British Airways Avios Program Worse Than I Expected

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I know many of you were waiting for me to comment on yesterday’s launch of British Airways’ new Avios program. However, I wanted to give them a day to launch and then respond to any customer concerns before making any judgement.

Unfortunately, they confirmed yesterday that Avios will be more confusing and less valuable than Executive Club – at least for most redemptions beginning in North America.

My main gripes with the new program:
1) The award pricing is now by sector, thus eliminating free connections and stopovers, which used to be a huge perk of Executive Club. For example, if you want to fly Detroit to Chicago to London (stay for a couple days) and then continue onto Rome you would be individually charged for the Detroit to Chicago leg and then Chicago to London and then London to Rome. Basically if you don’t live in a major hub city, you will have to use many more miles to fly.

2) The 97% cheaper awards figure was based on London. In fact most award prices for those of us in North America will increase. Sleazy marketing at its finest.

3) There is no award chart. The only way to figure out how many miles you need for an award is to use their calculator.

As I predicted last week, many awards will increase dramatically:
1) JFK-Hong Kong will go from 25,000/50,000/75,000 for one way coach/business/first to 35/70/105- a 40% increase. This also increases greatly if you have any additional legs beyond your Asian gateway city. The recent Bali-Hong Kong- JFK flight I booked for 75,000 miles one way in first class will now cost me 142,500 miles! Almost double the price of what I paid 4 days ago.

2) A multi-city trip to South America on Lan San Francisco-Lima-Santiago-Easter Island used to cost 20,000/40,000 one way in coach/business. With these great new Avios points that trip will cost 47,500/95,000 for coach/business - a 137% increase!

The Good News:
1) Per BA “Reward bookings made before 16 November can be changed under the previous rules with any applicable fees either online or offline. This will apply for the whole validity of the ticket regardless of whether single or multiple changes are made.” It still may cost you fees to change itineraries over the phone (like most partner awards require), but at least you won’t be repriced in the new ridiculous Avios sector by sector scheme.

2) Some domestic awards decrease/do not change, like JFK-LAX still being 12,500. However, if you don’t live in a hub and need to take connecting flights, your flights will increase drastically. For example Boston-Chicago-San Diego would cost 17,500 vs. 12,500 in the old model. JFK-Toronto will only cost 4,500 miles one way – a great deal since many short-haul flights can cost $500+.

To sum it up, I think British Airways really shot themselves in the foot with this launch – especially by withholding these changes until the first day that they went live. To top it all off, their rep on FlyerTalk admitted that they made some bad decisions with respect to the roll-out:

“Why was the partner award chart not announced in advance of the changes? Poor communication ==> poor loyalty
I think this is a fair challenge. On hindsight, I think I would have developed the Avios calculator in advance to ensure that you had access to be able to price all of the individual queries that our members had. Looking at booking behaviour at the time, I thought it would be useful to issue the prices for BA flights in and out of London and indicate that partner parallel routes would be the same price. I now see that more detail may have helped. The only thing I can offer are apologies and the explanation that we were limited in terms of development with the timescale we had.”

I had actually exchanged messages with the BA rep and she tersely rejected my claims that Avios would be a devaluation for North American customers. When asked for more information to back it up, she couldn’t provide it, so that’s when I did my sleuth work and was able to figure out the big shaft we were all about to get with this new program.

As I originally said when we found out about these changes, you should not only communicate your feedback to British Airways (feel free to Tweet them your thoughts on these changes), but also let Chase and American Express know that this devaluation essentially causes their programs to lose value as well (I recommend sending each secure messages so they know you are an actual cardholder and can pass along the information internally).

Chase and American Express buy millions of miles from British Airways and if they now know that these miles are worth a fraction of what they used to be, maybe they can even get a better deal or provide us more transfer bonuses to make up the difference.

So I hope British Airways gets enough negative feedback that they decide to make some friendly changes – at least for those of us in North America. It would not be the first time a loyalty program rolled out customer unfriendly changes and then backpedaled to make it better. Whatever happens, I’ll cover it here, so stay tuned!

What are your thoughts on the new Adios Avios program?

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