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Thanks to the ongoing issues surrounding the Rolls Royce engines on BA’s 787-9 Dreamliners the airline has had to wetlease a number of Airbus A330 aircraft from Qatar Airways. These aircraft are covering some of BA’s flights between London and Delhi, Muscat and Kuwait this summer and, if you’re booked to fly on one of these routes, you have some choices to make.
As I discussed earlier in the week there’s good news and bad news courtesy of the aircraft swap and the bad news needs to be considered carefully.
There are two primary issues here:
- The Qatar Airways A330s don’t offer First Class or Premium Economy Class cabins
- The A330’s Business Class cabin isn’t as large as the Club World cabin of some of the aircraft it is replacing.
What this means in practice is that passengers booked into First Class have been downgraded to Business Class, some Business Class passengers have been downgraded to Economy Class (where the Business Class cabin is full) and World Traveller Plus passengers have been downgraded to Economy Class.
In all cases BA is offering passengers full refunds or the option to use what they’ve spent on a different flight but, should a passenger accept a downgrade, BA is also offering a refund of the difference in fare (between the cabin booked and the cabin in which the passenger travels) and a “goodwill gesture” of cash, an e-voucher, or Avios.
The exact cash, e-voucher or Avios goodwill gesture varies depending on a traveler’s circumstances:
- First Class passengers accepting a downgrade to Business Class – £700 or 140,000 Avios per sector.
- Business Class passengers accepting a downgrade to Economy Class – £400.00 e-voucher or 80,000 Avios per affected sector.
- World Traveller Plus passengers accepting a downgrade to Economy Class – 20,000 Avios per sector but only for passengers with British Airways status (Bronze or higher).
Which Should You Choose
There’s a very important bit of information that you should have before making any decisions and this is it:
There are a number of strong rumors circulating suggesting that a British Airways/Avios devaluation is on its way (possibly in the form of dynamic award pricing which BA has mentioned in the past) so this should weigh strongly on any decisions that are made.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way let’s move on…
Assuming you have to fly during the period that Qatar Airways A330 aircraft are operating and are accepting a downgrade, here are the options broken down.
First Class Passengers
What’s on offer here is £1,400 or 280,000 Avios per roundtrip journey….and that makes the math quite interesting.
By taking the Avios you’re essentially buying Avios at 0.5p (~0.67 cents) each and that’s definitely cheap. I value Avios at around 0.75p (~1.00 cents) so, using my numbers, BA is offering First Class passengers a discount of 33%…..and that’s presumably to tempt passengers into taking the Avios.
- If you’re already Avios rich (i.e have a large Avios balance that isn’t showing any sign of going down) I would take the money and run. 280,000 Avios may seem like a lot but if you already have a large balance you should be using that up before forgoing cash in favor of more Avios (especially with a rumored devaluation on the way).
- If your finances aren’t in the best of health (admittedly this is unlikely if you’ve booked a First Class fare) you should definitely be taking the cash. Sterling may well be worth less this year than it was last year but it still doesn’t devalue as quickly as Avios.
- If you don’t have a particularly large Avios balance and can see yourself booking flights with Avios in the next 2-4 months then taking Avios as your goodwill gesture could be a good option. Even if BA announces a devaluation tomorrow it’s unlikely to go into effect for a few months so you’ll have time to enact your plans before the Avios are devalued (in this case it’s when you book that matters not when you fly).
- Whatever your position, I would be very cautious of taking the Avios if you don’t have immediate plans for them. We have no way of knowing how bad the rumored devaluation will be so what seems like a good deal now may not look so good when the axe finally falls.
Business Class Passengers
What’s on offer here (per roundtrip journey) is an £800 voucher to spend on future BA flights or 160,000 Avios.
By taking the Avios you’re essentially exchanging £800 of future flights on BA for Avios valued at 0.5p (~0.67 cents)…but that doesn’t tell the full story.
If you’re someone who frequently purchases flights through BA then a BA voucher for future travel is as good as cash…but for most that’s not the case.
A BA voucher will only buy you flights on BA while cash will buy you a whole lot more. This essentially means that a £800 BA voucher is worth less than £800 cash so the Avios on offer to Business Class passengers are actually being “sold” to them for less than 0.5p each.
- Find out how long the voucher is valid for as that will make a big difference to how useful it is.
- As I mentioned in the First Class portion of this post, if you’re already Avios rich I would take the voucher and run (as long as you’re confident you can use it before it expires). Travelers with large Avios balances should be using those balances up before forgoing cash or vouchers in favor of more Avios.
- If you don’t have a particularly large Avios balance and can see yourself booking flights with Avios in the next 2-4 months then you should almost certainly choose Avios over the voucher. This is a very cheap rate at which to acquire Avios and you could easily get over £800 of value out of them before BA enacts a devaluation.
- If you’re not planning any trips in the short term things are a bit less clear and a lot will depend on how long the voucher is valid for and what you consider to be “short term”. Taking the Avios opens you up to the very real risks that a devaluation will bring while taking the voucher opens you up to the risk of the voucher expiring before you can use it. I would guess that most people are likely to take a trip within the validity period of the voucher but most may not take a trip before Avios are devalued….so I’d probably suggest going for the voucher.
Downgraded First Class passengers are in a strong position here as they still get to fly in reasonable comfort while getting a partial refund on their fare and a choice between cold hard cash or a lot of Avios – that’s a nice position to be in.
Business Class passengers are in a far less certain position.
If I was a Business Class passenger in this scenario my first move would be to do everything possible to avoid a downgrade in the first place as Economy Class will be a big step down.
Assuming you absolutely have to accept a downgrade then the key factors will be the number of Avios you have, how long the BA voucher is valid for and what your travel plans look like.
I’ve explained my thoughts above so now you have to do some thinking. The important thing will be to be honest with yourself when it comes to deciding what your travel plans look like – an £800 voucher isn’t really a windfall if it forces you to take a trip that you weren’t planning to take and 160,000 Avios aren’t worth a lot if you have no plans (or no ability) to use them.
I’d be interested to hear if readers have any thoughts that I haven’t addressed