British Airways Avios Changes Coming in 2017 and Cuts Coming to BA Product to Become More Like Norwegian

It’s been tough to be a British Airways customer over the past few years, and things are about to get much tougher in the face of uncertainties surrounding Brexit and competition from low cost transatlantic carriers like Wow Air and especially Norwegian.

And they’re going to mash together all the different Avios programs into one. They haven’t told us what that will look like, but British Airways makes it look like the independent and more valuable ones moving to the less valuable shared program. We’ll have to wait and see.

British Airways arguably has the worst lie flat business class seat in the industry at 8-abreast on their Boeing 777s.

Their intra-European business class has less legroom at 30 inches of pitch than the median domestic US airline coach seat.

They’re reportedly testing mandatory self-checkin at Heathrow’s terminal 3 (with a charge to see an agent).

And British Airways had basic economy fares before they were cool in the US, with hand baggage only fares that require even elites to pay for checked bags. There’s been talk about taking away lounge access and priority boarding from elites on these fares as well.

There have, of course, been catering cuts as well.

They’ve announced significant expansion in part to match Norwegian routes. When British Airways announced new service from London Gatwick to New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, and Oakland in recent days with Boeing 777-200 aircraft featuring 40 business class seats that was apparently only temporarily accurate at best, because British Airways has now announced those planes will be reduced to 32 business class seats while doubling premium economy from 24 to 48 seats and increasing British Airways Cargo economy from 280 to 332 seats.

If you don’t think their goal is to go head-to-head with Norwegian by cutting costs, it’s right there in the British Airways deck:

(Red emphasis mine.)

They get a portion of that increase in economy seating by going 10-abreast on 25 Boeing 777s, suggestive that this won’t be limited to Gatwick leisure routes. Of course this matches the direction much of the industry is going with narrower coach seats — such as American, United, Emirates, and Air France.

As Runway Girl‘s John Walton observes,

“Gatwick’s new B777 configuration will give a lower cost/e-seat than Norwegian B787” says the slide header, which rather gives away the competition that has BA worried. Without a hard product advantage over the longhaul LCC, and with continual cuts to soft product (even after ad campaigns focussing on it as a point of difference), together with ongoing frequent flyer scheme devaluations, it’s unclear what reasons British Airways has for imagining passengers will wish to book its more expensive fares. Fool me once, passengers may think, shame on you; fool me twice, I’ll book with another airline.

And in fact Norwegian will be offering a similar long haul product with newer Boeing 787 aircraft.

Furthermore, British Airways will be adding seats to their short haul narrowbodies:

  • Increasing domestic Airbus A320s from 168 or 171 to 180 seats

  • Increasing domestic Airbus A321s to 218 seats (domestic UK A321s currently have 205 seats in an all-coach configuration

BA’s response to Norwegian and projected reductions in premium demand has been to cut costs. They retain the lion’s share of the potentially shrinking Heathrow market, and their view has been to send connections increasingly through other gateways besides Heathrow (hence the Aer Lingus acquisition).

Fuel surcharges on awards notwithstanding, they’re increasingly giving customers a reason to avoid Heathrow connections and their uncompetitive product will give customers a reason to fly other airlines to and from London as well. Goodness knows BA’s Executive Club offers little reason to remain a loyal flyer. I’ve argued that for anyone earning up to Gold status, crediting to another program can be advantageous even for someone flying predominantly on BA.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The air travel scene in the UK is really miserable. It’s bad in the US but at least the US there are some attempts to improve the air travel experience (JetBlue, Virgin America, Delta). Between BA, VA and BAA it seems like the only thing they’ve been able to come up with in the past 10 years is cuts to match low cost carriers.

  2. As if the LHR APDs aren’t painful enough, their mandatory YQ’s make it woefully painful to stay loyal to them. Give them all your business, deal with their outdated 2-4-2 J, and in return, they’ll still gouge you on the redemption part (and that’s before accounting for sky-high mileage costs on the longest-haul ones)

  3. I’m done with BA
    my last year even thinking of aiming for another year as a GOLD elite. The term elite makes me laugh.
    I’m voting with my own money and feet.

  4. Well put on all fronts, Gary. I’d quibble on one small point, though: British Airways lie-flat business class isn’t quite the worst. I’d put United’s even lower.

  5. Assume any change made by BA is a negative one. They’re the major reason that OneWorld is far behind Star and even Skyteam

  6. Hi Gary, as a BA silver member (and husband gold) couldn’t agree more. For crediting over to another programme, is this just within the one world alliance? Or is it possible beyond that?

  7. Gary, do you think this increased competition will force them to eventually drop the ridiculous fuel surcharges on everything?

  8. all bad news recently on British air industry, first huge VS devaluation now BA makes it so ugly to travel with them either in First, Business or coach.

  9. I have Avios points but never seem to use them for transatlantic flights because of the fuel surcharges. Fuel has dropped to half of what it was a couple years ago, why haven’t these gone down? Only use Avios for intra-europe flights and I still have a lot of them. I know some people use them for domestic US flights but you have to call and I can’t be bothered.

  10. Farsighted – you don’t have to call to book domestic US flights. But it’s hard to find them bc AA has crappy saaver availability.

  11. You don’t need to call to book Avios redemptions on American, it’s all available on You only need to call for alaska redemptions.

  12. Gary forgot to mention that with BA, you have to pay a charge to pick your seat in advance. Even in Business Class.

    And while UA also has a poor lie-flat seat, BA takes the prize for worst in my book since you can’t stretch your feet all the way and that C cabin is packed like a furniture showroom.

  13. So…I assume saving fuel charges by using Avios awards outside BA will be a thing of the past if they combine all the carriers into one.

  14. I am at the age when the lure of European travel no longer includes being packed in like a sardine not only has no appeal for me. I am also fortunate enough to be able to travel in other booking classes besides (Basic) Economy.

    It would appear that BA is done, a dead airline for me after this. Fortunately, my wife and I only have some 7500 Avios combined, so I won’t be losing very much . . .

  15. Should I look to burn my remaining Avios in the next few months on a redemption on Cathay? Any chance they will change redemption rates without notice?

  16. Time to cut up my BA Chase card and eliminate the $75 AF. To be fair this has been overdue since they cut back earnings from 1.25 miles to 1 miles per $1 spent and sliced C/F award inventory for West Coast TATL flights. The 241 certs are still useful but those of us who earn by spend are better off with Chase UR or Amex SPG.

  17. I keep my BA Gold as I use BA to travel LHR – EDI,GLA,CDG roughly 25 times a year often on Redemptions I’ve earned flying QR, (East) or AA (West). Not all are redemptions, probably half but I get to use the 1st Lounge at T5 and can reserve my seat for free.

    I’ve flown BA Club once to LAX on the A380; nice enough, but nothing compared to QR or AA where you have direct aisle access and don’t half to avoid staring at your passenger virtually opposite you. How people can sleep when you have Cabin crew walking past you is beyond me!!


  18. the new board running B A are determined to make it the worst air line or one of the worst in the world I have a gold card for life with B A , does it make a difference , your joking i get treated at the same level as a ryan air flight watch the quality of the food wines service in business class and all classes drop further . in about 3 or 4 years time B A will be saying why have we lost such market share and the present idiots who run it will be dispensed with , to late

  19. I fly BA infrequently, maybe 4-5 times a year to Europe and 3 times a year to Tel Aviv, always in Club when available, which to TLV is not often except at the last minute or months in advance. I find the service to always be good and the Club World service to Tel Aviv is really excellent. I am not sure what all the whining is about. Because I do not have status with BA [or any of its partners] being able to use the lounge at Heathrow is great. The fixed price within Europe is a bargain. Even now that there is the Aspire lounge at Heathrow, I don’t see any reason to think of switching to another airline.

  20. As of June 2017, it looks as though “taxes, fees and charges” have increased on redemption flights also. In the case of LHR – TYO this appears to be by around £100.

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