It’s been more than three years since British Airways upended their program, charging separately for each flight segment and basing award price on distance.
The November 2011 no-notice changes meant that the British Airways program was no longer very good for long haul premium cabin travel. But it became useful for short non-stop flights, such as on partners like American and Alaska Airlines (and later, US Airways).
The good news for US-based members of the program who transfer points in from programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards for short non-stop domestic flights is that nothing will change, mercifully enough.
Although one of the great uses of British Airways points – upgrades when flying BA – will get more expensive.
The changes are going to hit earning points through flying, and will hit redemption in premium cabins for medium-haul and long distance flying the most — while reducing the mileage price further for coach trips on British Airways.
Changes to Mileage Earning
British Airways flights will award more miles for flexible premium economy and business class fares and for first class fares, while rewarding fewer miles for most other fares.
This is a huge departure from the principle announced with the launch of the American Airlines joint venture four years ago that ‘one mile equals one mile’ — full mileage earning on all fares.
In addition, fare classes Q, O and G will receive only 25% distance flown in elite qualifying of tier points instead of the current 50%.
British Airways silvers will see a reduction in their mileage bonus from 100% to 50%, which doesn’t surprise me since Silvers earned as large a bonus as Golds.
And instead of awarding 500 mile minimums, the new minimum points earning is just 125.
Finally, BA’s all business class London City – New York JFK flights will no longer be treated as first class for earning purposes.
Redemption Changes: Off-Peak Discounts and Higher Prices for Premium Cabin Travel
British Airways is introducing substantially higher prices for premium cabin awards, and introducing off-peak dates with lower prices when traveling on BA.
The principle with BA has long been that premium economy is 50% more than coach, business is double, and first class is triple.
For all but the shortest trip, business class becomes triple. First class becomes quadruple.
Discounted off-peak dates apply only to flying BA, and not to partners (partner awards are always ‘peak’). And in many cases are still higher than the current prices.
Here’s the off-peak economy chart. Economy peak pricing is the same as current economy pricing, off-peak dates will be less expensive than current.
Here’s a simplified new award chart showing peak travel prices, which means the prices for flying on British Airways partners (I’m excluding premium economy, which most partners don’t offer). The highlighted numbers are increased prices.
Upgrade changes: Upgrades on British Airways with points will be possible for all fare classes except Q, O and G. Since upgrade pricing is the difference between the class booked and the next-higher class of service, and premium cabin long haul awards are getting more expensive much of the time, the price of upgrades will get more expensive too.
UK domestic flights will no longer be free as part of a Europe award: Currently if you take an award through London to a destination in the UK, the domestic flight isn’t charged extra points. That changes, and the domestic flight will be calculated as a wholly separate award. UK domestic flights will still be throw-ins on long haul awards.
Guaranteed availability: For ‘this year’ BA guarantees they will offer a total of 9 million award seats, including at least two business and four economy seats per flight made available when schedules load 355 days out. If not booked they may be withdrawn 45 days prior to departure. This reminds me of United’s narrative with their 2006 devaluation which promised award space on ‘every flight to every destination’ and wasn’t time-limited. It was just quickly forgotten.
Systems limitations in changing awards: They won’t have their systems ready to automate price changes between peak and off-peak travel when you change your award dates. If you change from a peak date to an off-peak date you can make the change online but you’ll get a refund for the difference in miles ‘later’. By phone they can refund the difference right away. If you’re changing from an off-peak to a peak date that has to be done by phone since they don’t have the capacity to charge you more on the website.
Customers flying British Airways on the highest fares — flexible business class and first class — will earn more, unless they’re BA Silvers. Premium cabin awards will cost BA customers more, even for off-peak travel dates.
If there’s anyone out there buying paid flexible business and first class fares, and redeeming for economy travel especially at off-peak times, they’ll do quite well. I do not know if such people exist.
But since peak economy award pricing does not change at all, the cost of those short distance non-stop flights on American, US Airways, and Alaska don’t change. BA already gutted its usefulness for premium cabin long haul redemptions over three years ago. They continue along that path. But the way many of us in the States have been using the program since then continues unabated, which is great news.
The increased cost of premium cabin awards on British Airways will make upgrades more expensive, however, and that’s somewhat unfortunate.