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At some point last year, British Airways simplified its short-haul fare structure. Although the standard fare codes (i.e. Y, O, V, K, H etc.) still operate behind the scenes, BA changed the way that these fares are presented to the public. When you search for short-haul flights on ba.com, you will now be presented with: Basic, Plus, Plus Flex and Business UK / Club Europe. Here’s how BA describes the different fares.
The majority of leisure travelers will be looking at the Basic and Plus fares. Basic is a more sensible branding of the old “Hand Baggage Only” fares that are an obvious attempt to appear more price-competitive with the low cost carriers. The two main “features” of Basic fares are that you do not get a checked baggage allowance; neither are you allowed to select a seat. Elite status is no help, despite general Oneworld practice / rules, and I know that this annoys hundreds of Gold and Silver card holders.
Plus fares are more in line with what one might expect from a supposed full-service airline. They include free seat selection 48 hours ahead of your flight (or much earlier, depending on your status level) and a checked bag (status also helps get you an extra bag if you travel heavy).
The difference between Basic and Plus pricing can vary, but it usually works out to £15-20 per flight. This is more-or-less what it will cost to pay separately for seat selection. Now I know we seem to be having a love-in with Ryanair lately here at InsideFlyer UK, but this BA Gold member has absolutely no intention of ever flying in a seat assigned by a computer! (Vueling has been the death of my elbows and knees…) BA company insiders active on Flyertalk insist that the computer algorithms assign preferential seating to elite status travelers, but I nonetheless prefer to just pay the Plus fare and select my seat in the emergency exit row.
Which eventually gets me to the main point of this post… One of the under-the-radar benefits of the Plus fare is that flight changes are free on the date of departure. I have taken advantage of this flexibility a couple of times lately and I am impressed. I am so impressed that I feel able to recommend that our readers should consider booking the cheapest flight of the day, regardless of whether it is actually their preferred flight. Here’s a random example of an upcoming trip to Rome:
You could save a couple hundred pounds by just booking the cheapest flights and then, on the day of departure, changing your flight for free. Here are the things you need to keep in mind:
- You can only change to flights departing between 00:00 and 23:59 on the exact same day as the flight you booked. (for free, other changes are possible by paying fees)
- You can only make said changes after midnight local time on the day of departure.
- You cannot change airports, so you can’t book a cheap Gatwick or London City flight and then change it to Heathrow.
- Your flight must be operated by British Airways and booked with a BA flight number.
- The new flight must have a seat available for sale in Economy. However, the booking class / fare code is irrelevant. You can even grab the absolutely last economy class seat on the plane, even if you originally booked a £50 fare months in advance. Even better, wouldn’t it be amazing if BA was overselling Economy and you received an op-up at the gate?!
- You must complete the change no later than one hour before the scheduled departure time of both your booked flight and the flight you are changing to (if earlier).
- You haven’t completed online check-in for your booked flight.
- You will find it easier to do the change online, through the mobile app or even by calling BA. Showing up at the airport, North American standby style, is a bit riskier.
- The facility is only available for simple one-way / return flights to/from London. It won’t work with connections, either short or long haul.
Of course, this travel hack won’t work if every single seat ends up being sold, but luckily many of the cheapest flights happen to be the very last flight of the evening so you shouldn’t really end up in the situation of being booked on a 9 a.m. when you have inflexible plans and actually want the 5p.m… So if you are happy with some calculated risk -and I can’t remember the last time I was opup-ed on a European flight because Euro Traveller was full or oversold – then you can book that cheaper flight and change your flight on the day of departure. Why pay more than you need to?