Has British Airways drastically reduced premium cabin award space?

The past few days there seems to be an uproar regarding the lack of British Airways premium cabin award space. I’ve received several emails and comments on the blog about it (including last night on my post about Malaysia releasing less first class award space), and there’s even a thread on FlyerTalk about it.

I spend literally hours a day looking at award availability so I’d like to think I have a good idea of award availability “trends.” And I find this one especially interesting since people seem to be stressing that there was some change that occurred in the past couple of weeks, whereby British Airways suddenly stopped releasing premium cabin award space.

Frankly I disagree. Not with the fact that British Airways award availability is getting more difficult to secure, but with it being a new phenomenon. The truth is that it has gotten much tougher to grab British Airways premium cabin award space since October of 2010, when American AAdvantage miles could start being redeemed for travel on British Airways between the US and Europe. Before that American miles could only be redeemed for travel on British Airways for travel to/from anywhere but the US.

The decrease in award space has been very, very gradual. Keep in mind that there’s no way to redeem miles for travel on British Airways without paying fuel surcharges, so at first AAdvantage members tried to avoid redeeming miles on British Airways, since for a first or business class roundtrip ticket it meant spending $1,000 or so in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges. Fortunately it was easy to avoid flying British Airways when using AAdvantage miles, since American probably used to be the single most generous airline when it came to releasing transatlantic first or business class award space. Then that slowly began changing a bit over a year ago, to the point that American transatlantic premium cabin award seats are among the toughest to snag. That forced people to start booking British Airways if they wanted transatlantic award seats with AAdvantage miles, creating a lot more competition for the same seats.

In looking at transatlantic award space on BA, I’m actually finding it to be fairly decent. For example, I looked at nonstop award availability for a few transatlantic routes for next February, and there’s actually a fair bit of space. For example, between Boston and London there’s first class award availability every day:

From Seattle there’s award space about half of the days:

From Philadelphia there’s first class award space all but a handful of days:

From Dulles there’s business class award space almost every day:

And from Atlanta there’s business class award space most days as well:

Yes, these are some of the less “premium” routes, but I find when there’s a huge shift in availability it’s reflected even on the less premium routes, and I don’t see that reflected here.

One thing’s for sure — availability for the next few months is horrible. But that’s not specific to British Airways, but just about all transatlantic airlines. And that’s basic economics, because demand is up and we’ve seen huge capacity cuts the past few years. That’s not to say snagging award seats is impossible — I’ve seen a ton of last minute award seats. But as I explained in my post yesterday, it just requires planning a lot “smarter.”

What do you guys think — is the decrease in British Airways premium cabin award space gradual and a general reflection of a decrease in award availability, or have they yanked the award availability out from under us the past couple of weeks?

Filed Under: Awards, British Airways
  1. Now put your fingers in your ears and yell, “it’s not the bloggers! it can’t be us”. Thanks for driving thousands of new people to the miles and points hobby and shamelessly mooching from FT to line your own pockets.

    (Yes, I know correlation is not causation, but in this case, it’s pretty clear how and why the number of people in the game have grown.)

    Every joyride and convoluted routing you fools take just to say you flew CX/TG/LH/MH F yet again sucks up inventory. How many times do you need to fly to HKG via ZRH/FRA/MUC for 2 days? Why not just spend more time the first time you guys go there? We don’t need any more FCT trip reports or photos from Porsche rides to the plane – with all the inane hat-tipping, blog content is hardly differentiated these days.

  2. I see ba.com no longer allows one to redeem the companion pass one-way only. That is a recent “enhancement”?

  3. @ Simon — Interesting. That has always been in the T&Cs and they didn’t allow one-way redemptions over the phone, so it sounds like they “fixed” that.

  4. Haters are going to hate. If we take that away from them, then we have to support them while mooching unemployment.

    Please allow them to hate-on.

  5. @ Simon — Yep, I was able to online. Then when I had to make a change to itin on phone they allowed a “one time exception” since it wasn’t supposed to be allowed on one-way bookings.

  6. We just did our companion F trip a couple of weeks ago and did it out of Houston, where there was a lot more space than the West coast gateways. LAX and SFO seemed full pretty much all the time. Wonderful flights and crews, and just the right amount of time in the air.

  7. Bummer about companion pass change to no longer allowing one way bookings…makes me wonder if I should even strive to reach it, I probably will since I’m going for $20K spend this year to get full signup bonus. Thoughts?

  8. There indeed has been a drastic drop in BA availability.

    Example, if you look at the BA flights you will see from Vancouver – London (2 days in the next year with F availability) TWO DAYS! There are about 30 days (about 1% of the days) available to return.

    This is especially terrible for Canadians with the RBC Avios credit card as the Canadian companion ticket can ONLY be used on flights DEPARTING and RETURNING to CANADA operated by BA. So its no use that there is availability SEA-LHR for example.

    Back in Feb/March is when I noticed the big reduction for Canadian departures. Previously it would be common to see somewhere around 100 days available (about 25%-35%) of the year available at any one time.

    Today TWO DAYS.

  9. abcx post is bitter & jealous… but she does have a point. i don’t understand those 2 day trips to asia every other week either. most of us travel because we want to enjoy the places we like or to explore new ones… this doesn’t seem to accomplish either.
    i wonder what the impact of these pointless trips is on award inventory tho… i bet it’s quite small, but not insignificant.

  10. But what does BA availability look like when one tries to book through ba.com? Or do the booking engines yield the same results?

  11. Sure thing looking forward to reading that. On one hand I feel like spending 2K with 120K Avios for two people to go to London from the US in F isn’t bad but on the other hand that’s a lot of money. Alternatives are way less but would require for example 250K AA miles and little cash. So the $2K or so saves you 130K miles valuing them at 1.5 cents each which means you could go either way (since the true value of most miles falls around that mark and not the 7.5 cents that you’d get by dividing the actual retail price by the miles needed!)

  12. Another problem I have with airlines like British Airways, is that you have to rely on their website as ExpertFlyer will not show actual inventory numbers.

    I prefer frequent flyer programs that openly display their data on tools like Expertflyer so I can truly get an idea as to what the inventory really is, not just depending on their website/and or terrible user interface to display the data. (However in BA’s case they are getting better as they now will show some of their partners availability.

  13. On the one route I was looking at it was sudden. I’d been monitoring ORD-LHR around Christmas this year or the past few months and there was tons of first class availability. I was quite surprised. The other day I checked and there was NO availability in first. There was still plenty of business class open and I booked it immediately. So, only one data point, but to me it seemed sudden. I only looked on those 3 days we were interested in, so I just figured it was Christmas related, but maybe it’s part of a larger trend.
    Another thing that seemed to have changed was that it just said there were no seats available in the class I had requested, full stop. It used to say, no seat available in the class you requested, showing the next highest class available.. and it would show me the business class seats.

  14. There is speculation of a coming increase in the BA award table. Maybe they are holding back until then…

  15. Not sure why people are looking at TATL on BA? You guys must have big pockets.

    In addition, summer season is never the best time to book awards. Ever since I worked for AA I have scheduled my vacations for March/April or October/November. Flying in the middle of the summer months is more costly and less enjoyable.

  16. Yesterday I used 40k Avios plus £1 to book New York to Berlin in J on AB, for a Friday in August. Seats also available same day for NYC to DUS in J with no tax. Also options on BA to Heathrow. No lack of seats there.

  17. Bitter maybe, but what do you guys think I’m jealous of? I fly mostly C/F or private sometimes for work. The couple of times a year I go on vacation I still more or less go where I want in premium cabins but must plan farther ahead now. F is also harder to get these days. You think I’m jealous that I don’t spend 2 days in metal tubes to fly circuitous routings to get to a uninteresting city like Hong Kong or Dublin for a day? Or you think I’m jealous about not spending my weekends in metal tubes making mileage runs so that I can brag about 1K status and eat canned peanuts in a lounge?

    What I hate is how this used to be about travel and now it’s just become some vacuous and meaningless game of keeping up with the Joneses where everyone has to fly every C/F product and try every lounge just to say they did. And take hundreds of photos while they are at it…completely declasse.

  18. LAX-LHR is a little hard to find sometimes. BA is only good if you reserve 10-11 months ahead of time. Last min award availability is dismal.

  19. In middle of BA FC companion flight SFO-LHR-LYS-NCE-LHR-SFO and wouldn’t feed FC steak to my dog……..then got off plane after sleeping pill and went to Paul Bocuse so meah about $2000 award availability on BA……..if they want to be snobbish then I am ok with picking up LH card and going thru Frankfurt…….a “real” engineer built that airport………..

  20. On a more substantive note…what the airlines are implementing right now is a revenue based redemption model by proxy. Want F? Pay for it. Or shell out a huge number of points (a la DL) or shell out asinine YQ charges for seats that would otherwise go free.

    It is all a byproduct of vastly decreased competition and downright collusion in some peoples’ eyes. Capacity cuts and cost cuts etc.

    The airlines have been playing a very unsavory game though because while they pretend to have these amazing programs, and hand out miles like candy for everything from shopping to utilities, to credit card bonuses, they quietly stifle the ability to use the miles. What they want is a world where they get paid for as many miles as possible and allowing zero redemptions making for maximum breakage.

    The folks who get shafted the most are those who support the core activity of the airline…namely those buying and flying revenue tickets.

    This party is soon going to be over though. Either the public figures out the game is rigged and demand drops, or the airlines figure out how to sucker consumers forever.

    Either way, it is going to get progressively harder to redeem for anything of value on any of the carriers that are worthwhile.

    And abcx has it right. The big problem is the massive increase in participation and downright gaming of the system. That is what will have led to the boom, and it is what will lead to the fall.

  21. @jorge – it’s the same availability using BA Avios (if you a normal non-elite member), and for those with the Chase 2-4-1 cert, you HAVE to fly BA to redeem it.

  22. Lucky I have to disagree. I have been using BA for a few years now always 2 F seat in August US-EU and always easily found multiple options/gateway cities. All of a sudden nothing this is why I think something happened or is happening.
    Like I said in your previous blog about Malaysia air, what surprises me is how little it is discussed on FT, blogs etc.
    Now we can also count on more great changes once Doug takes over AA, the man whom championed the blocking of partner F inventory while selling discounted miles by the thousands, next up… CX F.

  23. (1) A few weeks ago I was checking F availability with BA for a friend looking to fly the new A380 between LHR and LAX later this year. I couldn’t find any award seats on the 380, but found plenty of availability on the 747 flights, especially midweek flights. Last week I went to look again, only to find that ALL the inventory was gone.
    (2) I was looking at flights from LHR to JFK for early next year. There was plenty of availability for award seats in F in February, with seats available every single day, a total of 437 First class award seats available for the month. March 1st onwards, zero, nada, tumbleweeds…
    (3) Typically I found that BA would open up award seats in F for flights departing in 1-10 days with unsold revenue inventory. You could pretty much pull up any flight departing in the next week and take your pick. Lately though, that is rare to non-existent.
    That being said, in the past week, inventory appears to have gradually returned, although not to the levels it was at, say a month ago. There’s now some inventory between LHR and JFK in F for March and while I still don’t find too many seats from LHR to LAX, some alternatives such as SEA have opened up.
    So I’m not sure what happened or what is currently happening. But it might seem that all unsold premium award inventory was recaptured at one point and now it’s slowly being restored, in smaller quantities.

  24. @abcx – I really don’t understand your constant hostility to blogs given that they hardly seem to affect you if I read the comments about your flying patterns correctly. Why do you even care if you are flying privately?

    In fact, I suspect that the number of blog readers who ever take trips like Lucky does is at best likened to a drop in the bucket compared to the actual inventory available. And how many actually migrate from the blogs to FT etc. and remain or become hardcore players?

    I also suspect that FTers as a whole account for far more inventory consumption than the Joe Public who has found Lucky or Gary.

    Sorry, but your rant doesn’t make a lot of sense and sounds pretty petty, but we’ve come to expect that type of comment from you…

    BTW Luckys blog is all about giving insight into what is available. some of us actually enjoy his TR. Maybe you need a new hobby?

  25. BTW your post#24 – whining about having to share your privileged flying status with all the riff raff – is the epitome of deluxe!

  26. Lucky, as others have noted there seems to be a dichotomy among the inventory. Maybe it is only for flights from Canada, but something is up. The argument that AA FFers are using up more inventory up here doesn’t make sense IMO.

  27. I fly PHL –LHR and am planning earlier than i used to if i use BA but I’m usually looking for one ticket in club world. The space in summer w/BA makes no sense as I am pricing out flights now that cost $3k in F and $5k in J (each way) due to their F promo. On the corporate side there has been lots of award space in J and F for OnBusiness point redemptions to/from US

  28. I can’t help it, but I think @abcx makes a point in a way. Looking at the enviromental effects, the “game” is a sham,e if it’s all about going place just for the going itself. Of course it does not make sense to travel from the U.S. via Europe to the Far East just for the weekend, unless you have a good reason to do so. The root of the redemption-problem lies in the ever growing bonuses for credit cards in the U.S., if you ask me. In most of Europe (apart from the UK, maybe), these bonuses are much lower. The BA premium Visa in Germany gives a measly 20000 Avios bonus and that’s the highest available. By the end of the day this means that European customers are paying the bill for those in the U.S. They have to earn their miles the hard way (butt in seat), fares are a lot mor expensive than elsewhere and when they finally reach the targeted mileage threshold for a desired award – no availability, most of the time. Many people I know that travel quite a bit have completely given up on collecting miles Instead they buy the cheapest tickets on ever changing carriers.

  29. You guys can have all the BA flights you want.
    I don’t plan on paying the stupid UK APD tax in addition to the ridiculous YQ on BA.
    I don’t find UK that interesting enough to spend a single dime.

  30. BA has just had a big Premium Cabin sale – I wonder if they’ve cut awards to allow for all those passengers on low fares?

  31. @ Aaexplat

    While the “core activity’ of the airline may be flying, that doesn’t make it the most profitable activity. That distinction, in the case of AA (looking at your name) and many other airlines, goes to the FFP.

  32. I have never in my life read a better reply comment than #1 from abcx. Never. Ever.

    B.R.A.V.O. Bravo, bravo.

  33. Funny how these supposed haters of bloggers still find the time in their busy schedules in between flying private to read and then comment on the blogs they hate so much!

  34. I have been active with frequent flier miles programs for the past 13 years and I quite agree with abcx. Abcx, thanks for having the cojones to post the truth and take the heat for it. I could not have said it any better – beautifully written. Kudos to you abcx!

  35. Why have BA drastically reduced Z availability?

    I have regularly used Avios pts to fly Z class (First) between PHX and LHR – 12 times or so in the last 3 years. Availability has never been a problem, unlike LAX, SFO, etc

    Now, checking availability for the next 11 months, Z class is available on only 9 flights in the entire period: Nov 19, Jan 7, 21, 27, 28, Feb 3, 10, 11 & 17.

    What are BA thinking? In my experience PHX-LHR-PHX is rarely full in F and, as I said, I have never had any problem whatsoever getting awards on these legs. The recent Avios devaluation for West Coasters was bad enough; now they are making it virtually impossible to use them in F. It’s particularly galling as I want to use a 2-1 Chase voucher which expires shortly.

    You should be focusing more on the change in West Coast to Europe availability – it has become almost non-existent in Z class – and this has happened over the last few weeks, not, as you state, since Oct 2010.

  36. Trying to book YVR to LHR return this September in business and using Award Nexus to search award flights but nothing coming up for weeks now after seeing a fair bit of availability a month ago. Hoping for a last minute release of award travel but will then likely have to pay a last minute surcharge. Took advantage of the 20% mileage bonus moving points from RBC Avion to American Arilines AAdvantage, which expires June 30th, 2013.

  37. As far as BA goes, there in not one F seat available from LAX or SFO from now until 9/15/15 (when my 30K spend 2 for 1 supposedly avios certificate expires. The only way to do it was to (And I live in Miami) leave from Huston and arrive back in Atlanta. So 1,200 fuel and tax surcharges per ticket ($2,400 total) + the domestic space (be it revenue or award space.)

    I am ready to lose my BA card for good, convert it to anything but a BA card with Chase (and lose my “history” of credit length on this card) for a Hyatt. I don’t even want to leave $500 credit on it because it $95 a year and I cannot use it for what I wanted to, so South Africa, or Eastern Europe. I am really, really peeved at BA. Can’t understand why they allow so much availability on AA, if they still do, when they don’t on their own program.

    It’s a deceptive program, which I hate. I am burning the miles on short hops (a decent deal) and never darkening their doors again. As far as AA F long hauls, they beyond irritate me. Makes me feel like they do not value my Executive platinum business at all. I cannot stand the new president. He is a jerk. No customer service orientation. What a disaster.

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