Think Miles & More is Bad? Check Out What British Airways Has to Offer

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 20, 2011

A few months back, I wrote an article about how glaring flaws in Lufthansa’s rewards program were causing me to question my long-time relationship with the Star Alliance member. With these doubts in mind, the 100,000 initial bonus miles being offered at the time by the British Airways Credit Card proved too much to resist. What’s the worst that could come of shifting my airline loyalty program allegiances and opening the British Airways Card, I thought? Sure, BA’s network of partner airlines doesn’t even come close to matching Star Alliance’s, but shouldn’t that result in the company compensating via better rewards, customer service, etc.?

Apparently not, as my experience thus far with the British Airways rewards program has made Star Alliance look terrific by comparison. While BA’s problems are numerous, they can be separated into two primary categories: effectively worthless rewards and unprecedentedly bad customer service.

While British Airways can offer you the moon in terms of miles (aka Avios points) thanks to a generous credit card offer, the problem comes when trying to use them. Redeeming BA miles is next to impossible, given both the general lack of fares bookable with miles and the fact that BA does not allow you to redeem for merchandise. Ironically, BA is laughably inferior to Star Alliance in both of these regards.

In addition, you can’t use miles to purchase fare upgrades at the airport. This must be done ahead of time, which makes absolutely no sense. What good reason could there be for preventing customers from using their miles on seats that will otherwise go empty? Allowing such a practice would only serve to diminish the number of miles available in the future for the purchase of seats that others might still buy with cash. If anything, the rule should be the other way around (i.e. only allow miles redemption at the airport).

Customer Service
Isn’t customer service designed to help customers deal with problems and thereby keep them happy and retain their business? One would think, but apparently BA is looking for a game-changer, as it seems to be applying a laissez-faire approach to customer service.

During a recent call to the British Airways Executive Club customer service department, instead of being given the usual directions to wait on hold until the next available team member could field my call, I was actually instructed to visit the company’s website. Then I was hung up on! I called back, and the same thing happened (check out the audio below). That just goes to show you how much, or – perhaps more fittingly – how little, British Airways cares about those it asks to be loyal patrons.

Final Thoughts
Though it was hard to imagine just a few months ago, I now appreciate the Star Alliance / Miles & More rewards program. But this really isn’t a credit to Star Alliance or Lufthansa. Rather, it’s a definite knock against the British Airways Executive Club program. I don’t have any problems with BA in general and have had an altogether positive experience flying with the company, but both its co-branded credit card and the Avios points it disseminates basically serve as false advertising as well as a black eye for the company’s customer relations efforts. My only hope is that BA works out the kinks and can be a company consumers can be proud to be associated with moving forward.

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