Loyalty schemes are often touted as a good way to retain customers and to keep them choosing your brand over another, and British Airways’ Avios scheme for airmiles is no exception. However, running a successful a loyalty scheme is a lot like trying to please a good woman- always better to keep her happy, as once you start scrimping on what you’re offering, hell hath no fury…
New changes have been announced to the British Airways airmiles (Avios) scheme that will see the scheme ‘gutted’ and ‘devalued’ for normal, economy class users. However, this is not a cost-cutting exercise, as British Airways are, at the same time, making the scheme far more generous for those who, arguably, need the benefits less as they are already forking out first – and business-class prices.
For example,from 28 April a basic economy-class ticket from London to New York will earn just 865 airmiles, down from 3,458. Previously, a Heathrow-Vancouver economy return earned 9,400 points which was more than enough for a round-trip from London to Milan (subject to a £35 payment). Now, some economy passengers face a 75% fall in the number of Avios earned, to just 2,350 meaning the same traveller would now need to make four round trips to earn enough for a journey to Italy and back.
Passengers in Scotland and northern England face even more dramatic increases in the cost of redeeming points for journeys to Europe. At present they are entitled to a free domestic connecting flight, often to London, but this ‘courtesy’ is also being withdrawn “to bring the UK in line with the rest of the world.”
Business and first-class passengers are the big winners from the changes to point-earning. These travellers will see their Avios points rise by as much as two-thirds, with the Heathrow to JFK traveller picking up 8,645 airmiles, up from 5,187, on a one-way flight. However, when business travellers come to redeem their points, the number of Avios they have to spend will rise. For example, a business class flight from London to Sydney currently costs 100,000 Avios points, but this will rise to 125,000 at off-peak times and 150,000 at peak times.
And this peak and off peak pricing for reward flights is across the board, hitting those who travel at Christmas or during the school summer holidays hardest. For example, a single flight to Rome will cost 7,500 points in July but 6,500 points in January. BA said the new structure means that “for two thirds of the year you will require fewer Avios than now to fly on reward seats.”
To attempt to sweeten the deal and head off the inevitable PR storm, BA is promising to make half a million extra seats available for travellers trying to use their accumulated points. “We guarantee that more than 9m reward seats will be available on our flights, with a minimum of two Club World/Club Europe and four World Traveller/Euro Traveller reward seats on all British Airways operated flights that are offered for sale on ba.com,” it said, before going on to excuse the changes to the scheme as being in the name of ‘fairness’, by making more expensive tickets earn higher rewards. “In practice this means that if you pay for a flexible ticket you will earn more Avios than the lowest priced ticket in the same cabin.”
So are you going to be affected by the dramatic changes? Or are you more prosaic, happy that getting something for nothing is always a good thing, even if it’s a lot less something than it used to be…
Tony Steeles from Croydon said his car kept being targeted by hungry squirrel gangs, hell bent on feasting on the eco-friendly bits of the vehicle.
Mr Steeles first noticed teeth marks on his rubber areas, and suspected those varmints because only the roof was affected. Tony said: “I got a new car from Toyota. I’d not had it very long and I noticed that some of the rubber parts of the car, like the aerial, were being damaged.”
“So I had to call out the AA because the car had lights coming on the dashboard. He looked at it and said it’s rodent or squirrel damage.”
“So I took it back and got it repaired. This happened a few times and eventually I got it replaced. Since then I keep the car in the garage. I could see the teeth marks. It was definitely some sort of wildlife, and I thought it was a squirrel not a rat because the area affected was on the roof.”
Speaking to Auto Express, Mr Steele said: “The aerial’s been chewed off twice, the oxygen sensor’s been damaged and various rubber-like trim parts have been chewed.”
Handy tip, from someone who has been there: wasabi paste. Smear your aerial with that. Foxes don’t like wasabi paste. Even the fancy inner London ones.
A spokesman for Toyota told Auto Express: “We have had very few complaints of this occurring in the UK.” But said they would “investigate if any improvements can be made to the design of our products to deter rodents”. Mr Steeles added: “To be honest, Toyota have been quite good about it.”
Which is quite good really.
We like consumer championing here at Bitterwallet, and once again the Italian competition watchdog AGCM has brought out the big guns and landed a massive fine for unscrupulous business practices. This time, its budget airline Ryanair, who have been slapped with a €550,000 (£412,000) fine for poor customer service practices, including “extreme difficulty” and exorbitant costs.
ACGM already investigated Ryanair last year, after a deluge of complaints from passengers over its premium rate customer service phone lines. Fliers found it “difficult and unreasonably expensive” to get reimbursements, to find alternative flights following cancellations or to receive detailed billing information for tax and expenses purposes. Others complained of huge difficulties when attempting to change their bookings before the flight or even getting accessibility information for passengers in wheelchairs.
The AGCM did acknowledge Ryanair’s effort in the last year to improve its service, which included getting rid of a premium phone number for passengers requiring assistance with boarding, but those measures were deemed not sufficient to avoid a fine. This is also the second fine imposed by the Italian watchdog on Ryanair in less than a year. Last February, the airline was fined €850,000 (£635,000) for the “lack of transparency in their travel insurance policies” and the “obstacles created in case of refund” during the online purchase of airline tickets.
Besides the money, this ruling is likely to come as a blow to Ryanair after having so publicly turned over a new leaf on the customer service front, with flamboyant Chief Michael O’Leary even saying he was trying not to p*** people off. ACGM also recently fined TripAdvisor for publishing ‘misleading reviews’
Ryanair has issued a statement saying it has noted the ruling and is looking into an appeal.
Now that the price of oil has gone down, prompting savings with our energy bills and at the petrol pumps, does that mean the price of holiday flights is going to fall? Well, according to what you’ve just read in our headline, it doesn’t look like it.
This follows what Flybe have stated, saying that this drop in oil costs will have a “minimal impact” on the price of air travel. With that, shares in Flybe dropped accordingly by over 20%.
Saad Hammad, chief executive, who is trying to get the company making a profit again has been selling the company’s peripheral assets and reworking their routes. He’s certain that the airline is on the up (pardon the pun), saying: “Flybe’s improvement in its core UK business continues to progress. Only a year into our three year transformation we now have a platform which enables us to compete in a tough environment where the consumer demands value.”
“We have responded to that by keeping our fares low and launching new routes. Having removed nearly a $1bn of future liabilities over the course of this year in relation to the firm legacy order for additional Embraer E175 aircraft and ongoing losses of Flybe Finland, we are making solid progress towards finding a solution to our remaining legacy issue, Project Blackbird.”
Project Blackbird sounds like a secret services strategy where they incite race riots or something. Either way, fact is, Flybe won’t be dropping their prices and at the moment, it doesn’t look like anyone else in the industry is going to bother either.
Remember Bush? No, not the fella who ran America even though, remarkably, he had less braincells than Reagan – the people who used to make tape-eating stereos? Well, they owned wholly by Argos these days and together, they’ve developed , two devices which they say are ‘budget-beating’.
Argos will sell them for just £49.99 and £79.99 and both devices will run on Android, obviously.
The cheaper model is a mobile that has a 4-inch display, 4GB of internal storage and a 5-megapixel camera. It’ll have interchangeable covers too. The more expensive device has a slightly larger 5-inch display and 8GB of internal storage.
Argos mobile phone buyer, Nick Clarke, said “The new Bush smartphone is the answer for technology beginners or digital veterans on a budget. Affordable and easy to use, people can use these phones for both their work and personal life as it holds two SIM cards, making it one of the most flexible smartphones on the market.”
There’ll also be a 4G enabled Alcatel OneTouch Pop 2 device too, selling for £99.95 and SIM-free, which also has a ‘power bank’ back-up for when your battery is running low.
In addition to all that, Bush will be selling tablets as well as mobiles, with one of them having an 8 inch screen and a slightly bigger version with a 10-inch screen. The MyTablets will also run on Android.
Things are heating up in the budget technology stakes!
The self-styled ‘fourth emergency service’ believe that car insurance could rise by up to 10% in the next 12 months, and that home insurance premiums are unlikely to go any lower either.
According to the latest index of the cheapest deals on the market showed that the cost of annual comprehensive car insurance had risen by 0.2% to £540 in the final three months of 2014.
However the total was still £200 cheaper than the peak in 2011, the AA said.
Janet Connor, managing director of AA Insurance said: “Car insurance is extremely competitive. Nevertheless the underlying trend is upward.”
The AA Insurance Shoparound survey helps to sift out the best deals on an average premium from the five cheapest quotes from insurers and price comparison websites. It showed that the cheapest annual motor insurance had still risen in price during the second half of 2014.
However, the AA has previously said claims management companies and law firms may have found loopholes around the reforms as many insurers have reported a surge in lower-value ‘cash for crash’ claims, where bad people deliberately brake to cause a vehicle to crash into the rear of their car
Meanwhile, the cheapest buildings and contents insurance premiums didn’t alter much significantly in the final three months of 2014, the AA added.
The AA also said that it expected premiums to stay still, bar any freakish weather action this Winter.
As you’ll be aware, the chunnel was closed for most of Saturday because of a fire and then it was locked down again on Sunday because of an unrelated electrical fault. Today, there’s only one of the two tunnels open, which means more delays and headaches for passengers.
It is hoped that the Channel Tunnel will be back to full speed tomorrow, but after this weekend, no-one should hold their breath.
The amount of passengers inconvenienced over the weekend are in advance of 12,000, which is a lot of compensation needing to be paid out. On Saturday, Eurostar cancelled 26 of their services.
The cancellations were a result of a lorry which was on fire (or more accurately, it was “”smouldering”, which meant two CO2 detectors went off and everything had to be shut down. Then, once that was put out, “residue smoke” had to be cleared, meaning further delays. Then, when it looked like things were getting sorted, there was a problem with a power supply which meant more hair being torn out in frustration.
So what happens now?
Well, if you’re planning to travel on Eurostar, they’ve said that they’re planning to run a full service, albeit with delays, so you should check-in as normal, but expect to spend some time sat around and tutting.
“As Eurotunnel will not be completely operational Eurostar services may be subject to delays of up to about 30 minutes,” the company said. “If you were scheduled to travel on Saturday or Sunday and wish to change your plans and were impacted by the tunnel closure, you can exchange your ticket free of charge, within the next 60 days to travel anytime within the next 120 days, or apply for a refund.”
If you’re wanting to complain, then there are long waits on the Eurostar telephone services. You can try ringing them - 03432 186186, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri – or, if you prefer, you can email them at email@example.com and include the details of what happened as well as your six-letter booking reference.
Eurostar’s website says that they have a “generous compensation policy” for passengers who have been affected by delays so if all of the above switches you off, they have an online form to help you get your money back.
And now, instead of some hold music, here’s a man being run over by a moped outside London’s St Pancras, live on the telly. Both are fine.
The Swiss-based travel peddler runs tours in the UK through 35 outlets alongside John Lewis, as well as in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Hong Kong, China and India.
The company are saying that all current bookings will be honoured and that people needn’t feel compelled to riot about it.
The company said the travel market environment was “likely to remain fast-changing, requiring travel companies to choose distinct development priorities”.
Instead it will concentrate on areas such as Asia, Middle East and Africa. This way, Kuoni reckon they’ll grow faster than the global travel markets which are expected to expand. Kuoni said in a statement that it “firmly believes that the outbound business can be better developed under new ownership”.
Kuoni Travel UK managing director Derek Jones said: “It’s very much business as usual right now for all our staff and customers. We firmly believe that the outbound business can be better developed under new ownership and we’ll be working closely with our colleagues in Switzerland to make sure we find the right buyers.”
Anyone fancy a whip round?
You may have heard, or experienced, the mega delays in London on 27 December that were caused by over-running engineering works over Christmas. London King’s Cross was closed and passengers diverted to Finsbury Park, where they faced crowds, queues and delays lasting hours. However, now East Coast Trains has started responding to requests for delay repay compensation, except their email is so dodgy, most people are wary of responding.
Under the delay repay scheme, delays of over 30 minutes qualify for compensation from the relevant rail operator- exact details of how to apply will depend on the rail company, but for reference, here’s the details for East Coast Trains. Because of the massive number of people affected on 27 December, however, East Coast have decided to send out a blanket email to respond to those seeking compensation.
However, as reported in the Guardian, the email itself is either very poorly, or very cleverly worded such that it sounds like it wouldn’t look amiss coming from an embarrassed Nigerian Price caught short without his wallet.
The email comes from a Michael Ross and says that “as a gesture of goodwill for the disruption and inconvenience to your travel plans, your claim will, on this occasion only, be paid in cash by Bacs transfer.”
The email then asks for your bank account number and sort code to be emailed by return to firstname.lastname@example.org and “your payment will then be made as quickly as possible although, in view of the holiday period, please allow 14 working days for the transfer to be made”.
The email (and Michael Ross’s existence) have been verified, and while this is actually a genuine attempt by East Coast Trains to make amends, no-one should reply to an email with their bank details without thinking very carefully. If you don’t want to send your bank details by email you claim your 50% refund for 27 December the traditional way using East Coast’s online form. This does not require you to send your bank details, but on the downside, you may be sent rail vouchers instead of the cash offered by the phishing-a-like email.
East Coast have apologised again for both the delays and the poor email.
If you have an annual season ticket, this train costs you £4,068 and, according to reports, this particular train – the 7.29am from the Sussex coast to London Victoria – was late for every single journey last year.
If you commute on the 7.14am from Brighton to London, that service only got in on-time only once a fortnight last year. The 7.44am train got in on-time once a week. So if you’ve been using these services to get into work and your boss has called you a liar, show them this article.
Then karate chop them in the throat for not believing you.
Across the country, 65% of trains were on time, with the best performances found in Chiltern. Barely half of Southern trains were punctual, which isn’t good enough.
A spokesman for Southern said: “We acknowledge that the performance of the 7.29am Brighton to London Victoria service has been particularly disappointing. Although we’re working hard to improve its performance, its planned path is extremely tight because the network is so busy.”
Busy or not, if you’re paying over four grand for a season ticket, you’d expect the service to be on-time at least once in a year.
Well so far 2015 has got off to a great start. Petrol prices are down, even energy prices are coming down and now the Treasury is intervening to get package holidays and bus fares to become cheaper too. Get in.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has written an Official Letter to five major bus companies, package holiday operators and Mayor of London Boris Johnson urging them to ensure prices are dropped in line with the fall in crude oil prices. After all, these same companies were the first to up prices in recent years…
The intervention by the Treasury raises the possibility of families across the country being able to take advantage of cheaper package holidays in time for the summer holidays, with Mr Alexander saying it was said it was “only right” that companies enjoying boosted profits from plummeting oil prices passed on “every last penny” to the public.
“With fuel prices dropping across the country it’s right that the full benefits are passed on,” said Mr Alexander as he revealed the latest series of interventions by the Treasury. “Falling oil prices are like a giant tax cut to the economy. But the positive effect will only be felt if the oil price falls are passed on,” he finished, incisively.
“While drivers are already seeing the cost of filling up the car come down, the millions of Britons who use the bus are still paying what they did a few months ago. Consumers have suffered the pain of high oil prices, it’s only right that companies and organisations do all they can to pass on as quickly as possible every last penny of oil price falls.”
Of course, the Treasury cannot force private companies to do anything, much less set their prices. However, the recent pressure on domestic energy companies has led to the first company cracking and agreeing to reduce prices, so fingers crossed we can soon see our money going even further this year.
With January always representing a struggle to make the pennies last until the end of the month, news that the falling oil prices could make a recognisable difference is bound to be welcome. Calculations by the RAC Foundation show that drivers could be at least £140 better off this year.
According to the RAC Foundation, based on an average price of £1.17 per litre of petrol and diesel, motorists spent an estimated £2.57bn on fuel last month. This is a £330m total saving compared with last summer when the average price of petrol was around £1.33 per litre. For the average motorist who drives around 8,700 miles a year, and assuming that the price of petrol and diesel remains near its current levels, that saving equates to about £140 per year. This has already been likened to an unexpected tax cut for drivers, although it remains to be seen whether the fuel duty escalator will remain frozen when the Chancellor presents his budget in March- after all, lower prices might not mean lower duty, but it will mean the Government’s tax take in VAT on petrol will be down too.
“The reduction in pump prices might be measured in pennies but the combined savings for drivers add up to billions of pounds,” said Prof Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation. “This is money that will be pumped back into the economy to relieved households rather than disappearing into the pockets of oil producers. Consumers will not just have more money to spend, that money will go further as the goods we buy fall in price as road haulage costs drop.”
Unlike domestic fuel prices, pump price savings have already started to filter through to drivers, with some reports of prices dropping below £1 per litre for the first time since May 2009. Combined with drops in other costs, like grocery shopping owing to price wars between the big supermarkets, 2015 could just be the year we start to feel a bit better off…
Britain’s bus services are in a bad way. No, we’re not talking about people moaning about the body odour of others or youths listening to music too loudly on their bright red headphones, but rather, the services themselves.
Councils have been cutting the budgets to our bus services, which weren’t great to begin with and a report by the Campaign for Better Transport reckons we’re at crisis point. They say that half the councils in England and Wales have cut funding for buses in 2014/15, which the Department for Transport batted away, saying that these decisions were best made locally, so go and tut at them,
The report also says that rural areas have been worst hit by cuts and that, nationally, in 2014/15, almost 500 bus services were cut, altered or withdrawn. It added that 22 councils cut bus funding by more than 10% in 2014/15 and that the overall reduction in Wales in 2014/15 is more than £900,000, with 86 bus services having been cut, altered or withdrawn.
CBT’s Martin Abrams said the government needed to “wake up to the crisis facing buses”. He continued: ”Across the country, bus services are being lost at an alarming rate. Year-on-year cuts to budgets mean entire networks have now disappeared, leaving many communities with little public transport and in some cases none at all.”
“It’s very worrying that further steep cuts in budgets are threatened next year and beyond. The government must introduce new initiatives which recognise the vital social, economic and environmental role buses play.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union, wasn’t best pleased either, saying: “This shocking new report lifts the lid on the trail of misery left strewn across the country as multimillion-pound cuts to bus services condemn hundreds of thousands of people to lives of isolation and imprisonment in their own homes. The poisonous cocktail of cuts and privatisation reinforces our call for bus services to be taken back into public ownership with the resources required to run as a comprehensive public service.”
In addition to that, thousands of drivers are preparing to strike tomorrow as part of a campaign for a single agreement covering pay and working conditions, with around 27,000 Unite members from 18 companies protesting. One of the main sticking points is that there’s no collective pay rate for bus drivers, which means wages differentiate greatly. Some drivers are paid £3 an hour more than others, among the 80-odd pay rates in the industry.
And when passengers were polled, two thirds backed the drivers’ campaign. Transport for London says that the strike will begin at 4am tomorrow and then hit the night bus service on Tuesday evening.
TfL issued the guidance below on their website.
However, a new study has shown that English train passengers are being properly rinsed, and can save up to 60% if they buy their tickets in Wales.
It’s a bit of a trek, admittedly, to get to Wales to then try and save on a train ticket, however people in Bristol – 20 miles from Wales – are stumping up over £50 or more just to get to major cities in the North, and single peak time tickets bought in Newport or Cardiff to the same destinations are up to £58.60 cheaper.
The key example of the ludicrousness is a trip to Manchester during morning rush hour on Monday next week will cost £80.70 from Bristol Temple Meads, but a train leaving Newport just four minutes later travelling to the same destination will cost less than half the price – only £32.
Welsh train operator Arriva offers cheaper fares on journeys heading north than can be found on many journeys leaving from Bristol, while services from Cardiff to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Blackpool also proved cheaper than travelling from Bristol, but with just minutes added to the journey.
Latest figures from the Office of Rail Regulation reveal huge disparities between the government funding for passenger journeys, varying from an average of £2.19 per journey in England to £9.33 in Wales.
These price differences are the result of the system used by nationalised operator British Rail, which was privatised during the 1990s, according to Christopher Irwin, a director of Travel Watch South West, which promotes the interest of public transport users.
Irwin said: “The history of British Rail helps us understand how fares are priced. Before the railway was privatised, lines used to be classified in three categories; intercity fares, South East fares, which covered a lot of lines to and from London, and regional railway fares.”
“Traditionally regional lines would charge less, as those journeys would contain more stops and take slightly longer. Something like Bristol to Manchester would be classed as an intercity line, whereas something leaving from Newport and travelling through Wales is likely to be a regional line and would cost less.”
Not wanting to get all electioneering, but the party that promises to re-nationalise the railways, could win by a landslide.
The winning Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 SE beat 25 other new cars that made the overall shortlist, as well as winning the small car category.
It beat the key big boys in its class – the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo – for space and practicality. It also had good notes for the touchscreen technology and the Mirrorlink system, which works with Android phones to provide Sat Nav action.
And yet, still, Skoda is still a bit of a joke to some people, which seems rather unfair.
Other cars that did well in What Car!!! award dole-out, included the Hyundai i10 1.2 Premium in the Best City Car category, while Skoda’s larger Octavia won the award for best family car.
Best electric car was the Audi A3 e-tron, with the same company’s TT 2.0 TFSI Sport scooping the award for best coupé and the A3 Cabriolet 1.4 TFSI 150 Sport taking the gong for convertibles. Ford picked up good notices in the estate and hot hatchback categories, with the Mondeo Estate 1.6 TDCi 120 Econetic Zetec and Fiesta ST respectively.
The Citroën Grand C4 Picasso 1.6 e-HDi 115 Exclusive won the best MPV category, and the Nissan Qashqai – last year’s overall winner – is still the magazine’s favourite in the small SUV category. The best large SUV was the Range Rover Sport SDV6 HSE.
BMW’s 520d SE automatic took the award for the leading executive car, with Porsche winning the sports car award with the Boxster 2.7 and Mercedes-Benz taking the luxury car prize with the S350 CDI Bluetec L SE Line.
What are What Car!!! readers looking forward to the most? Why, that would be the Honda HR-V SUV, due out later in 2015.
Jim Holder, What Car!!! editor, said: “The Fabia is a fully deserved winner of our most sought-after award – not just because of the fact it is a well-equipped and practical small car, but also because of the big name rivals it has disposed of in the process. We’ve driven and evaluated all of its rivals and, whichever way you cut it, the Fabia is the most rounded small car on sale in the UK today.”
Well done Skoda, you one-time laughing stock!