BA expands hand-luggage-only fares

BA planes

British Airways has officially launched hand-luggage-only fares. It started a pilot scheme last month on a few selected routes, and has now put the discounted tickets on sale for all 32 short-haul routes from Gatwick - for anyone flying after 1 April this year.

So is this a better deal or a price hike in disguise?

Hand-luggage tickets

We reported on the pilot scheme last month, highlighting that it would enable British Airways to compete in an environment increasingly dominated by price comparison websites.

Because so many customers now use websites to compare prices, BA needs an option that will push them closer to the top of the table - this enables them to do so.

Good deal?

On the face of it, this looks like a great deal for passengers. The price of the ticket will be anything from £9 to £15 lower each way - depending on where you are flying to. It means that a one-way trip to Barcelona this summer could start at £49.

There's now a cheaper option for those who want to travel with hand luggage and still get traditional airline benefits such as free seat allocation and food and drink on-board. Travellers can also take advantage of a fairly generous hand luggage allowance, which allows them to take a reasonable size bag, plus a handbag or laptop case, which could make a week's trip without baggage a realistic possibility for canny travellers.

British Airways said that the pilot was already proving popular. Peter Simpson, director of Gatwick for British Airways, said: "The new fares have been very well received by customers and we have now decided to make the discounted prices much more widely available."

So what's the catch?

At the moment this seems pretty free of catches. If you want to take a suitcase, then you just continue paying the same price you currently do. If you can travel without a bag you can get a better deal.

There have been rumblings within the travel industry as to whether passengers would be confused by a two-tier system, but during the pilot no major issues emerged.

There were also worries aired at the time the pilot scheme began that this would give BA the opportunity to raise the prices for those travelling with cases in future. It would mean they could keep their place at the top of the tables for budget-hounds, but leave those who have no other option paying more for their seats.

Simpson insisted that this would not be the case. We can only wait and see whether this proves to be true over the next few months.

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