Is this the worst website in the world? No, I don’t mean the one you are reading now – it’s brilliant – but rather the British Airways Executive Club website.
I have been a member of the BA Executive Club for many years, accumulating points through flights and especially through rewards for credit card purchases. I always intended to use these points, which they call “Avios,” to fly back to Scotland from the US for family visits but have never succeeded in doing so, not only because there are rarely seats available, but also because the fees that British Airways charges for reward flights (“fuel surcharge,” anyone?) make them almost as expensive as just buying a ticket on another airline. Finally, I gave up and decided to use the points for hotels instead. The good news is that hotels are available. The bad news is that you need to set aside a hefty chunk of time to book them on the Executive Club website.
Unbeatable Deals on Hotels – We will not be Oversold
Last week, I tried to book a hotel for my wife and daughter for two nights in Charleston, South Carolina. Sounds simple enough. Here’s what happened. You might want to pour yourself a drink and get comfortable.
First, just for interest’s sake, I decided to see what it would cost to book the room through the website, using money, rather than Avios points. Perhaps the prices would be discounted to the extent that I would be better to do this and save my points. I was presented with a choice of three hotels.
Initially I thought that this was maybe the price to buy the hotel, but it is in fact the price of a room for two nights.
Not wishing to appear a cheapskate, I decided to check out the Belmond Palace at $56,092. This took me to the next screen where I was offered the chance to pay $74,792 for the same Double Premium room, should I feel that I was taking advantage of the hotel by snapping it up for only $56,092. I was tempted. However, a quick check of recent book sales served to urge restraint, and I decided to use the Avios points instead.
I settled on the Holiday Inn for 33,100 Avios and attempted to book it. First I was confronted by a message warning me that once I booked, I wouldn’t be able to change the booking, although I could cancel it for a fairly hefty fee. I decided that I could live with this and proceeded to enter the names of my wife and daughter. Everything seemed to be going well until this message appeared on the screen. The error message at the top is hard to read, but what it says, in rather peculiar English is “The names of the travellers verified must be EXACT matches with the names passed in the household profile.”
One of the features of the Executive Club is that, as well as an individual account, you have a “household account,” allowing you to pool miles earned by various members of your household. I checked and double checked that the names were entered exactly as they were passed in the household profile, but the website wasn’t to be persuaded. Annoying, but not to worry. I would just give them a call at the number shown on the page and tell them about the problem. But wait, if you look at the bottom right of the screenshot, you’ll see that there is no number, just the words “[phone number].” I eventually found the phone number for the Executive Club by opening another window and navigating to their “Contact Executive Club” page.
Seeing that it was an 800 number, and since my mobile phone was in the other room, I decided to call it using skype on my computer. When I tried to do so, I found that I would apparently be calling a number in Finland…
… so I went and got my mobile phone.
The Executive Club representative had an impeccable English accent for a Finn. I explained the situation and she offered to let me make the reservation by phone. This, unfortunately, would result in an extra charge. I explained that I didn’t want to do this and eventually she was able to identify the problem. I couldn’t reserve a room for my wife and daughter unless I was traveling with them. Apparently this was new and only applied to hotel rooms, not flights, and yes, it would be useful to have some mention of this on the website. I had to go out and log back in as my wife, making the reservation which, since she didn’t have enough miles, would actually still be paid for out of my miles. Simple!
Flights of Fancy
Buoyed by my success in making a hotel reservation in under two hours, I decided to check out flights to the UK around Christmas time. I entered dates of 18th December and 15th January.
As you can see below, the website decided that I really shouldn’t leave until 12th June 2015, although it was OK to return on January 15th 2015, five months earlier than I left. I double-checked that I had not listed Doctor Who in my household account.
To add insult to injury, the website had not only changed my selected departure date to five months after my return, it had not even changed it to a date when they had any bloody seats available anyway!
I tried again with the same result. I changed the dates slightly and the website followed suit, changing the return date by a day or two. It would not, however, believe that I wanted to depart until five months after I had already returned.
A History of Weirdness
This is not the first time I have encountered the weirdness of the Executive Club website. On previous occasions, I have arrived at the final screen in the hotel reservation process only to find myself face to face with the spinning wheel of death as the page refuses to load, leaving me uncertain of whether I have reserved a room or not.
This summer, I tried to book a hotel in Rome for six nights. Unfortunately, only the first four nights were available. I booked those nights, thinking I would have to find somewhere else for the other two nights. But no, I was able to book those two nights at the same hotel. Six nights were available, just not if you wanted to book them all at once. I had fun explaining to the hotel why I had two bookings. Luckily they didn’t make me change rooms half way through my stay.
So I’m afraid it’s a written warning to the British Airways Executive Club website. Unless the whole purpose is to make it so difficult to redeem your points that you never do. In which case, I have no choice but to tip my hat to them and hand out a performance bonus.