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More BA news: punctuality, new A380 First, free messaging, new website, GGL changes

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Yesterday, we published three articles profiling three changes that British Airways is rolling out to its customer experience and route network, including:

There were, however, even more announcements that we wanted to cover, but did not necessarily warrant dedicated articles. Let’s start at the top:

British AIrways improving punctuality

BA improving punctuality

“If the planes are running late, you’ve got a problem”. That’s what BA CEO Sean Doyle said in his opening remarks, and anyone who caught a British Airways flight last year is likely to agree.

The good news is that huge improvements have apparently been made.

“We have a pretty huge focus on operational resilience and punctuality …. over the last three months, we’ve made great progress: our average departure punctuality at Heathrow has been 80%. We’ve been better than the average of all the other carriers at the airport. And that’s a significant turnaround from where we were maybe six months ago.”

In comparison, the full-year average for all airlines at Heathrow last year was 63.4% so this is a significant jump.

On flights to New York JFK, where BA launched a focus on punctuality last year, the results have been even better:

“We have been the most punctual airline on JFK for the last six months. We’ve taken all those learnings and rolled it out to the rest of the network to make sure we’re on time.”

If British Airways can keep this momentum going into the summer, during the busiest travel period of the year, then I will be impressed.

British Airways new A380 First Class

British Airways to introduce new First Suites on the A380

Calum Laming, Chief Customer Officer at BA, reiterated what CEO Sean Doyle had already suggested in an interview with The Sunday Times last summer: British Airways is designing a brand-new First Class product for its fleet of 12 A380s.

Calum would not be drawn on further details, but BA did say that it would be a “brand-new and exclusive First suite.” This implies that the seat will feature some sort of door. Use of the word ‘exclusive’ suggests that this is a suite that has not been seen before and may be proprietary to BA.

The seat will be installed as part of the wider A380 refurbishment program to install Club Suite, which is due to start at the end of 2025 or early 2026.

Many questions remain, including whether the new seat will be rolled out more widely or whether it will offer a differentiated product for the A380 only. The size of the cabin and its location (it could move upstairs) are also under wraps.

A new First Class was also announced in 2019 by previous BA CEO Alex Cruz as part of the 777X order. This is also due to arrive in 2026 – will these aircraft feature the same product or another, differentiated new seat?

Many airlines offer a special First Class suite on their A380s where the increased space allows more creativity, and it would be great to see BA take this approach.

I previously speculated the direction British Airways could take with its new First in an article last year.

Free inflight messaging for British Airways customers

Free in-flight messaging

Arguably the announcement with the widest impact from Monday night – ie the only thing that impacts those at the back of the plane – was the introduction of free in-flight messaging for British Airways Executive Club members (no status required).

British Airways is behind the curve here, both compared to its competitors and its own IAG siblings. Iberia having offered free messaging for some time and Aer Lingus offering free-wifi for all business class passengers, as you can see from my review here.

Still, it’s good to see BA offer something that is increasingly non-negotiable rather than ‘nice to have’.

The new free-messaging functionality will begin rolling out across the fleet on 3rd April and should be complete within two weeks. 80% of BA’s Heathrow aircraft and 100% of Gatwick planes now featuring wi-fi capabilities whilst Cityflyer aircraft do not have the technology. The remaining aircraft will have it by 2025.

According to BA:

“The free messaging pass will allow British Airways Executive Club members to use messaging-type online applications, such as WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and Teams Chat – without images, videos or attachments, text only.

You’ll need to log into your Executive Club account, or create a new one, to access the service. It isn’t clear if this will be linked to your booking, which would exclude those who were crediting their flight to a different oneworld partner.

New British Airways website

New website and app on the way

Also reconfirmed was the work to redevelop the entire website and app, as well as many of BA’s back-end IT processes. According to Sean Doyle, some parts of the BA website are over 24 years old and in dire need of a ground-up rewrite. As part of the process, BA is also moving to the cloud, with 95% of servers due to be hosted remotely by the end of the year.

Overall, BA is investing around £750 million in upgrading its IT infrastructure.

The new site, which is already in beta testing for flight bookings between Gatwick and Bari, will increase self-service functionality and allow you to make more changes to your booking without having to use the call centre.

This includes help during periods of disruption. Whilst already lets you rebook cancelled or delayed flights online, the new system will also offer you alternative flights on other carriers.

The goal, according to Chief Commercial Officer Colm Lacy, is to allow passengers to self-service 100% of the time. That said, it is hard to see how the BA app could offer you your legal right of a flight on ANY airline to get home if the BA options are not suitable.

Food, drink and hotel vouchers for flight delays and cancellations will be delivered automatically by text message or email in future, helping to reduce confusion and stress when things go south. This carries its own risks of course – those without smartphone access (due to age, disability or simply lack of juice) may find themselves in a pickle.

A wider rollout of the new platforms is expected to happen in the second half of the year. Whilst it won’t all happen at once, there should be noticeable changes coming later this summer and into the autumn.

British Airways Premier card

And for Gold Guest List and Premier members ….

There were additional announcements at the Premier / Gold Guest List version of the event yesterday, both during the Q&A and during individual discussions with members. These were:

  • Gold Guest List will be made an official tier inside British Airways Executive Club, rather than a subset of Gold. This will have practical impacts because, for example, it will be visible by partners in Amadeus whilst at the moment a GGL just shows as a standard Gold member.
  • Group 0 boarding will be rolled out across the network – which presumably means most outstations will now board Groups 0-3 in one big crush rather than Groups 1-3 🙂
  • There will be a new reward added for reaching 5,000 tier points but the exact details of what you get have yet to be signed off

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Comments (137)

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

  • Guy Incognito says:

    Being able to book a multi-city reward flight online would be a nice start… Is that really asking too much (assuming I’m not made to look very silly now by someone telling me there’s a way to do it that I’m unaware of!)?

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      Next you’ll be expecting to book online from the rest of UK via London on a Barclays voucher. Surely such tenchological marvels are beyond us

  • Ed_fly says:

    If I’d paid cash for first, not sure I’d be happy for others to have priority ahead of me.

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      Tbh I agree. I’ve always felt Delta have it right by prioritising ticket holders over status holders. The first boarding group is people flying in domestic F or international J. No matter it a revenue or award ticket, said passengers will have paid significantly for it. Only after them do top tier Diamond Medallion members board.

      • Andrew J says:

        Yes it is a bit odd when a Gold member travelling in economy, boards before Club World, when it’s a four cabin aircraft.

        • Ziggy says:

          Not that odd if (as is likely) the Gold member has given BA considerably more money.

  • points_worrier says:

    Does the formal status level for GGL mean there is a soft landing to Gold?

  • Stuart Davis says:

    It is quite incredible how BA always do the opposite from Air France. Concord was fatality wounded with the Pasis crash and AF know it. So they said the aircraft is old, hasn’t been modified to keep up with changing trends and promptly retired the fleet.

    BA on the other hand expended a load of time, money and resources to squeeze a few more years out of what was already a money looser.

    And here we go again. Air France bite the bullet and start an early retirement programme for the A380 rather than refurbish and flog a dead horse. A380 is great for mass movement but European National Carriers are far too expensive to take advantage of this. And the middle and far Eastern Carriers are much better at first and business class these days (and for a long time).

    The days of British Airways being the World’s favourite airline are well and truly gone.

    • Rhys says:

      What exactly makes the A380 a dead horse? Emirates is keeping theirs into the late 2030s.

      Very easy to retire a fleet of 12 aircraft, each with 450+ seats on them. But what are you going to replace them with? That’s a lot of capacity to lose and that’s exactly why Lufthansa and Etihad brought theirs back after “permanently” retiring them.

      • Rob says:

        Etihad about to announce 3 more are coming out of storage, apparently.

    • Catalan says:

      Really Stuart? If it wasn’t for the Concorde crash at Paris Air France would have retired their Concordes anyway. The aircraft were poorly maintained and the cabin interiors hadn’t been updated in decades. The Air France experience was very poor in comparison to BA’s!
      With the A380, Air France took these on without introducing a contemporary business class product. Slopping seats in a 2-3-2 configuration? Non! BA’s Club World may not have been leading edge in 2010 but they were the only leading European or US airline with flat beds in business class. BA had a strategy of deploying their A380’s exactly where they were required. I can only think Air France acquired them as a vanity project, hence dumping them after only 10 years in service

    • Paul says:

      I love the A380, so I’m glad BA aren’t taking your advice Stuart. If they were to scrap it how exactly would you suggest they replace it without taking a significant knock to the airline’s capacity given the tightly slot-controlled nature of their home base, lack of alternative aircraft with anywhere near as many seats, and seemingly long production delays with sourcing any new aircraft anywhere in the sector full stop …

      Investing instead in refurbishing their current fleet with the latest seats sounds much more sensible to me.

    • Will says:

      Ba made a profit out of Concorde from the mid 80’s onwards. In fact it’s said that for a significant period Concorde made more profit for BA than the entire short haul fleet.

      As for the A380’s, with Heathrow likely to be slot constrained until we get a government that can decouple long term planning from short term politics you may see a renewed interest in larger passenger capacity aircraft.

      An A380 with a 777x folding wing and new engines may well prove to be something airbus regret not developing as passenger traffic grows in china and India.

      Emirates appear to have really wanted it.

    • Lee says:

      Agreed. Ba has never produced a great A380 product. They introduced the double decker, just as they were messing up the service. Remember the food and drinks, the flowers disappearing. Such a wasted opportunity. Ba has become too anti-passenger.

  • Nick says:

    While some things are indeed better, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on.

    – punctuality. This is partly a change in metric. IAG kept pointing out that IB were better… so BA just copied them by telling shorthaul pilots to release the parking brake when they called ready, not when given clearance to move. This sets the measurement earlier even when nothing has actually changed
    – it’s also been funded by increased turn times at LHR. Summer could be a nightmare because there will now be more aircraft on the ground for longer – there will also be an increase in use of remote stands in Jul/Aug
    – JFK punctuality, to hit this, flights were forcibly despatched even if catering, bags or even all customers hadn’t been loaded. It has got better since though
    – the investment in the new website has been funded by opportunities for unbundling and upsell. Yes it’s exciting but I’ll leave it to your imaginations to work out what that means. It’s also been outsourced almost entirely

    On rebooking, you don’t have a legal right to ANY airline, it’s ‘under comparable conditions’. If certain airlines have chosen to opt out of standard industry norms for dealing with disrupted customers, I would argue that this excludes them from the options that should be offered.

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      Can you elaborate on the last point please? I’m not sure I grasp what you’re saying.

      • Rob says:

        If an airline will not do a deal with BA to take disrupted passengers on the cheap, BA won’t voluntarily let you swap to it. You need to buy a cash ticket and try to reclaim later.

      • Rhys says:

        Presumably some airline agreement that allows them to backfill more quickly onto other partner airlines if one is disrupted?

      • Nick says:

        Sorry, BWS, yes I can be more clear. There are IATA standards for interline handling, including specifically in the case of disruption (resolution 735d if you want to google). Hundreds of airlines use these and the clue is in the name, the process is all standardised. easyJet and Ryanair have opted out of this (you’ll notice they don’t give you ticket numbers when you book)… this gives them reduced internal complexity, but also means that they refuse to work with other carriers following industry norms. In my view, this means they don’t offer ‘comparable conditions’. Even more so because BA spent a lot of time and effort trying to find a manual workaround with them, but they eventually walked away.

        It’s not about cost, it’s about norms and standards. If there’s an airline that uses these but BA still won’t use them for whatever reason (there aren’t many but a few) then absolutely this is wrong. But not demanding easyJet when it’s entirely the latter’s fault that it won’t work. Hope that makes more sense.

    • Rob says:

      The audio from yesterday does imply that cabin baggage will be charged soon.

      • Euan says:

        I think charging for cabin baggage would be a big mistake, for me it’s been the primary differentiator from low-cost carriers of late and looking back over the last couple of years I have flown with BA or KLM more often than previously as a result.

      • Jack says:

        that would make BA a low cost carrier and no reason to book with them in Europe over Easyjet or Ryanair especially with fares being higher . thought the days of cost cutting and charging for anything and everything were over . there is no reason at all to charge for cabin baggage

        • Rob says:

          The audio – in response to a question on hand baggage chaos – talks specifically of using ‘commercial means’ to reduce hand baggage (as opposed to the obvious answer of retrofitting larger bins) and then says that the new app will give BA ‘new ways to sell’.

          • Jack says:

            so aka what a low cost airline does charge for anything and everything. BA either needs to accept it is a low cost airline in Europe or stop trying to cost cut at any turn if it wants to stay a premium airline . Taking away one of the few benefits of flying them in Europe is not going to help anyone and 2 bags should not be charged for at all. Nobody is going to pay extra to fly BA and then pay for a bag they have always been allowed to take onboard it is stupid and there is no hand baggage chaos went on a full flight a few days ago no issues and arrived early

          • R says:

            It’s possible the route will be ‘pay for priority boarding’ meaning Group 3/4 and higher likelihood of keeping bags.
            This seems to be the approach of the US airlines.

          • Jack says:

            it should not be a chargeable extra at all BA is not a low cost airline in the USA cost cutting measures like proposing bag charges should not be a thing

          • Jack says:

            should not happen at all for anyone at all it is not a low cost carrier , taking away one of the key benefits of booking BA in europe and makes no sense in paying more to fly with them. LCCS sell extras for everything not legacy carriers

        • Lady London says:

          That’s me done on BA for short haul then. They would just be removing the final differentiator.

          I already eat better on Easyjet, and no issue to pay because some of their food is actually edible. Cant rely on anything like that in BA Economy short haul.

          Though this is BA so we can be sure all their lovely corporate accounts will not have the rule applied to them… their travellers will get a carve-out.

          I’ll shut the door as I leave.

  • Andrew says:

    The clear winner this week is BA’s PR machine, it is on fire! I have never seen such success with the press who they are playing like a fiddle.

    Absolutely no new info on new A380 F seats, which is currently a negative for the airline in what must be the least competitive and most rickety A380 product in the sky. Plenty of positive column inches.

    Announcing that lounges will be 20 years old (!!) at its home base before they are finally refurbished through substantial periods of closure, precious little info but a few privately shared renders subject to substantial change over the next half-decade… and this is good news?

    BA has 107 shorthaul aircraft in a wild variety of condition and configuration, and has chosen a slightly different seat with red on it for 13 upcoming deliveries. Instead of half the seats having a full (100W?) 240v socket they will have a 60W USB-C socket. Marginally more convenient if but for a plane you could leave your power socket at home, but less flexible. Nothing to discuss about refit of any other aircraft. This is a rounding error – these new planes needed seats anyway.

    Yes there are positive things here, credit where due. Route resumptions after a few years hiatus are usually covered by a short press release. Free messaging is at least competitive in European markets for now, I’ve never paid for it but I would use it.

    Group boarding in general is a disaster and the Group 0 boarding trial is already well documented as barely effective. Not much of a success you’d want to draw attention to. GGL is now its own tier? What does that even mean – especially with no guarantee soft landing will continue.

    I’m surprised they had the balls to call a press and customer event to make such a fuss over so little substance – but the gamble has paid off, everyone has drunk the cool aid.

    As Rob likes to say, is there anything here that would move the needle? In the next year or two.. I doubt it?

    What would stop me “hating”? If the lounge proposition is going to take so long, invest in the soft product through the refit time – the Gold lounge position is now very weak with no a la carte, overhaul the CCR catering as it is tired with little to excite, show us the F seat if you want to make reference to it and tell us you’ve fixed all the broken A380 club seats for now, invest and quickly rollout the new shorthaul seat rather than pretend new aircraft that need seats anyway is ‘investment’,

    This literally could’ve been an email.

  • Tony says:

    Could BA have some First Class crew on its A380s with the new First cabin, instead of the current crew who chat loudly and slam everything. Impossible to sleep. No consideration for tha pax. They are incredibly noisy. Fly on Lufthansa’s 747s…not a sound.

  • Whiskerxx says:

    Well done BA for the huge improvements in punctuality.
    Begs the question if it was that simple, why wasn’t it done sooner?

    • Rhys says:

      …because it’s not that simple?

      You can’t discount the fact that, coming out of the pandemic, airlines lost a HUGE amount of talent. Recruiting takes time, as does training. 2023 was better than 2022, 2024 looks like it will improve on 2023. But you can’t skip from 2022 to 2024 without putting the work in!

      • Paul says:

        The loss of talent happened at the end of 2008. BA literally got rid of thousands of managers whose operational knowledge was gained across the globe. Consequently many ended up with ME carriers and they now retiring. BA as is the norm, put cart before horse as they knew the cost of everything and value of nothing! Penny wise and £ foolish.

        As for punctuality – it is easier than people think. You must have resources including extra resources in all areas, planes, people, equipment, backed up by excellent resource allocation IT. BA chose to sweat assets leading to the issues with punctuality. They have still

        • Rhys says:

          Not sure we can hold Sean Doyle to account for what happened in 2008 though!

          • Paul says:

            I was not referring to any individual. BAs problems go back to Walsh and of course the high vis idiot.
            The comment was that talent left a long time ago precipitating the decline and failing to exploit the promises and opportunities T5 offered. T5 was never supposed to have those barriers, there was no plan for dedicated checkin (other than F ) and conformance was supposed to deal with hand baggage.
            All of these things now exist because marketing drive them , not operational competence.

        • Lee says:

          Always laugh when they touchdown in Heathrow T5 and the Ba pilot proudly announce “we have arrived 20min early”, to abruptly halt on the runway, stay there for 10 mins, than start taxying for 20 mins, drop off at C gates, wait for buses or whatever than try go to A gates to go home and be late by about 1 hour.

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