BA to launch unbundled long-haul economy fares

British Airways and its partners American Airlines, Finnair and Iberia are to launch an unbundled long-haul economy fare with no checked luggage allowance from April 2018.

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BA World Traveller Cabin, Boeing 777-300 aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

British Airways is to launch a new “unbundled” long-haul economy fare on selected routes from April 2018.

Following the growth of Norwegian at London Gatwick, there has long been speculation and suggestions by BA’s CEO Alex Cruz that BA would launch an unbundled long-haul economy fare.

BA’s fellow International Airlines Group (“IAG”) subsidiary Aer Lingus also launched a new unbundled transatlantic saver fare last year.

BA has not yet confirmed the exact routes on which the new fare will be available and from which dates. And BA has yet to make an official PR announcement, which will require some delicate positioning. Although the “BA scraps free checked luggage” headlines will be inevitable.

However, the following was confirmed to the travel trade today, Thursday 1 March 2018:

Unbundled Long-Haul Economy Fares

BA’s new unbundled long-haul economy fare will be called “basic”.

A passenger purchasing a basic long-haul economy fare will not be entitled to a free checked luggage allowance, nor free seat selection at check-in. However, a checked bag and an allocated seat can be purchased for a fee. These fares are also non-refundable, but they can be changed for a fee.

These passengers will also be last to board the aircraft under BA’s system of group boarding. The hand baggage allowance will be unchanged.

Bronze, Silver and Gold members of the Executive Club will be able to choose a seat for free, but will still have no checked luggage allowance. This is the same as BA’s short-haul economy fares.

On board the aircraft, all passengers will receive exactly the same on board service, namely complimentary meals and drinks, use of the in-flight entertainment system and amenity kits and blankets. Contrary to speculation last year, BA is not removing free meals in economy.

The existing long-haul economy fare with a free checked luggage allowance and seat selection will be rebranded Standard.

Applicable Routes

The new fare will be applied to as yet unspecified destinations in North America, Asia and the Middle East. If the new fare is considered a success you can be confident that it will be rolled out network wide very quickly.

Flights On Partner Airlines

BA’s transatlantic joint-venture partners American Airlines, Finnair and Iberia will also launch the same fare. Whilst the basic entitlements remain the same, on Finnair the new fare will be branded “light”. There may also be differences to benefits and entitlements for frequent flyers between airlines, as well as boarding processes.

Aer Lingus is expected to join the transatlantic joint-venture, pending regulatory approval. However, its unbundled economy fare does not include complimentary headphones and blankets on board the aircraft. IAG’s nascent low cost long-haul airline LEVEL is also part of the joint-venture, but charges for meals and use of in-flight entertainment systems.

Iberia will, in tandem with BA, also offer the basic economy fare on as yet unspecified routes to Asia and the Middle East.

Why is BA doing this?

Partly this is a response to Norwegian and so that BA can be competitive on price when prospective passengers are comparing airlines on price comparison websites. BA also has the benefit of seeing how these fares work at Aer Lingus and LEVEL.

There is also a belief that lower headline prices can stimulate demand from new customers who will in turn progressively trade-up to higher cabins.

Will Virgin Atlantic follow suit?

Virgin Atlantic has been notable in not making any changes to its long-haul product to respond to the growth of Norwegian and low cost long-haul. However, with its transatlantic joint-venture partner Delta launching unbundled economy fares and this latest move from BA, a competitive response seems inevitable.

Further Guidance

Here are two documents prepared for the travel trade, one for the TATL Joint Business Unbundled Fares and another for BA & Iberia routes to Asia and the Middle East.

As these are aimed at travel agents they are fairly technical and guidance for passengers should be announced in due course.

We welcome any thoughts and comments below: