British Airways is to offer cheaper fares on selected routes to passengers who travel without checked luggage.
The airline says the fares – which will initially be offered on flights from Gatwick to Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, Jersey, Tunis and Turin – will give its passengers “more choice”, but they are likely to be viewed as an attempt to compete with low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet.
“The suprise is not so much that BA has made this move, but that it has taken so long to do so,” said Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s Consumer Editor. “It appears to be a reaction to commercial pressure from its no-frills rivals, which quote lower headline fares because they don't include the cost of checked bags. This can make BA's fares look expensive and so less attractive by contrast.
“BA says that the new fares are about giving it customers ‘more freedom to choose the kind of flying they want’, but they are also about giving British Airways the freedom to make its fares look cheaper.”
He added that those passengers who do check a bag into the hold could eventually end up paying more.
“Airfares are so variable that, within a few weeks, it will be impossible to know whether BA passengers without hold luggage are getting a better deal, or whether those who check in their bags are being charged extra,” he said.
But Peter Simpson, director of Gatwick for British Airways, claimed that passengers who check in a bag will not be expected to pay extra to make up for those who choose the cheaper fares.
"It is all about giving our customers more freedom to choose the kind of flying they want," he said. “Many British Airways customers at Gatwick choose not to check in a bag as they’re already taking advantage of our generous two-bag hand luggage policy. Those who still want to check in a bag will simply pay the same price they do now.”
The new “hand baggage only fares” go on sale next Tuesday (February 26), with starting prices ranging from £39 (one-way to Amsterdam) to £69 (one-way to Turin). BA said that, depending on the route, the fares are between £9 and £15 cheaper than usual.
The announcement by BA - which axed free meals on some flights in 2009 in a bid to cut costs - follows KLM's decision to begin charging customers who check in luggage on short-haul flights. KLM's policy will be effective from April 22.
A spokesman for Ryanair said: “We welcome BA’s conversion to the Ryanair way".
Oliver Smith Telegraph.co.uk