Maximizing Compensation When Things Go Wrong in Flight

While overbooking and involuntary denied boarding compensation have been in the news a lot recently, airlines also offer compensation when their service and equipment falls short in other ways.  Recently, my wife and I were flying on paid British Airways Club World (business class) tickets from London to the West Coast of North America when we ran into a couple issues.  What did we do to get the best offer?  I’ll tell you, but first, the story.

How I Booked

British Airways had some relatively cheap business class tickets and they were also running a promotion where you could use Avios to reduce the price of your paid ticket. I used 30,000 miles, the AARP $400 off business class fare promotion, and about $1100 each in cash to purchase these tickets.  I credited the flights to Alaska Airlines, so I earned 150% bonus miles for a total of about 27,000 Alaska miles on the round trip!

When I started the booking process I only had a few hundred Avios in my account. To get more points, I transferred Membership Rewards (MR) points I earned with an Amex Platinum signup bonus to BA. The transfer was nearly instant.

You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points from a Sapphire ReserveSapphire Preferred, or Ink Preferred. You can also transfer SPG points earned with your Amex SPG card. Transfers via UR are generally instant, but SPG transfers can take a few days.

The Problems

First, before boarding was even finished, I discovered that one of my armrests was stuck in the lowered position.  For anyone unfamiliar with BA business class seats on their Boeing 777 airplanes, they look like this:

See those arm rests?  They should be in the up position, as shown in this photo, when the seat is in the sitting position and in the down position when the seat in the lie-flat position.  Unfortunately, an armrest on my seat was stuck in the down position.  I alerted a flight attendant who called maintenance. The maintenance guy came and checked it out during boarding and determined that they could not fix it before the flight.

At this point, the purser came by and let me know that my wife and I could swap seats with two non-revenue passengers.  The only problem was that they were in center seats, not in window and aisle seats, like my wife and I. So, we politely declined.

Then, during taxi, we find out that my wife’s inflight entertainment (IFE) was not working. The flight attendant rebooted her screen, but that didn’t solve the problem. My wife ended up watching the safety video on someone else’s screen. Apparently, that doesn’t comply with aviation regulations. So, a flight attendant had to come by and give my wife a personal safety demonstration!  It was awesome and awkward, all at the same time.

At this point the purser stopped by our seats again and again offered to move us. I wanted my window seat more than I wanted an arm rest, and we had iPads to entertain us for the flight, so I declined.  He thanked us for our understanding and let us know that he would stop by later in the flight to address our problems.

The Compensation

When he came back to our seats later in the flight he had a table with him and a compensation spreadsheet on it. This spreadsheet had compensation amounts listed for various inflight issues, including inoperable IFE and inoperable seats.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. If my wife and I were not members of British Airways Executive club, the most he could offer us was $50. But, if we were British Airways Executive Club members, he could offer us 9,000 Avios! Thankfully, we were Executive Club members, so we made out with 18,000 miles for issues that had very little effect on us.

Remember when I said we were flying paid business class? Well, we were crediting our flights to Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plan, rather than to British Airways, but none of that mattered. He just entered our BA Executive Club number into his tablet and a couple days later we each had an extra 9,000 Avios in our account. That’s more than enough for a short one way trip up or down the west coast!

The Takeaway

My advice, always join the frequent flyer program for every airline you fly. It’s usually free and you never know when you’ll need it!

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