Devaluations Without Notice are the Worst Thing a Program Can Do, Don’t Give British Airways Too Much Credit

I mistakenly saw possible signs of a British Airways pending devaluation. It wasn’t inevitable, and I didn’t think anyone should make speculative bookings, but it seemed worth not waiting to make planned bookings.

That was based on seeing astronomically high prices from BA’s sister program Iberia Plus (the two airlines have similar programs, both us points called ‘Avios’, and both are owned by the same company).

Iberia hadn’t changed its chart for partner redemptions, they just finally published it.

A few folks like Dan’s Deals and Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly were right not to be concerned, but in some cases for the wrong reasons.

One meme I’ve seen repeated over and over is that British Airways gave plenty of notice when they made big changes to their program in November 2011. That’s not a fair read at all, and we shouldn’t forget what they actually did. Rewriting history could make us complacent with them, and they don’t deserve it.

They did not share any details of the bulk of their award chart with members in advance.

I took a lot of heat at the time in frequent flyer forums by British Airways apologists saying that announcing changes are coming, sharing details of those changes with a few people under non-disclosure agreements, and refusing to share the new award chart until the day it went live was a pretty terrible thing to do to members. The argument made against me was that I didn’t know what the changes were going to be, so should presume to be alarmed. My issue is that any time there are going to be changes but the program keeps that secret it’s cause for real concern.

The changes were huge, and members saving their miles for premium cabin long haul award redemptions really had the rug pulled out from under them — without any advance warning, and actually with reassurances to the contrary, since they were promised that 98% of awards would stay the same or become cheaper.

They did not share that they were going to do distance-based pricing, or that they were going to price each flight segment separately.

You used to be able to make unlimited inline stopovers at no extra cost. For instance New York – Vancouver – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Singapore in business class used to be 50,000 miles one-way with allowable stopovers in Vancouver, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore.

Premium cabin long-distance awards shot up dramatically. Short haul coach got less expensive. Many more awards from the US went up than went down.

BA simply said, “yeah but the 98% figure was true for our UK customers” and it would have been complicated to share the pricing tool in advance.

Their dramatic program changes were very much not given any advance notice — at least those members residing outside the UK.

They merely told us some changes would be coming. That doesn’t count as notice, and no one would ever want a program to do that to them in the future. So let’s not give them more credit than they deserve for a having a history of advance notice of changes.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. @Haldami – no I did not

    * No one coverage the changes more than I did
    * The changes were far more minor than what BA did to their program
    * I was warning AA never to do it again. The changes they’ve announced since then have come out with months of notice.
    * Here’s what I declared regarding AA:

    “No Notice Changes Are the Worst Thing a Program Can Do

    The real key, and the best AAdvantage can do, is provide reasonable advance notice about the changes they plan to make.

    The worst thing they can do, on the other hand, is what they did — pull the rug out from members who may have spent years saving up miles for a specific award they’ve now not given any last shot for those members to book.

    There are going to be many more changes to come as American and US Airways align their policies and procedures over the next year. Most of those are going to be far more significant than the things announced this week.

    Members are flying all year this year, giving American and US Airways their loyalty in exchange for promises of benefits in the future. No matter what program terms and conditions say about a legal right to change rules at will, and notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s ruling that consumers have no state law remedy against frequent flyer programs, their is a basic offer and acceptance and moral obligation to deliver on promises which is fundamentally breached when changes are made without meaningful notice.

    And members save up for years for those dream trps on the basis of descriptions of what’s possible.

    Devaluations without notice are the last refuge of scoundrels and banana republics.”

    Where folks thought I was too soft was with the following — where I continue to call out how awful changes without notice are:

    “I don’t love the changes to the program that have been announced so far. But they aren’t surprises and they aren’t nearly as significant as the decisions about the program that are still to come — about the overall award chart, unlimited domestic upgrades, international upgrade certificates, and so on down the line.

    I think and hope that the strong consumer reaction to lack of notice of these changes will be a lesson learned.

    For me they get one screw-up.

    How they behave next time — advance notice of changes and clear, transparent communication about those changes — will factor much more into my own opinion about the trustworthiness of the program than this one-off incident.

    I’ve always thought that about the worst thing a program can do is pull the rug out from under customers when making changes. And when I’ve seriously and immediately called out programs in the past it’s generally been of programs I already didn’t have much trust in.

    Here I think there’s warranted criticism for how this was rolled out. American AAdvantage still has my trust, but I’m wary, and future decisions over the next months are going to be key.

    They’re at a turning point. Certainly they know it. And we’ll all be watching.

    But I still trust them, and whether I continue to do so will be dependent upon the next data point.”

  2. You say: “I was warning AA never to do it again. The changes they’ve announced since then have come out with months of notice.”

    I hope you are not taking credit for the way AA announces changes, Mr. SkyPesos.

  3. Yeah, BA’s changes were pretty bad. And, I remember TPG’s twitter hashtag, #burnbabyburn, was created as we all burned our BA miles in advance of the uncertain future. Especially under the assumption that single partner awards would vanish (Oh, how I miss thee).

  4. “They merely told us some changes would be coming. That doesn’t count as notice”

    I beg to differ. But you’re right, one should smell the rat in that case.

  5. @mark I am not, I was framing what i hoped would be a collective message, and they certainly heard the message from frequent flyers

  6. I’m much less annoyed with Gary providing the initial post than all of the other BA bloggers simply copying his and trying to raise flags. BA is just one big alligator pit now, with each one copying each other to try and get readers.

    But yes, you did give AA a pass…..

  7. @Tyler the only people who think I gave American a pass are the ones who (1) want to believe that regardless of what I actually wrote, or (2) didn’t read what I actually wrote. 😉

Comments are closed.