Is British Airways now blocking OneWorld award space?

I’ve quite literally lost it with this ridiculous excuse for a loyalty program. As someone that just about books award tickets for people full time, this is probably the busiest week of the year for me thanks to the British Airways devaluation that’s kicking in on November 16. Not only are they making a radical change to their loyalty program which is more or less going to destroy the award chart for those in the US, but they’re refusing to announce the new chart until November 16, which is the day it goes into effect.

Despite public outrcry they’ve remained firm on their stance without giving any sort of justification, thinking they’re somehow doing us a service by not showing us the new award chart until the day it kicks in (then again based on how bad I suspect the new chart will look, they probably are doing us a service).

So suffice it to say the British Airways Executive Club call centers are an absolute mess and the agents are grouchy as ever, as the hold times are often 30+ minutes. I can handle all that, because it’s understandable since everyone is trying to redeem their miles right now.

What I can’t handle, which has been a common theme over the past week, is that British Airways is extensively blocking partner award availability that even their own website shows!

I thought it was an isolated incident when I was trying to make a booking for a client to South America on LAN. The availability showed up on British Airways’ own search tool, yet the call center couldn’t find the space for two of the four flights. Mind you, I had the agents “direct sell” the space, which will make the space show up if it is in fact there. In the past the only place I had this issue was with Dragonair flights out of Beijing (oddly enough, it’s quite random).

But on all four British Airways awards I’ve worked on this morning, availability on the website hasn’t matched what’s actually there. This is for travel on both Cathay Pacific and LAN.

So the website will say there are eight award seats remaining, but after you enter the credit card information to make the booking, there’s an error message saying to contact Executive Club.

If it were an isolated incident that would be one thing, but of the flights I’m looking at, just about every third segment is having this issue. And it’s not that this is “phantom” award space, because Qantas also shows the space as being available. When phoning up the call center they claim the space isn’t there, which, as far as their systems are concerned, is correct.

On my last call I requested a supervisor because I wanted to bring the discrepancy to their attention, but the agent refused to transfer me — “this isn’t something that we would connect you to a supervisor for.”

Sorry, but the timing on this is just far too convenient. British Airways, are you having some widespread system meltdown or is this intentional? Or can you only answer that question after November 16?

Anyone else having the same issues?

Comments

  1. I have definitely experienced similar problems, but on less exotic tickets. The website tool is terrible and the customer service is even worse. Given the upcoming changes, I cashed in points for domestic travel on AA. I appreciate paying $5 and 25k in points for a domestic US roundtrip, but the hassle almost made me give up. In any case, I am just about cashed out on my BA miles and happy about it.

  2. Yes, I am having the same problems with CX and LA this week too. Very frustrating with all the clients wanting specifically to book on those two carriers before the award chart changes.

  3. Yes, 3 weeks ago. I found award space online and they “couldn’t find it” when I called them. I did luck out and get an agent who found award space for different dates though. Mine was N. America to S. America on LAN J.

  4. Yes was trying to help a friend book space on Iberia and everywhere else was showing 5 C class seats BA could not see any. Explains it all.

    Really at a loss with what to do with all my BA miles now. A complete waste of points

  5. While I do think that it could very well be intentional (trying to put the brakes on everyone “cashing in”), it is also somewhat possible that they are getting ready to roll out the new booking system with the new booking rules and that this has truly caused an IT glitch in the background. Their system was already pathetic to begin with, so imagine that with some entry-level IT guy screwing around with it in a dark, wire-filled room in the basement with a shiny new banner hung on the door saying “Avios, cause Avis was already taken!”

  6. I booked a return leg on a trip on CX in J on Nov 3. Had no issue with seats being available.It was DPS>N America. The strange thing that happened was that my miles were still in my account for 5 days afterward. I thought I got a break but not so…..they got deducted………

  7. I’ve given up and booked the last of my miles (about 50k-ish) on a domestic SFO-JFK in C/J. Not the greatest use, but better than redeeming them for magazine subscriptions on 11/16, I guess…

  8. Golly, what a nightmare. I’m glad I booked my award about a month ago. I bet things are going to get even nuttier as the deadline approaches.
    Is BA blocking seats on partners so their customers can’t cash out all their points on single partner awards before the change? I hope not, but best of luck.

  9. Loyalty programmes are things that work both ways. If BA give us BS, then what’s to think our loyalty with them will continue?

  10. But yes, BA is blocking One World partner awards… Looking at AA’s tool for IAD-HNL in coach (yuck) and it shows availability. Try to use BA tool for same dates? Nothing available.

  11. Just used BA miles to book AA tix to Vancouver this summer — On my first two attempts it would get past the payment screen and then error out. On a hunch I wondered if it just didn’t want to let me book my wife’s ticket under my login, so I got my ticket, logged out and logged in to her account and went through the whole process again. Just glad we didn’t have to call 🙂

  12. This is a question I’ve been thinking about for a while, but how can you not assume that airlines, hotels, etc. are VERY well aware of the mile/point community and are now proactively closing loopholes that are being exploited on a massive scale?

    I can easily picture a packed conference room at X company’s headquarters where a team of VPs are studying Lucky’s (and others’) sites, and realizing that people are, for example, buying $1 coins and redepositing them into their own bank accounts to accumulate enough miles to redeem flights that would otherwise cost $10,000+. That’s not to say that those people would have ever considered buying seats at that price, but when that kind of thing happens on a massive scale—as it no doubt has with the preponderance of blogs, DOs, and conferences—you have to expect that companies will take notice.

    It’s also important to note that I’m not saying what we do is wrong or illegal, just that we shouldn’t be too shocked when an airline or hotel or whoever quickly and decisively ends a lucrative promotion.

  13. Was able to book NA-Asia in CX business yesterday no problem. Noticed there a bunch of availability opened up recently. Was skeptical so called and was able to book without hassle.
    I did have problems cancelling a domestic AA ticket online. Online system is useless.

  14. I booked a flight from NYC to Bali on Cathay Pacific last week and had no issues. Thought I’d wait until Nov 15 to book the return ticket in case any more info came out about the new program, but I guess I should book it sooner…

  15. Based on this and some of your other more recent posts, it seems like companies are making it harder and harder to get those free flights…

  16. Huh. Within the last two weeks, I just cashed in 300k for two F awards from NA-SE Asia. The sucky thing is that my return leg, which I booked online, won’t let me make online changes. Every time I try to change it, it says “no seats available.” (But it does this long before the verification stage.) Strangely, the outbound leg (with stopover), which I had to book over the phone, allows me to make online changes.

    What did BA think was going to happen? BA posting the UK chart was enough for me to see the writing on the wall. That was the point where I told me wife we were canceling our plans to Europe next year, and going CX F to Bali instead.

  17. This isn’t new, I spent hours struggling with phantom LA and AA S. America routes availability, from mid Sep through Oct. Finally gave up.

  18. @gluedtothewindow: These aren’t “loopholes that are being exploited”, they are legitimate offers that are being redeemed within the companies’ own rules. BA are completely within their rights to change the program rules at any time, but award blocking is a dishonest and opaque way of handling the problem. Many folks have spent a lot of time and money earning BA miles, crediting their oneworld flights to BA, flying BA even when another carrier was cheaper, etc. The least they can do is officially announce their policy, instead of preventing people from doing something that their published rules allow, and then blaming it on a “technical error”.

  19. I think its time to make comments on their FB page about the issues and see if social media will bring about change……..heck, it worked for Tunisia hehe

  20. @unavaca:

    I’m not sure I follow why you needed to burn your last 50k for C/J on SFO-NYC now. Are domestic redemptions really going to be anything different than 25k in the future? That’s sort of the standard, and I’d be surprised if BA changed that.

    My assumption has been that, in the worst case, on Nov 16, BA miles are at least good for domestic flights on AA at 25k per pop. Is this faulty logic?

  21. I guess I lucked out after hearing that wait times are 30+. I called BA about 2 weeks ago (on a Saturday) and was connected to an operator in about a 1 minute the first time, I then had to call a second time and was connected in less than 10, Idk if this is because it was a Saturday. Anyways, I had no problems booking 1 CX in F JFK-HKG-PVG, I booked BKK-JFK online without a problem, for next year and even got the booking fee waived after literally being abruptly hung up on by a rep who was the rudest CS person I have ever come across but the second rep waived the fee without me even asking! Guess it was my lucky day. The only glitch is that one of the charges was pending and all of a sudden disappeared but the miles were deducted.

  22. Not that I’m defending BA (they should have had this fixed a long time ago), but I ran into numerous issues like this booking award flights to South America on LAN back in August/September time.

    The worst part is that BA’s web site was consistently inconsistent. Sometimes LAN flights really did exist, other times they did not, but you had no way of actually planning out an itinerary unless you called to get real-time availability.

  23. I booked my J trip to IPC + a few stops on the way home no issue. Bad news if this spreads to other programs

  24. I had the exact same experience earlier this week.

    On our desired departure date ba.com was showing three flight options with enough seat availability for an LAN flight. Called an agent who said they couldn’t find any availability on that date. I thought I just got someone on the line who was new so I hung up and called back. After another 30 minute hold I was back on the line and got the same answer – I can’t see anything in my system. Again, they had the space on ba.com and Qantas.com was showing availability on the flights as well.

    In the end the agent was able to find us space flying out the next day. Either way it’s pretty impressive since we were trying to book five tickets for May 2012. It’s all done now and I’m looking forward to traveling with my family to Argentina in May 2012.

    I’ve now used up my 100,000 BA miles so I’m just waiting on the sidelines to see what happens on Nov. 16th.

  25. Glad we’re out now. Approx.270k + companion for us in F to mru and a return from zambia (inter africa flights on south african using ua miles) next week. Also two tix to eze, ipc,.scl in spring mostly in C for 155k + 60k Aa. 25 k left in Ba for a domestic.

    Booking was so, so frustrating with BA (even 2 weeks ago) but also yielded great results. Take away the great results and i’M glad to be done. My attitude might change in the cabana at lhr next week though.

  26. Me too. Trying to use up the BA miles ASAP. Was able to bump up from J to F on CX a month ago. Now the site shows NO availability with ANY partner or BA to Asia.

  27. I’d love to know from anybody with more specific knowledge in this space, how on earth BA could get away with this with Chase, because this is going to cause just about everyone I know to cancel the card, thereby limiting what Chase’s upside on it is, which they paid a lot of money to exploit. Any thoughts?

  28. This post seems to be to be like a lawyer or tax accountant complaining that his job is hard because the legal system or tax code is complex.

    The only reason you’re making a living booking awards for people is because it’s complex and time-consuming.

  29. There’s no outcry because no-one understands the changes Unless you live on the west coast it’s not clear how bad it will be.

  30. Tried to book a domestic AA flight for my friend and also got the error message. After waiting for 40 mins on the phone, I was able to speak to a CSR and since I was booking for someone else, he needed 2 credit cards from me with the same billing address so that would explain some of the error messages people have been getting.

  31. Haha. I’m having similar issues, thought thought it was just me. I had three clients today needing CX and LAN availability. No problem online but the agents don’t get it. I had rough agent who wouldn’t work with me – “sorry sir. It’s been a long day.” thankfully it all worked out! Good luck Ben! Though I’m sure you don’t need it 😉

  32. i thought i was the only person with this person. BA.com shows a lot of availability for HKG to SIN on CX yet when i called online to change an itinerary, they agent tells me that there is none available.
    anyone knows what happens if you change your flight after nov 16th? will you have to go with the new miles required?

  33. @ Jonathan — And I occasionally ran into the same issue in the past as well. But not anywhere close to as consistently as now.

    @ pointy — Hah, point taken. Trust me, it’s complicated enough without the deception by British Airways here. I’m blogging this not because of self interests, but because this is something that I assume affects hundreds of consumers. The beauty of the internet is that this is one way to voice displeasure and maybe get something fixed.

    @ Dan — You should be fine as long as the routing stays the same. I believe if you change the routing the ticket will be repriced, though.

  34. This morning – Friday – I called at 7:30 Am sharp – 30 minutes waiting time.
    Then I got the flights – on CX to SIN via stop in HK that were displayed as available on the web site (I had checked and rechecked the previous week and while waiting on the phone). The agent was knowledgeable: every time I asked her to check for availability on different dates or class she did it very quickly. In all it took 40 minutes to process 3 returns awards on 2 different tickets (because of different class). Last I only paid the ticketing $ 20 fee for the economy award. The business one did not had to pay it. The agent told me that and I did not argue.
    But to be fair … last April when I got awards for LAN … on the phone the availability was not the same that the one displayed on the web site.
    Good luck to every one.

  35. I called Friday afternoon to use the last of my BA miles for 2 RT F tickets on CX. I started by going to BA.com and entered the payment only to have it error out. 15 min on hold and got a really nice BA agent (I’ve found that the BA agents are much more personable than UA or AA ones) who was happy to help and apologized for all the issues they have been having with the website and proactively waived the booking fee and offered many routing options instead of just stopping in HKG as I was doing a mix of destinations.

    I asked if I needed to make a change after 11/16 and what would happen to the miles and she said the agents are getting different messages from their supervisors. Happy to pay change fees if I can change dates if needed without paying the difference in miles.

  36. Ben,

    THANK YOU so much for this post. One tiny piece of information that you included, telling the agent to “direct sell” the space just made my freaking month or maybe even year. I was on the phone with a BA agent trying to book award seats on LAN down into the southern edges of Patagonia (dates and flights already pre-selected based on availability off of ba.com) when for the connecting flights out of AEP she said there was no availability. None. Zip. “We’ve been having problems with the website,” was her excuse. I then politely asked her to direct sell the flight to find availability. Low and behold she was then able to find seats for us on all of the exact flights that I wanted.

    Thank you again. I’m looking forward to a big trip in Feb. 2012.

  37. RE: Qantas site – Though the site is usually pretty accurate, it seems that Qantas has a problem with Iberia space. I’ve tried now multiple times book an award that Qantas shows available (though BA does not) to no avail. In this case, the space just isn’t there.

    @Dave–It now appears that we will be able to make date and limited routing changes without having to pay additional miles.

  38. This problem continues, especially with LAN tickets. I can not, after many, many tries get the agents to see what I see in the award availability on LAN flights. Trying to book an award ticket with BA is like trying to play cards in the dark. It’s impossible. Driving me insane.

  39. When I called BA and said I was having trouble booking a LAN award ticket, the agent literally laughed and said that LAN award never match what the BA site shows. FIX IT BRITISH AIRWAYS!

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