BA runs into air miles squall

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The Independent Online

British Airways' decision to reform the way the airline rewards its most loyal frequent flyers has run into a spot of turbulence, alienating the customers that chief executive Ron Eddington most wants to attract.

British Airways' decision to reform the way the airline rewards its most loyal frequent flyers has run into a spot of turbulence, alienating the customers that chief executive Ron Eddington most wants to attract.

The changes implemented last October are understood to have prompted a barrage of complaints from some of BA's most regular - and important - customers. Passengers are understood to be unhappy about a system that forces them to travel much further before they can claim free short-haul flights to destinations in Britain and Europe.

BA has also admitted that delays have resulted from its decision to change its credit card issuer for some customers from NatWest to Amex.

Many major customers are unhappy about the downside of BA's changes that oblige them to amass far more "BA miles" before they qualify for the free short-haul journeys that are popular for weekend breaks. In the new structure, it is understood passengers must make an additional 20 trips to Paris before qualifying for a complimentary flight there.

"Journeys of under 600 miles are now more difficult to get," the BA spokeswoman said. "I don't know how many complaints we've had, but most people realise that the changes have been beneficial."

At the core of BA's changes, which saw the introduction of eponymous BA miles for its most regular passengers, has been an attempt to reward frequent flyers with long-haul flights rather than trips to less distant locations.

Previously, for example, it would have taken 34 trips to Sydney for a passenger to qualify for a free journey to the same location. Under BA's reformed system, only five such trips are needed.

A BA spokeswoman said: "Before we made the changes, we did a lot of research among our members, and found a lot of people earning a lot of miles who could not use them."

She also confirmed that the transition to Amex cards for the frequent flyers who qualify for "BA miles" had been less than smooth. "There was a delay with sending out new cards because of the switchover," she said. "We have had more applications than we anticipated. Users will be compensated with air miles."

NatWest continues to issue the cards for beneficiaries of BA's normal air miles.

Rival Virgin Atlantic prides itself on the imaginative rewards it offers, which include white-water rafting, ballooning and trips to Necker, the Caribbean island owned by Sir Richard Branson.

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