BA’s latest promotion irritates travelers and travel agents alike

by Janice Hough on January 29, 2010

In this economy, airlines are continually coming up with airfare specials and mileage promotions to increase business. Some of them are truly good deals, some of them have so much fine print as to be unusable, and some of them just seem designed to make as many people unhappy as possible.  British Airways’ latest companion ticket offer is a case in point.

Sent to many members of their Executive Club frequent flier program and geared towards business travelers, the offer trumpets a “Free Companion Ticket.”

But a more careful reading of the offer indicates that the free ticket is not for a current trip, but a potential future trip, i.e, if passengers book and fly before March 31, they get a companion ticket that can be used between July and December of this year.

Okay, so maybe not as good as a free ticket right now, but still a potential good deal. But wait! There’s more. It’s for NEW bookings only, January 28 or later. Considering that most of British Airways’ best ticket prices in business class and first class have a 28 to 42 day advance purchase window, this isn’t a lot of time. 

And for those who have booked already and want to cancel and start over, most of the discounted front cabin fares have several hundred dollar cancellation penalties.  (Plus the fare difference on a new ticket.)

Advance purchase varies for coach fares, but many of those also have heavy penalties or are nonrefundable. Plus, most discounted coach fares on British Airways don’t even qualify for frequent flier miles. Which means super-cost conscious travelers probably didn’t even get this email, since there isn’t a point in signing up for Executive Club anyway.

In any case, for anyone who’s already booked a ticket for February or March, they are basically out of luck. And for good measure, (British Airways tucked this gem in the fine print) this particular qualifying ticket cannot be booked through a travel agency. Even one of the airline’s relatively few “preferred” agencies, who can often handle the airline’s promotions, are shut out this time.

The end result of this special offer — clients who have already purchased tickets have two choice. They can skip the promotion and miss out on the potential free companion ticket, or pay a substantial penalty for cancellation and book a new ticket, probably with a higher fare. And, except for the refund, they will have to leave their travel agent out of the equation, which also can mean corporate record keeping hassles.

Then when they’ve jumped through all the hoops, they get a restricted companion ticket that they may or not be able to use, because the dates are limited, ticketing must be by mid-July,  and there are other tight restrictions on the free tickets. (For just two examples, passengers must travel together for the entire trip, without even a day’s deviation on any segment, and any changes result in the same penalty as the paid ticket being applied to the free ticket.)

Undoubtedly British Airways’ marketing department thinks this will be a revenue generator for the company. But in my client’s case, I have someone who was completely happy with their ticket price, who now feels “gypped” and that the airline is just trying to “jerk people around.”

And once again I wonder, do the marketers who come up with these marketing gimmicks actually talk to any real travelers?

photo by superciliousness /flickr.com/creative commons.

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  • Stewart Sheinfeld

    Some of the restrictions are typical of almost all the airlines United had a similar no previous purchase restriction on its earn up to 20,000 bonus miles for 3 round trips. The worst part about BA is even their “free” tickets have outrageous fees and surcharges- my last award ticket on BA cost almost $400 / person

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  • Jason

    When BA did their two-for-one miles promotion sometime last year (or was it 2008) I looked at using my miles for two business class tickets and found out that it would cost me more than $1,500 in taxes and fees!

    Some deal….

  • POS Arecont

    Hi, 

    Thanks guys for sharing information about that BA’s latest promotion irritates travelers and travel agents alike. Its really big information guys for me. 

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