Ridiculous: British Airways Stops Allowing China Flight Refunds

Filed Under: British Airways, Lufthansa

Obviously the coronavirus situation is having an impact on the global economy, though there’s no denying that airlines are among the hardest hit, due to the uncertainty and fear caused by it.

For the most part we’ve seen travel brands be fairly reasonable with their change and cancelation policies, though there are some exceptions. For example, as noted by Head for Points, British Airways has just made their policy for China flight refunds less generous, rather than more generous. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but wow, that’s low.

British Airways cancels more mainland China & Hong Kong flights

Yesterday British Airways amended their scheduled for mainland China and Hong Kong flights:

  • All flights to Beijing and Shanghai have been canceled through April 17, 2020
  • Between April 18 and May 31, 2020, limited flights will resume, with 3x weekly Shanghai flights and 4x weekly Beijing flights
  • The usual two daily Hong Kong flights have been reduced to one daily flight through June 1, 2020

Of course that’s the situation as of now, though I’d be willing to bet that cancelations or at least reductions in service will be extended beyond that, given how fluid the situation is.

British Airways is canceling more China flights

British Airways modifies refund policy

With the latest schedule update, British Airways has also modified their refund policy for flights to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Up until yesterday, British Airways’ policy for Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong flights, was as follows:

  • For travel through June 1, 2020, those on canceled flights were offered a full refund, rebooking on another flight/airline, or rebooking for later travel, through August 1, 2020
  • For travel through June 1, 2020, those on flights that weren’t canceled still had the option of getting a refund, or of being rebooked for travel on a later date, through August 1, 2020

Well, British Airways has changed their policy. Now if you are on a flight to & from China that isn’t canceled, you can no longer receive a refund, but can only use the ticket credit towards another flight to any British Airways destination, and you’ll pay whatever the current fare is.

This is unfair, in my opinion:

  • If you’re originating in China, passengers from China face major restrictions with traveling to many places, so rebooking might not be practical
  • If you had a trip planned specifically to China before this all happened, that doesn’t necessarily mean you now want to travel somewhere else

It’s one thing if this was the case all along, but it hasn’t been. Someone at British Airways seemed to say “hmmm, refunding passengers is way too generous, let’s change that.”

British Airways’ China refund policy is now less generous

Lufthansa has largely been worse all along

It’s worth noting that Lufthansa Group (including Lufthansa and SWISS) actually hasn’t had any travel waiver in place for Hong Kong. While the airline is letting those traveling to mainland China rebook, those going to Hong Kong can’t refund or change their itinerary unless their flight has been canceled (and many flights have been canceled, as service has been reduced).

What a stingy policy…

Lufthansa isn’t offering travel waivers for Hong Kong

Bottom line

Fortunately most airlines (and particularly hotel groups) are being reasonable with travel changes as a result of coronavirus. That’s not the case across the board, though.

British Airways has just made their policy for refunding China flights less generous, while Lufthansa hasn’t allowed Hong Kong flight refunds all along.

Does anyone think British Airways and/or Lufthansa are being reasonable here?

  1. i’m never not buying insurance again cause the OTAs have been a major PITA to deal with. also buying cheap positioning flights is great until shit like this happens.

  2. It’s a race to the bottom — and no surprise from both LH and BA…. allowing them to get to their current size and to dominate the European market comes at a cost to the public….terrible precedent to take financial advantage of a growing global health crisis…shame on them!

  3. @noogin
    Yet another example of where WN for positioning flights makes a lot of sense. Sure you don’t get a full refund, but the 1-yr voucher for full cost of the flight and no fees is sure cheaper than travel insurance.

  4. Have you even been to Hong Kong in the past month before rushing to judgement? I’ve been visiting for the past 3 weeks. These travel restrictions for HK are plain hysteria. Everyone in the city is going about their business as usual, although with masks on. The normal activity is happening and Lufthansa and BA are right to see no reason to change their refund policy for flights to/from HK since everything is operating normally. Life hasn’t changed in the city beyond wearing masks in public so why should the airlines be expected to allow waivers when there is no real reason for the panic?

  5. @ Ben — I can’t wait until BA and LH are sued for damages from someone who gets sick and/or dies because they feel forced to travel rather than lose their funds. That will end up costing them way more than flight refunds. These policies are nothing but out of control greed. This is why I am now almost universally against buying points/miles. Airlines will steal from you in a heartbeat if you let them.

  6. Expect AF/KL to follow once they see what BA and LH can get away with.

    It was shennanigans like this that led to EU 261, so they only have themselves to blame when the politicians start looking at this area again

  7. At this point, the Virus spread is a known event. If anyone is booking new travel they should not expect a generous waiver policy. It’s sort of like the same reason that you can’t buy fire insurance while the house is on fire.

  8. Travel insurance companies at least in Australia will not cover any Coronavirus related illness, delays, cancellations. Many will not risk travel overseas and be stranded and perhaps end up with huge medical bills. You can really judge an airline by how well it reacts when things go wrong.

  9. @lucky The Wall Street Journal also did a great article today about why most travel insurance will not help now that this is a known event. It would be nice if you can cover the travel insurance angle from credit cards. For example I noticed that Chase Saphire Reserve includes coverage in case of quarantine.

  10. @tom
    EU-politicians are already looking into ‘updating’ the EU261/04 regulation. But the proposed changes are worse for consumers and better for airlines.

  11. I would like to specifically praise Finnair since I had a non-refundable ticket to HKG on Finnair and I cancelled it 2 hours before the flight and they issued a full refund upon explanation. Airlines that get behind customers and have customer friendly policies should be acknowledged more

  12. This is the problem with insurance and companies. When things get bad, they can’t afford to pay and hide behind various clauses in the contract. For most of us, this is why people buy insurance, to cover for the unusual event, but then it isn’t covered (like terrorism/war events).

    Are all insurance companies denying this?

  13. @ Rick… Agree 100%.

    If the airline isn’t canceling the flight then they IMO don’t really even owe for a ticket credit for a future trip. They obviously have to live with the PR hit and potentially losing some loyal customers. If they alter the original flight date(S) and times then I feel the customer should be allowed a full refund – I.e., they were flying daily and now 3Xs a week and your flights were moved to different days then that’s a valid for a full refund and not a credit. BA otherwise is not responsible for local circumstances when they have scheduled flights.

  14. @ EC2 — To be clear, do you think they shouldn’t offer refunds on flights to mainland China either, if people are uncomfortable flying?

  15. Qatar Airways has adopted the same strategy. Originally they were allowing changes/cancellations for HKG flights (at least up to the end of February), but have now removed that option for everyone moving forward. Passengers booked to HKG whose flight is not cancelled is required to adhere to the original conditions of their tickets. Not good for those of us who are now forced to go to HKG to sit around in a hotel all day as our work appointments have been cancelled, or otherwise take the financial hit.

  16. I actually agree with LH group and don’t think the policy “stingy”
    There has been multiple cases in Hong Kong but it remains relatively stable. It’s simply for now far less serious than, say Japan, Korea, Singapore, Iran or Italy, not to mention China.
    Of course, things could change.
    But base on the MATH I don’t see why permitting a change or refund for trips to Hong Kong before granting the same right to those travelling to Italy

  17. “i’m never not buying insurance again cause the OTAs have been a major PITA to deal with. also buying cheap positioning flights is great until shit like this happens.”

    Travel insurance doesn’t cover pandemics.

  18. @ max even if eu261 is updated any amendments won’t apply in the U.K. the regulation still applies though even though the U.K. is not in the EU until such time as it’s repealed or amended by the government

  19. If you are based in the UK and have now fallen foul of BA’s policy or for that matter Lufthansa’s remember the small claims court is where you can almost certainly get your money back. No lawyers involved, just send them a ‘notice before action’ giving them at least seven days notice to refund you and if they don’t issue a moneyclaim on line summons for all of your money back. It’s unlikely either airline will put forward any defence and therefore the case will automatically be found for you. There is a similar process in most European countries with Finland being a significant exception but it sounds like Finnair are being very sensible.

  20. Surely anyone who wanted a refund has aready had enough time to think about cancelling their flights and obtaining said refund or deciding to travel to another destination/

    It’s not ridiculous for a business to want to protect itself from further loses.

    As to taking BA to court their defence would surely be based on the fact people had plenty of time to cancel plus the UK government advice does not totally advise against all travel to China.

    As to updating the EU261 regulation there have already been attempts to update / revise but all have failed because the 3 EU bodies required to agree the changes – the Parliement, the Commission and and the Council – can’t reach agreement (and that’s before you even look at the fact that there is disagreement within each of the three bodies)

  21. @ Ben…. I don’t think BA has to offer a refund if someone if they are just uncomfortable flying to mainland China. I think it would be fair and reasonable to review on a case by case basis. Like they made schedule changes or the passenger bought the ticket before it was an epidemic. Those I think you would agree would be fair. If someone books a ticket after it was an epidemic to me shouldn’t be refunded their ticket.

    That said what they have to do and should do are two different issues. BA would be well served to go beyond what they have to do. The more they do for these passengers the better for them. So I’m kind of in the middle. Defending a their right to take their position from a straight flight ticket contract point of view, but also noting it’s not good PR. (There are some posts or at least one that referenced suing BA. That is ludicrous.)

  22. @Gene~ if you’re dead then a lawsuit seems too little too late! Best to take sensible personal responsibility despite the financial cost and live to tell the story IMO!

  23. I think BA/IAG is being very mindful of the explosion of cases in Italy in the past few days and slow creep across Europe that will likely lead to the continent having similar numbers to Asia within a couple of weeks. This could be like 9/11 or the 2008 recession for airlines, likely with the big carriers contracting in size and many of the smaller or less stable carriers going under.

  24. I agree with your comments; however, it is worth noting that most flights have been cancelled so there are probably few that meet the rules that have not been cancelled.

  25. I actually think airlines are being rather generous for at least allowing trips to be postponed. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable to fly, then that is a personal choice based on their own risk assessment, which could be very different from an authoritative body restricting travel to certain areas. I understand that there is widespread fear and/or panic about the coronavirus situation (justified or not), but what is also clear is that there is neither good evidence nor consensus (even among experts) about whether it makes sense to avoid hotspots. A line must be drawn somewhere, and I think it is reasonable to draw the line at whether a person is restricted from travelling to a certain area, e.g. governments banning travellers to/from China (although that itself appears to be somewhat subjective), and for BA, the UK certainly has yet to put in any restrictions other than home quarantine.

    As for those people who have decided to take advantage of positioning flights, etc., then that is (or should have been) a calculated risk, e.g. the ex-EU flights. Can’t reap all the benefits… If anything, this just looks bad for the airline from a PR perspective, but it wouldn’t be what I’d consider one of their more unreasonable restrictions on tickets anyway…

    (And just to be clear, I have one trip booked as well, and probably will now just have to cancel and take the measly refund… but what can I do?)

  26. Qantas is also not allowing passengers to
    Hong Kong cancel or refund even in February and March. Even though the airline has cancelled several flights (such as Sydney to one flight a day). Ridiculous.

  27. I think airlines should generally follow government travel advisories. For example, the US state department has a level 4 (do not travel) warning for mainland China, so I would expect that any airline would refund tickets purchased in the US BEFORE this warning was issued for travel from the US to mainland China. HK only has a level 2 (increased caution), so I think it’s reasonable that airlines would require passengers to travel unless the flight times have changed substantially or the flight has been cancelled. I think an airline has to make a distinction between people who are merely uncomfortable versus those that face objective risk.

  28. IB is being crappy too. They don’t allow cancellations and changes are permitted if new travel dates are not later than June 15.

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