British Airways Wants to Take Away Lounge Access and Priority Boarding from Elites on the Lowest Fares

According to Head for Points British Airways plans to introduce fares that exclude lounge access and priority boarding for elites.

There are plans to introduce an ‘even fewer frills’ economy ticket which will probably exclude lounge access and all other benefits such as Priority Boarding.

Already BA has ‘handbag only fares’ that unbundle checked baggage and eliminate the free checked bag benefit for elite members. This exclusion is spelled out specifically in oneworld elite benefit rules as well, meaning that an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum does not receive a complimentary baggage allowance when flying BA on one of these fares.

Head for Points says he’s ok with extending the concept. I am not.

It eliminates the very concept of an elite benefit. Effectively they would be selling lounge access and priority boarding to elites on a per-trip basis (for the cost differential between these fares and the next-lowest).

Either an elite frequent flyer is a valuable customer, or they are not.

With the devaluation coming to the British Airways frequent flyer program, the juice as they say just doesn’t seem worth the squeeze over at BA. The program remains good only for short haul economy redemptions and business class up to 1150 miles (which will still be double the price of coach, rather than say a 50% premium, but off of a low base so reasonable). Indeed flying for miles makes sense only for both people in Europe who buy full fare business and first class tickets for work and want to redeem points exclusively for economy.

Most importantly for this discussion, British Airways already had a status program heavily skewed towards high revenue passengers. Come April 28 the lowest fare classes earn even fewer tier points than before. Someone earning status with BA is generating a lot of revenue for BA, yet being told on the rare occasion they buy the lowest fare BA offers that they are not a welcome customer. That person should clue in and choose not to fly BA. Even if they’re based out of London.

It’s a very important message not to forget: I am not my fare. I am a valued customer, or I am not, and how welcome I’m made to feel should not change between Tuesday on a full fare and Thursday on a discount one when I’m buying a ticket pretty much every week.

I do not, however, expect this particular idea to spread to the U.S.

  • Credit card companies pay for their members to have priority boarding (and free checked bags). So US airlines are already monetizing this benefit. It would be difficult to give this only to co-brand cardholders and not to 100,000 mile flyers. If anything the trend has been towards saying cardholders have similar value to the elite flyers.

  • Already US airlines do not offer lounge access to elites on domestic itineraries. So this would only apply to elites of their frequent flyer partners, or to international.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is a bold move and a bad idea and one that will likely go away soon. I see a shift across the board with airlines specifically trying benefits to revenue generated on their airline (versus thru credit cards or other means), in this case on a per flight basis. I understand what they are trying to do, which is preserve the “perks” for a fewer number of people since elite status has become more easily attainable with credit card miles but alienating the HVC is not a good idea. Truth be known, “elite” perks like lounge access and priority boarding don’t feel very “elite” when the lounge is overcrowded and the priority boarding line is so long. I suppose they are trying to do whatever they can to thin the herd.

  2. Wow, the airlines “war on loyalty” continues unabated.

    “I am not my fare, I am either a valued customer, or I am not”…..
    That is a great, succinct point Gary.

  3. As a longtime BA elite flyer I saw the handwriting on the wall with the changes announced effective 4/28. I wrote my “divorce” letter to BA last week. This news only underscores what I already knew: I am simply not worth the money BA gets from my frequent flying from the USA to Africa and Europe.

  4. I would have to assume that AA would be concerned and would have some input. I generally fly AA to LHR and then connect onto BA to some other location. If I lose lounge access in LHR, then that is a huge loss, as sometimes the layovers can be long. This is a BIG DEAL. One of the big perks for being a part of OneWorld and a Platinum or Exec. Platinum member is the lounge access AND priority boarding. It makes a huge difference when you are going to/from places like Lagos, Accra, Cape Town, Doha, etc.

  5. Don’t forget that BA has also removed free seat selection for elites from HBO. Even if you buy a fully flex £500 ticket from London to Paris for £490 as an HBO, your seat is picked by BA whatever colour your card, unless you pay.

  6. What’s the point of having elite status then? I don’t understand that move, and it’s a pretty bad one in my opinion if it goes forward.

    It would be a slap in the face for BA’s frequent flyers. I can imagine many would not be happy with that…

  7. The only REAL benefit I see to flying BA vs American Airlines is the weather delay status that BA provides that American Airlines do not. We flew recently to Dublin on AA miles, coach outbound HSV-CLT-LHR-DUB. On the return, we booked in business class, Dub-LHR-ORD-HSV. There was a “weather delay” at both Dub & LHR which caused us to miss our connecting flight to ORD> On AA, we’d have just had to eat the costs out of pocket. Apparently under UK rules (EU rules?) they took care of food, room, transfers, etc. I was surprised, one of the other passengers, an elite flyer on AA didn’t even realize this little perk. I was so happy I had paid the additional taxes and had the flights on BA vs AA.
    That said, I honestly don’t see all the fuss about the BA lounge, it was lackluster at best. An average restroom, a snack menu and beverage service that was nowhere near the $29 per person I heard the receptionist charging other passengers. I didn’t see any showers or anything to make it stand out. I get that some people really enjoy the lounges, sure the seats are a little more comfortable but unless you want to sit at the bar and get hammered on every trip, I haven’t seen the value in most of them, just my opinion.

  8. Time and time again, the airlines (and many other large companies) have proven that shareholders are #1, employees are somewhere in the middle, and paying customers are on the bottom of the list…if they’re even on the list.

    This is why the Gulf airlines represent such a threat — they’re trying to put pax first.

  9. If this is a problem for some, I’d suggest voting with your wallet and not flying BA or using the BA lounges. LHR has ~25 or so NON-BA Oneworld lounges and may others others accessible by some means or another if you only count the ones inside security.

    Once BA piss off enough customers, either they will adapt and earn back some loyalty or they will eventually perish. The ME3 are already picking off these flyers.

  10. Although this initially sounds like a disturbing move, it depends on what the new, “no benefits” fares are compared to more traditional fares. Having failed before with a separate low-cost carrier, BA is trying to offer two products with the same equipment – a Ryanair/Easyjet competitor and a full-service airline. As long as they don’t devalue the full-service product it doesn’t really matter what they do with the parallel offering.

  11. Aren’t they obligated by oneworld rules to offer this benefit?

    Just another reason ceding BOS to BA was bad news.

  12. I will reserve judgement until I see what fares they are applying this to, but it’s a potentially big deal to me, big enough to cause me to change to another carrier or alliance. I get about half my qualifying points for AA Platinum status each year by flying on BA in WT+ or CW, but I also sometimes fly onward from London on cheaper economy fares. To me, the lounge access that I get at LHR on 4-6 hour layovers as a OW Sapphire is at least as important as the difference between WT+ and CW. I can deal with 10 hours in a WT+ seat fine, but I have no interest in sitting in the LHR duty free mall for 6 hours, that’s more draining than having to sit upright on the flight for me.

    Between the devaluation, the poor award availability from the West Coast for the past 2+ years, and the ridiculous charge for advance seat selection on tickets that cost over $2,000 – BA keeps making it harder to stick with them.

    And speaking to Gary’s point, if BA decides that they want make our relationship only about the fare that I pay for each trip, then I can do the same thing.

  13. I don’t care how cheap the fares are, they need to differentiate stuff between the massesd and the elites. If anyone can buy that fare, how is it any advantage to the elite flier? If the very cheap fare was only available to the elite flier, then that person would have the “perk” of choosing price over perks. I suspect they will alienate the business traveler who’s company makes them choose the cheapest fare when possible.

  14. @Penny.
    Are you sure you were in a BA lounge? BA doesn’t charge for lounge access, it is only based on status and / or fare type.

  15. The no lounge access for domestic flyers should convince anyone who has ever earned status of the need to penny pinch the airlines right back. So therefore it makes perfect sense that when purchasing air travel you should look for the least costly option.

    What the heck is up with Parker saying they’ve been operated like a utility? Really? If that were true you’d be on the hook for a whole lot more than you think Dougie Fresh.

  16. @real- Hit the nail on the head. They don’t want anyone “price” conscious to enjoy any perks.

    Would make perfect sense if there actually was a Pot O Gold at the end of the rainbow. Now , the way its structured it mostly only ends in alienation.

  17. @Penny

    You are wrong about AA not covering you for a weather delay in this case. The EC 261/2004 regulation you allude to applies to EU-based airlines and flights departing the EU regardless of airline.

  18. Makes little sense to me, but not for many of the reasons cited by earlier posters. Airlines can and should try to maximize their yield- customers these days buy what fits their schedule, price point and mileage optimization.

    The issue is the sudden withdrawal of benefits from an existing class holder sparking a revolt that significantly impacts your yield. That doesn’t make sense, particularly for a benefit that has no cost, like priority boarding, or low cost, like an incremental person crammed into a lounge.

    A smart airline would go the other way and create a higher tier of elites that get enhanced priority boarding, while expanding the regular priority boarding program to the masses. Similarly, you create a special lounge, only accessible to people on higher fares- your Kreme Flyer Lounge- while putting crappier food and no services in an expanded regular lounge. Finally, you give bonus miles to people who fly on higher fares, and steadily jack up your award redemption prices (and regularly add ancillary fees, like YQ, award issuance fees, etc).

    In the end, you end up in exactly the same place- the main priority boarding, with the bulk of the people on each plane, is meaningless; people flying infrequently on lower fares cannot accumulate enough points for a free ticket, etc. The only incremental cost is working with the airport to put your lounge sign up in one of the waiting rooms, and putting out an urn of warm juice every couple of hours.

    The best way to boil a frog is slowly- what doesn’t BA get about that?

  19. “Yes, you ARE your fare. No, you are NOT a valued customer. How hard is it to grasp this concept?” – BA

  20. @AlexS:

    “Time and time again, the airlines (and many other large companies) have proven that shareholders are #1”

    So? You understand that the shareholders are the OWNERS of the company, right? Of course the management is going to put them first. That’s what they’re paid to do! If I owned a candy store, I’d expect my employees to work hard and turn a profit for me. Why should it be any different if I own an airline? It drives me nuts when people don’t get this.

    “This is why the Gulf airlines represent such a threat — they’re trying to put pax first.”

    Don’t kid yourself. The Gulf carriers don’t give two squirts of piss about you either. Their managers are also paid to do what the shareholders want. In this case, however, the shareholders are the Emirati and Qatari governments, and their priority is not turning profits but rather turning their capitals into major global centres of trade and commerce so they can survive when the oil runs out.

  21. @Gary — you’re spot-on that this is a bad move on BA’s part and devalues them as an airline. In my view, a better option for them would be to launch the airline equivalent of an MVNO: a virtual airline that code-shares BA flights but isn’t a OneWorld member and thus whose tickets don’t carry normal benefits. It would differentiate BA as a premium airline from EastEnd Airways (or whatever) as a virtual LCC even though of course the flights are the same.

  22. Disagree totally. Fed up of ET ‘Elites’ getting priority boarding and hogging the CE storage area. If it was up to me, I’d remove priority boarding for ET from all SH flights.

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