Questions of Cash: BA clipped my wings for an Air Miles flight to Marseilles


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The Independent Online

Q. I am an Avios card holder and was previously an Air Miles subscriber, with points accumulated from Tesco, Shell and BA. In early May, Avios offered a £30 voucher off any participating BA flight to be arranged by a date in May using a specified code.

I decided to use this for my annual visit to friends in Marseilles, and chose a date that allowed me to do Christmas shopping, with an outbound flight from Gatwick on 28 November and returning on 4 December. But I have received an email from BA cancelling both flights and offering alternatives in and out of Heathrow, a full refund, or the opportunity to rebook.

I specifically wanted to be Gatwick-based, did not want any other flight in particular and so opted for the refund, which is being processed. But this means the voucher has not been used. BA said the cancellation was because of "winter schedules" and the voucher was originated by Avios so was nothing to do with them. Avios said the voucher had been used, so could not be reissued and the offer had expired. They said that instead I could use my Air Miles for a winter break, such as a flight from Gatwick to Marseilles! SC, Kent

A. BA ceased operating the Gatwick to Marseilles route on the winter schedule, after you made the booking. Avios suggests you were offered an "equivalent" alternative from another London airport, which you declined. An Avios spokeswoman says: "When a passenger cancels a flight with this particular discount our terms and conditions clearly state: 'If a ticket is cancelled or refunded, the promotion code cannot be reactivated or reused for a new booking." But Avios regards yours as "an unusual situation", so it "will happily extend the discount to another flight". A BA customer service representative will contact you to arrange a new booking. You say that you will now opt for a flight from Gatwick in the spring.

Q. I have just returned from Australia where I worked as a doctor for a year. The pay in Australia is a lot better than the UK and I now have AUS$22,000 – about £15,000 – in my Australian savings account. I want to bring this money back to the UK to use in a year or two, as part of the deposit for a house. I have paid tax on the income in Australia and I want to avoid paying tax on it again and I want to avoid paying a large amount in transfer fees. The maximum I can transfer from an Australian account is $5,000 a day, which generates a $24 to $32 charge each time. How can I make the transfers in the most cost-efficient way and where should I hold the funds here? RB, London.

A. Danny Cox of Hargreaves Lansdowne advisors says: "There shouldn't be any tax involved moving the money back to the UK, since it is capital and the money has derived from after-tax income. It is often far cheaper to transfer large amounts of money using a currency broker rather than through a bank." He suggests that you maximise your cash ISA allowance – currently £5,640 per annum – for your savings and otherwise use a best-buy guide to find the highest interest rate-paying savings account.

According to MoneyFacts, the highest-paying savings account at present that is not tied into a fixed-term bond is with the Nationwide Building Society, paying 2.75 per cent. The highest-paying, one-year bonds are offered by the State Bank of India, at 3.33 per cent, and the Bank of London and the Middle East, at 3.10 per cent. The best cash ISA is listed as offered by the Coventry Building Society, at 3.25 per cent. All these firms are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which guarantees deposits up to a maximum of £85,000.

Q. My husband and I have been loyal BT customers for 43 years and have had BT broadband since 2003. Despite living within the shadow of the BT Tower in central London, our broadband speed is 1.92 mbps. From time to time during the last few years we have contacted BT for assistance, only to be told we don't have BT broadband. In frustration we employed technology consultants the Geek Squad to visit our house to analyse and sort out our broadband on 22 July. I have since spent more than five hours on the phone to BT and have been reduced to tears twice.

Eventually BT agreed we do have its broadband. I have submitted two complaints to BT through its website. I have been told by BT on the phone that our bill could be cut from the current £28.90 a month, to £21.60, plus line rental of £14.60, which would make the new charge £36.20 if we sign a new, 12-month contract. But our actual recent payments by direct debit have been just £14.71 per month. I have also been assured that an order has been placed to upgrade our broadband speed, to give us a download speed of 10 mbps – yet five weeks later and our download speed is still 1.92 mbps and the upload speed is 0.23 mbps. To make things worse, we are inundated with mail shots from BT offering what appear to be attractive broadband deals. BC, London.

A. We had our own difficulties in getting a response from BT. But a spokesman assures us that your broadband was upgraded earlier this month and should now be providing a download speed of between 10 and 15 mbps (megabytes per second). The tariff is on BT's option 3, which is £13.25 per month, including evening and weekend calls. In total, this comes out at more than your current charge, but as a goodwill gesture BT will continue to charge you at existing prices for nine months. The previous contract has been cancelled. All outstanding billing issues should be resolved by the end of the month.

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