[LONDON] British Airways is facing a backlash from customers after making changes to the way passengers can earn and spend miles under its Avios frequent flyer programme, with some threatening to switch to rival airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and easyJet.
Following the example of US carriers, British Airways, owned by IAG, is tying the number of points awarded to pricing tiers within cabins, rather than the number of miles flown.
Those paying for fully-flexible first-class and business tickets will earn more points under the new scheme, while economy class passengers buying the cheapest, non-flexible, fares will see the number of points they earn slashed to a quarter of previous levels.
That prompted howls of protest on Twitter, with some threatening to dump British Airways and switch allegiance. "@Virgin Atlantic, you single?," one twitter user, #AimeeColleen, asked after the changes.
"It just makes me want to fly with the low cost companies,"another user, @Virginia-Bag tweeted.
RBC analyst Damian Brewer said it was a brave move that could pay off financially for IAG, but could also push some customers to budget rivals easyJet and Ryanair on short-haul routes.
"We think that overall this is likely a net positive as higher ticket spend is encouraged," he wrote in a note to clients.
This is not the first time changes to points gathering and spending has stirred debate in the industry. In the United States, United, Delta and Southwest have all altered programmes in recent years to base points earned on dollars spent, drawing ire from travellers on social media.
In Europe, one German passenger even took Lufthansa to court after the airline abruptly changed the number of miles required to get a free business or first class flight. A court sided with Lufthansa in 2013, but the airline said as a compromise it would give three months' notice of any changes to its Miles & More conditions.
In response to the social media criticism, British Airways highlighted on Thursday that the changes would also make it easier to book a flight using Avios points. A lack of available reward flights is a common complaint among users of airline loyalty schemes.
"We believe those that spend the most on flexible tickets should see the greatest rewards," the British Airways spokesman added.