BA's predatory cancellation policy

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Old May 20, 17, 8:11 am
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BA's predatory cancellation policy

With all the negative press about dastardly deeds committed by US domestic carriers, I thought it might be an appropriate time to relate my experiences over the past year with British Airways.

BA began servicing Austin, TX in 2016 with direct flights from Austin to London. Since I and some friends had a European trip planned for June of this year, we agreed to seek a flight on BA out of Austin to avoid flying through DFW, Chicago or New York. I purchased a non-refundable round trip flight for about $2000 US and paid with a credit card. This took place approximately eleven months before the scheduled flight, which, by the way has not occurred yet: it was scheduled for June 9, 2017.

I say “was” because this is where the story gets testy and incredulous. My friends wanted to upgrade to business class with AAdvantage points. It seemed like a good idea since BA and AA are codeshare partners. With this in mind, I called AA. They told me they couldn’t do it because the reservation was locked in their system. I then called BA and was told they couldn’t do it either because I couldn’t spend AA miles on a BA flight. I later found out this was false. Nevertheless, I asked the agent how I could accomplish my goal. She said I would need to rebook on the AA version of the same flight and then they could upgrade me. Just so I understood correctly, I stated, “so what you are saying is that I should cancel my BA flight and rebook on AA?” Her reply was, “yes, you could do that.”

So that’s what I did! I got a disclaimer when I was ready to finalize the transaction—something about not disputing the amount that I was to be refunded. “Hmmm,” I said to myself, “surely they wouldn’t keep my money AND cancel my flight.” I asked one of the friends with whom I was traveling for his opinion. “Oh, I think that just has to do with the exchange rate of pound to dollar.” That sounded reasonable so I completed the transaction. I figured the worst I would end up with would be credit for a future flight, which is what domestic carriers do when you cancel a non-refundable flight. So, I completed the transaction. Here begins my nightmare.

Long story short, they refunded approximately $200 for the tax and that was it. I immediately called their customer service and explained my situation, so the first thing the agent did was ask about my conversation with the customer service agent who had advised me to cancel the flight. I had the exact time and date on my cell phone so I provided that information and they said that they would look into it.

Two weeks later, I hadn’t heard back so I called again with my case number. After being on hold for quite a while, the agent came back on the line and said, “I’m sorry Mr. Oliver, we were unable to locate the tape of your conversation so there is nothing we can do.” I replied, well you have $1800 of my money and I have nothing. Please reinstate my reservation and I’ll pay you back the amount of the tax.” Her reply was, “I’m sorry we can’t do that. Once you cancel, we can’t restore a reservation. You should have known what you were doing was final.”

HUH? This is starting to sound like fraud! One of your employees advises me to cancel a flight and then you disavow it and keep my money?!
I have tried every form of recourse. I disputed the credit card charge. I escalated through their customer service hierarchy. I even went through a British dispute resolution web site, all to no avail.

The current status is that BA has $1800 of my money and they had offered to provide absolutely nothing. I appealed to their sense of right and wrong, their sense of shame and their greediness for revenue. All I’m asking them is to give me back what I paid for. They are not budging. I have had to purchase another flight (obviously on another airline!) and will not be able to travel to Europe and back along with my friends—remember the flight hasn’t taken place yet and there are likely empty seats on it. Thoughts?
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Old May 20, 17, 8:20 am
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The clue here is in 'non refundable ticket'.
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Old May 20, 17, 8:21 am
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If BA can't locate the tape of the conversation I would have thought it will be very difficult for them to argue that their agent did not advise you as you state given that all you want is restitution of the prior position.
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Old May 20, 17, 8:24 am
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Welcome to Flyertalk and the BAEC forum sro1954.

Did you purchase the ticket from BA or AA? If the former, then the agent was correct that you could not upgrade with AA miles. You would have had to book with AA in order to do that. Regarding the cancellation - the agent was correct to advise you that you needed to book with AA (if you purchased the ticket from BA). Did they specifically advise you that you would receive full refund or did they just advise you to book with AA? Judging by the amount you paid for the flight you probably booked a non-refundable fare so you were only due governmental/airport taxes back. Did you enquire what the refund would be? If you did and was promised a full refund then it would appear that you're owed one, but if you canceled without finding out first what you'd get back then it appears to be a very costly mistake unfortunately.
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Old May 20, 17, 8:48 am
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I'm afraid you didn't fully understand the situation you were in before cancelling. Unless the agent you spoke to (an AA one?) said that you'd get a full refund, then there's not much to dispute. You cancelled a non refundable ticket.... you get nothing back save for the government taxes. Most airlines don't give credit for cancelling a non refundable ticket.

Unless a BA agent told you you'd get a full refund (which I find unlikely given it was non refundable), then I'm afraid the $1800 is lost, unless BA take pity on you.

I'm sorry it hasn't worked out how you'd hoped, but the airline hasn't done anything wrong unless a BA agent promised a full refund. An AA agent telling you to cancel and rebook so you can use miles to upgrade really has nothing to do with BA. I also wouldn't expect an AA agent to know BA cancellation policies.
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Old May 20, 17, 9:09 am
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There is probably a fair deal of semantic shenanigans going on: they didn't tell you you would get a refund; they just omitted to tell you that you would not get a full refund if you canceled when saying "you could do that" instead of "you could do that, but ...".

In the end, though, reading your description it doesn't even sound like they told you anything close to "you will get all your money back". I do hope they take pity on you and give you a voucher or something, as the situation might have been a bit confusing. I'd be pretty upset myself if I had found myself short of 1800 bucks. Fraud? I wouldn't go that far, you will only end up hurting your case.

And keep in mind that, when you do change an AA ticket to an AA ticket, since it is a changed ticket and not a cancellation you will get the balance in credits with the airline (if there is a positive balance left after you process the change and pay the fees). But if you flat out cancel a non-refundable ticket even on domestic, you will lose the cash there too minus taxes etc. Your situation here was complicated, to be fair. It's a pity you didn't ask here how you could do this before calling in - you will often get clearer advice on FT than you will from an agent especially on complex, corner case situations.
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Old May 20, 17, 9:14 am
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Hi OP, I'm firmly in the 'BA can be utter swines on occasion' camp but, seriously, you really can't blame them here - you stated yourself this was a non-refundable ticket. What part of this did you not understand?
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Old May 20, 17, 9:15 am
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Originally Posted by sro1954 View Post
“so what you are saying is that I should cancel my BA flight and rebook on AA?” Her reply was, “yes, you could do that.”
At any point did you enquire what you would receive in refund if you cancelled?
Any flight can be cancelled however what is refunded depends on the fare rules
refundable gets everything back
non-refundable get the taxes back
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Old May 20, 17, 9:32 am
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I have a flight to Chicago booked in F for August. My flight is non-refundable. I noticed that the price of the flight has dropped over £300 since I booked and so I called to see if there was anything they could do to refund me the difference. I realise that this is not normally possible but as it was in F I thought I would ask.

The conversation went something like... me: I notice that my flight has dropped in price, can you refund me the difference?... BA agent: no, I cannot do that sir but you can cancel and rebook. No mention that I would forfeit the bulk of my ticket price for the first ticket.

Of course... in hindsight, it is obvious that I can cancel. Anyone can cancel any ticket... but if it is non-refundable class then you won't get much back. I should have known that. The problem I have is that the BA agent didn't point that out when they gave me the option to cancel and rebook. Had I done it I would have been over £100 worse off as the cancellation fee was £700 and the new flights were only £600 ( 2 x £300) cheaper.

They should mention the cancellation fees. They made it sound to me over the phone as if there was no charge.
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Old May 20, 17, 9:41 am
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Consumer protection laws are in place precisely to make sure companies are fair and clear about their terms.
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Old May 20, 17, 9:41 am
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You certainly have my sympathies, a horrible situation to be in, especially as it involves friends as well.

While I see that unfortunately that strictly BA haven't done anything wrong here, I hope you manage to find a sympathetic ear. It does seem rather poor if agents are making a habit of doing this, especially when people are calling up about ways to save money as in one of the responses.

Also, when you cancel they don't actually show you how much will be refunded? Seems like all this could catch a lot of less savvy flyers out...
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Old May 20, 17, 10:03 am
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Originally Posted by Worcester View Post
Consumer protection laws are in place precisely to make sure companies are fair and clear about their terms.
Yes, but I don't think that you could accuse BA (or any other airline for that matter) of not being clear enough as most of them inform the customer several times about whether or not the ticket can be cancelled, refunded and/or modified.

This is what BA indicates in "Manage booking" for a non-refundable ticket.
Cancel entire booking

There are no refunds except for any government & airport taxes. All sectors may be repriced for changes and/or refunds.
Seems pretty clear to me. While unfortunate for the OP, I don't see any "predatory cancelling" policy. At best, OP might have construed the words of a call center employee in the wrong way.
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Old May 20, 17, 10:19 am
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Originally Posted by peck View Post
Hi OP, I'm firmly in the 'BA can be utter swines on occasion' camp but, seriously, you really can't blame them here - you stated yourself this was a non-refundable ticket. What part of this did you not understand?
Originally Posted by WorldLux View Post
Yes, but I don't think that you could accuse BA (or any other airline for that matter) of not being clear enough as most of them inform the customer several times about whether or not the ticket can be cancelled, refunded and/or modified.

This is what BA indicates in "Manage booking" for a non-refundable ticket.


Seems pretty clear to me. While unfortunate for the OP, I don't see any "predatory cancelling" policy. At best, OP might have construed the words of a call center employee in the wrong way.
I have cancelled many "non-refundable" fares on domestic US airlines and have ALWAYS received credit for future travel. And I'm not asking for a refund...

Last edited by NWIFlyer; May 20, 17 at 11:22 am Reason: Merge successive posts
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Old May 20, 17, 10:21 am
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Originally Posted by shefgab View Post
You cancelled a non refundable ticket.... you get nothing back save for the government taxes. Most airlines don't give credit for cancelling a non refundable ticket.
I am curious about this part. When I buy tickets on AA, if I cancel it and it is non-refundable, the ticket is kept alive for up to a year where i can pay a change fee and re-use the value of the ticket on a new flight.

In fact, I just did this with a YVR-MAD return flight (almost all on BA metal). I flew the outbound but cancelled the inbound. I have up to a year to pay a change fee and any associated fare difference, but I can re-use the inbound at a later date, even though this is a non-refundable fare that I cancelled.

Is this a difference between BA and AA where with AA I can re-use the value of a cancelled ticket if I pay a change-fee and fare difference? Is this not something that BA typically does?
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Old May 20, 17, 10:21 am
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A lot of non-frequent flyers may assume that if a flight can be cancelled it also means a full refund (because the ideas are so entwined in our minds). Airline staff will generally not explain this is not ever the case with the 'heavily discounted' non-refundable tickets the vast majority of regular customers purchase - unless you specifically ask them.

In other words, what they say to you is factually correct - "yes you can cancel this flight and re-book" - but they are under no obligation to advise you that there will be no full refund of your first booking (as the assumption is in your head and not anywhere on paper). Is that sneaky? Perhaps. Though the intention may not be to deceive you but it may simply be a case of being too lazy to do more than just answer direct questions. It's definitely not great service but also entirely legal.
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