It’s not always fair

by Jan Wheatcroft

I don’t use a credit card a lot. I find it inhibits my ability to save money, making it so easy to buy things I might not really need. It makes spending so easy so I try to restrict myself and use cash or checks or debit my account.

I have had my major credit card with British Air and over the years carefully saved up my “points” or avios as they call them. I finally amassed 75,250 avios and was ready to book a round-trip flight to London for this summer’s trip. With age, I have discovered the pleasure of traveling in what is called premium class—just a step up from good old economy but below business class. I have flown premium class with both British Air and Air New Zealand and must admit I prefer Air New Zealand’s seating arrangement and service. But since my points—or avios—were with British Air, I needed to change my booking strategy. 

I called BA and discovered that I had plenty of avios for a round-trip flight in premium class to London. In fact, 70,000 were all that was needed. I had been receiving notices from BA for months, encouraging me to spend my avios with them. This was in the beginning of March and my travel dates were from the 20th of May until the 7th of July, with a round-trip flight in between to Stockholm, Sweden and a return to London. 

With dates in hand, I called BA and was given to their travel agent in Dehli, India. I told him my dates and he informed me that there were no seats available.  Strange, I thought, so I told him to try the day before or two days before or a day or two after May 20. Still, no seats available in premium class on BA. “No seats at all for anyone?” I asked. Oh yes, there were seats available, just not for avios—only if you pay for them.  It had taken me six years to save up these avios and they had begged me to book with them. Now that I wanted to, I was denied. Only with real money could I get a seat. “What do you have available on those dates?” I asked. “There is one seat available on economy, which you can have for fewer avios than for premium class and get a booking to Sweden and back to London as well.” I have to admit I did not feel joyful at this news.

I do not like to travel on a 12- to 13-hour flight jammed in an economy seat, and I have learned to love the semi-luxury of premium seats. Mentally I did a dance, saving money versus comfort. No comfort but more money to spend. In the end, money won and I elected to book the flight. Then I asked what day I booked to come home. Apparently, he had forgotten to book that part of it. I had no plans of living in Heathrow, London and I needed to get home on the 7th of July. Surprise! No seats with avios available, even in economy. 

Well, going is great and having a holiday is a pleasure, but I do love coming home. I felt my voice rising and I exploded, feeling totally exploited. “Spend your money with us using our credit card, save your points or avios with us so you can use them for a lovely ‘free’ trip! But, sorry, no seats are available for free.”  As I was barking away, I became aware that my Indian friend had hung up on me and I was shouting to the air.

Then it was decision time. I must admit, I opted for the easiest and most pleasurable choice. I chose to fly round-trip to London via Air New Zealand in their premier class, which is miles above (fun pun) what British Air offers and pay the rather huge cost for the comfort offered. I immediately called my friend Helga, who is a travel agent. She found seats for me but those sell quickly so I couldn’t have the exact day that I wanted nor at the lowest price offered. But I did get my tickets. 

I learned from a number of different agents that working with British Air is neither easy nor a positive experience and they seem to care little about how they treat their customers. That is the main aspect a customer looks for when dealing with an airline—its honesty and how one is treated. Throughout all of the six years, they begged me to spend my hard-earned avios with them, but then I discover that nothing is available. No one really cares or is willing to deal with things fairly. Even their charge card is not free but, for the chance to save up my (now unusable points) to take a free vacation of my choice, it seemed worth it at the time to pay the yearly fee.

I will not renew my charge card, nor will I use the points. To say that the trip is “free” is also not totally correct. There are high taxes, which one must pay in cash and, in the end, it would not actually be a free trip. The other problem with BA points is that they are not usable for any other plane fare but their own. I once used some points I had with them for a hotel in London, which was one of the poorest places I have stayed in and located quite out of the way. 

The point of all this is, in my experience, things are not always what they seem to be. I have learned that I have to check more carefully to find the truth in what is offered. I have met so many people who tell me that they enjoyed a great free trip using their card points or airline points. I had great hopes that I, too, would travel in these “free flight paths.” Sometimes you get what you pay for—and Air New Zealand suits me fine.


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