The cheaper tickets, which do not include checked luggage or seat selection, are already available on its short-haul services, but the move will see BA go head-to-head with the likes of low-cost trailblazer Norwegian on key routes to North America.
“In April 2018, we will be introducing a new long-haul basic economy fare on selected transatlantic routes,” said BA in a statement. “The new fare will give customers a lower price point and more choice.”
While checked luggage and seat selection will cost extra, as it does with low-cost airlines like Norwegian and Iceland-based WOW air, passengers will still get a free meal – something neither Norwegian or WOW offers.
The rub, of course, will be whether BA can match them on price. Full details of fares, as well as the routes on which they will be available, will be announced in the coming weeks, but, if the carrier’s short-haul services are a reliable guide, fliers can expect to save between 10 and 20 per cent by opting for “basic”. Which means the cost of a return flight from London to New York, flying from May 4-8 and currently available for £468, could fall to between £375 and £420.
By comparison, travellers can fly from London to New York over the same dates for as little as £265 with Norwegian.
So while BA’s new fare will include a few more frills – including free food – it looks unlikely to cut the cost of reaching many of the US destinations to which Norwegian flies – namely Boston, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, LA, New York, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.
However, the British flag carrier also serves several US cities that Norwegian doesn’t, such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Nashville, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Washington DC, as well Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal in Canada. Should it choose to offer basic economy on these routes, it could become the cheapest option for Britons.
“There’s no doubt that these new fares will look cheaper and help BA pitch itself directly against new competitors such as Norwegian,” said Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s Consumer Editor. “But on long haul routes, where passengers are much more likely to want to bring hold luggage and select seats, it seems likely they will make little difference to the vast majority of economy class travellers. The fares may seem cheaper, but in practice nothing much has changed.”
The other low-cost long-haul players
It isn’t a straight shoot-off between BA and Norwegian, however. Another option is WOW, which flies to 13 US cities, including several served by neither BA or Norwegian (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, St Louis and Pittsburgh), plus Montreal and Toronto. There’s a significant catch, however. All services from the UK include a stopover in Reykjavik.
Level, meanwhile, owned by BA’s parent company IAG, launched last year offering low-cost flights from Europe to Boston, LA, Newark, Oakland and Montreal (as well as Punta Cana and Buenos Aires). The only problem for British fliers? It is based in Barcelona (and, from July 2018, Paris).
There’s also Primera Air, founded in Iceland, headquartered in Latvia, and with a Danish operating license (which makes things very confusing). Services from Stansted to Toronto, Boston and New York are starting in April, and one to Washington DC is coming in the summer. A route from Birmingham to New York is also on the cards.
How BA is turning itself into a low-cost airline
BA’s efforts to compete with its budget rivals has been a point of contention among readers for several years. The antipathy came to a head at the 2017 Telegraph Travel Awards, in which more than 90,000 of you voted. In the short-haul airlines category, BA, which had topped the poll for five consecutive years, slipped dramatically to 13th overall.
Among the biggest irritations was the decision to scrap free meals on all short-haul flights, but breathing room on BA planes is also shrinking.
Its Gatwick-based Boeing 777s are about to be reconfigured from nine to 10 seats per row, which will allow it to squeeze an extra 56 passengers on board.
That follows a decision last year to add two more rows of seats to its Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft, reducing legroom from 30 inches to 29 inches – less than you’ll find on a Ryanair plane.