News: BA comes into line with low-cost airlines

The best deals, the latest hot spots and what's new in travel
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Quietly and without any public statement, British Airways has been abandoning one of its long-standing practices designed to restrict the availability of low fares. BA is now selling its very cheapest seats as one-way flights.

A decade ago, every airline could limit access to cheap European fares by making budget travellers jump through two hoops: insisting on a return trip, and stipulating a minimum stay of one Saturday night. By these means, business travellers were obliged to pay the highest fares.

Inconveniently for the airlines, a decade ago easyJet declared itself indifferent to how long its customers chose to stay away; they could return the same day, or from a different airport, or not at all, because the airline has only ever sold one-way flights.

Four years ago, the rise of no-frills flying undermined BA's "Saturday-night minimum" rule, which was ditched for most European flights. Now, the arcane fare structure whereby a one-way flight could cost much more than a return is coming to an end, too.

"Return trips are still the most popular option," says a spokeswoman for BA, "but we recognise the need of some short-haul passengers to have the flexibility of one-way fares."

That flexibility does not yet extend right across the European network; for a New Year trip to Moscow, the lowest return fare is £208, but a one-way flight is £200 more.

On most routes, though, BA has come into line with the low-cost airlines. As a result, Europe has opened up for people who prefer BA's service and route network.

For example, an itinerary for next week including a one-way from Heathrow to Prague, and a return from Berlin, comes in at a reasonable £140 - previously, the price of two one-way fares would have topped £500.

Until next Tuesday, 29 November, BA has a seat sale to Spain and Portugal with one-way fares designed to compete directly with those of easyJet, Monarch and Thomsonfly on key routes; in January, you can fly to Malaga from Gatwick for £34 or from Heathrow for £47.

Most other airlines are expected to fall into line with British Airways on routes to and from the UK.

BMI - British Airways' main European competitor - adopted the policy on many of its routes last year. On some "code-share" flights, however, outlandish prices still prevail. In response to a test booking made four weeks ahead for an economy seat on an off-peak departure from Heathrow to Munich (operated by Lufthansa), the airline's reservation system reported that "the class selected is no longer available" and demanded £409 for a one-way trip in business class.