from the article last year had a link to a flyertalk forum chat about how BA and AA were banning accounts with suspect activity.

          Since I pulled the article from last year about 2 hours ago it seems like somebody from HfP has done some wizardry and now the link to the old article pulls up today’s article.

          All of 90 seconds using google cache and the waybackmachine will pull up the original article and the flyertalk link for anybody that is interested.

        • JDB says:

          @Jonathan – I don’t think you will find BA engaging on this. You will get a letter saying very little, so as not to compromise their position, finishing “we will not correspond further on this matter”. It’s then up to the passenger to pursue if they wish.

          The closure referenced in this article seems to relate to the sale or bartering of Avios, but they also close accounts for a variety of reasons, including if people are abusive to staff or indulge in fare/ticket related misconduct. Sometimes they just give a warning and seek an undertaking from the passenger as to future conduct. If they close the BAEC account, obviously any BA Amex is also closed.

        • Rob says:

          The original emailer actually just got in touch with the update! Will amend the article at some point. Just heading back from brekky with the Finnair CEO.

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

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