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British Airways Marketing Strategy Analysis

by Daniyal

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The Marketing Environment
  • Pricing as BA’s marketing strategy
  • Distribution
  • Branding
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendations
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices
    • Appendix I
    • Appendix II

Executive Summary

This report was produced to give insights into British Airways and particularly on its marketing operations. Being UK’s largest scheduled airline, a brief background on British Airways would be given so as to guide in the evaluation of its marketing practices including pricing, distribution and branding, borrowing from the airline’s website and various secondary sources. However, this article has the drawback of relying on data from the British Airways official website that isn’t all that new.

British Airways Marketing Strategy Analysis


British Airways Plc (abbreviated as BA) was established in 1974 and is the largest scheduled airline in the United Kingdom (Civil Aviation Authority 2013). In addition to regular flights, the airline transports mail and freight both domestically and internationally, as well as providing related services (Brownsell 2010). BA’s 238 aircraft cover over 300 destinations and move over 33 million passengers annually (British Airways 2013, Table 1). The corporation has outperformed its competitors and expanded globally since its privatization in 1987. Willie Walsh, the company’s longtime CEO, took control in 2005 and supervised the construction of Terminal 5 at Heathrow, among other achievements. Despite struggling from global economic pressures, the carrier aspires to be the most responsible airline in the world. As a result, the organization contributes to designing strategic strategies that can help it accomplish its goals, especially in terms of establishing and retaining successful marketing.

The Marketing Environment

The requirement for continuous detailed and organized study of key dimensions emerges as the marketing climate changes (Haberberg & Rieple 2007). Terrorism activities are becoming more complex and common, as shown by the September 11 attacks in New York and the July 2005 London bombing, and there have been emerging events contributing to global unrest. As a consequence, businesses like BA need systems that enable them make fast decisions. The open skies arrangement has greatly altered the rules that control it. In terms of legal concerns, BA has been the subject of trade union actions, such as the 2004 and 2005 strike actions. As a consequence, the organization must recognize a number of regulations surrounding employee rights, environmental issues, and consumer rights. In terms of economics, the global economy and air travel demand have a favorable connection, since demand for air travel is strongly based on income trends. Because of the increasing cost of oil as a consequence of the political situation in Iraq, the cost of transport rose, reducing BA’s market volumes. Finally, a variety of socio-cultural variables influence BA’s marketing approach, including cultural and demographic factors that influence consumer needs and market size (Shaw 2007).

Pricing as BA’s Marketing Strategy

British Airways has priced its products so as to allow its customers to choose the level of service that they want. The airline has set its price to a premium level so as to compete with its rivals such as American and Virgin airlines (Balmer, Stuart & Greyser 2009). Its high pricing has been used as a strategy to reflect high quality. Nonetheless, with the economic turmoil and entry of low cost carriers in the market, BA has been forced to provide low cost solutions so as to remain competitive. But even in these low cost services, the airline still retains its quality image together with good customer service unlike in the low cost rivals where ancillary services have been used as the major source of income, charging extra for priority boarding, food and drinks (Haberberg & Rieple 2007). The introduction of the Executive Club aimed at encouraging loyalty among its customers by rewarding with priority boarding, access to BA lounge and provision for additional luggage. With the majority of the cost being fixed, including airport duties, fuel and cost of aircraft, the airline lowers its cost with decreased demand and increases the cost with increase in demand, aimed at encouraging consumption, and therefore allows it to make some marginal returns. After all, the “objective of a firm’s marketing policies should be to meet the needs of its customers, at a profit” (Shaw 2007, p.22).


The airline avails its tickets for purchase from travel agents located in various physical locations, and online through the airline’s website. Travel shops, reservations staff and dedicated websites provide alternative sources for BA’s travel tickets. According to Solomon et al. (2009), e-commerce has greatly changed distribution with airlines reducing costs so as to effectively compete against their rivals. Globally, BA sells 20% of its tickets via ba.com, 54% of which account for the airline’s short haul sales (British Airways 2013). This online booking provides the capability for securing a flight ticket at one’s convenience and avails the tickets at lower cost as contrasted to travel agents. Brownsell (2010) uses the illustration of an economy class fare from London to New York that costs 368 from ba.com and 432.10 from an Expedia travel agency. Travel brokers, on the other hand, offer extra details on accommodation or car rentals, which BA recognizes and provides via its online agent.


British Airways has placed great significance to its brand which it has promoted in various ways. The airline has been the tennis tournament, Wimbledon Championship’s official airline and also the tier one partner and official airline for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The airline has also played a significant role as the official airline in the bid of England to be the 2018 Football World Cup host. The purchase of ba.com from Bell Atlantic in 2002 aimed at creating an internet domain that bears the company’s acronym. In 2011, the airline launched a major advertising campaign in that decade which encompassed a cinematic advert running for 90 seconds to celebrate the 90 years of its heritage and launching its new slogan, “To Fly. To Serve” (Balmer, Stuart & Greyser 2009, p.7). The tail fins of BA airplanes have been for long known to bear the Union Flag scheme (Brownsell 2010, Figure 1) despite the short period when the airline had adopted the widely rejected world images and ethnic logos.


It would be appreciated that BA has adopted marketing strategies that aim at conquering new markets and retaining their customers. In the wake of high competition from its rivals, including Virgin and American airlines, BA has adopted a segmented pricing strategy where customers pay for what they perceive as affordable, even though all segments adopt the service quality determined by the airline. These prices shift with demand due to the fixed costs that the airline has to incur. In addition, BA provides a variety of distribution options with its online option being cheaper than the other options such as use of travel agents due to the decreased cost of intermediary trading. In addition, the Union Flag branding as a mark of quality has made the airline stand out distinctly among the rest, sponsoring various major events. Even so, BA operates under stiff competition and needs to constantly review its marketing strategies to ensure that it sustains its competitiveness.


Therefore, in order to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage in marketing:

  1. BA has to maintain its presence through alternative distribution channels such as the travel agents so as to serve its majority and wealthier clientele who desire to have the services of a travel agent. In fact, with effective marketing of its online services for travel agency, the airline could increase its online distribution from the current 20%.
  2. Marketing the Executive Club in a more effective approach and ensuring that such customers receive the accompanying benefits would go a long way in enhancing the customers’ loyalty and referral.
  3. Feedback questionnaires would be an effective approach to gather from the customers the reasons for which they prefer the airline, be it for their prices, quality or other tings which in turn would make BA respond accordingly so as to ensure customer satisfaction.
  4. The airline should continue with the strategy of shifting price with demand so as to reach out to promote its brand among off peak and business travellers.

Otherwise, the market continues to be competitive and strategies have to be constantly aligned to the anticipated changes.

  • Balmer, JMT, Stuart, H & Greyser, AS 2009, ‘Aligning identity and strategy: Corporate branding at British Airways in the late 20th Century’, California Management Review, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 6 – 25.
  • British Airways 2013, History and heritage, viewed 6 March 2013, http://www.britishairways.com
  • Brownsell, A 2010, ‘British Airways adopts ‘balanced’ marketing strategy during fresh walk-outs’, Marketing, 26 May 2010, viewed 6 March 2013, http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk
  • Civil Aviation Authority 2013,Welcome to UK Civil Aviation Authority, viewed 6 March 2013, http://www.caa.co.uk
  • Haberberg, A & Rieple, A 2007, Strategic management: Theory and application, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
  • Shaw, S 2007, Airline marketing and management, 6th edn, Ashgate Publishing, Hampshire.
  • Solomon, MR, Marshall, GW, Stuart, EW, Barnes, B & Mitchell, VW 2009, Marketing: Real people, real decisions, Pearson Education, Essex.


Appendix I

British Airways Marketing Strategy Analysis

Figure 1: BA plane bearing the Union Flag branding on its tail fin (Brownsell 2010).

Appendix II

Table 1: Operating and financial statistics for five years ending 31 March 2010 (British Airways 2013)

2010 2009 2008* 2007 2006**
Traffic and capacity
Revenue passenger km (RPK) m 110,851 114,346 118,395 112,851 109,713
Available seat km (ASK) m 141,178 148,504 149,576 148,321 144,194
Passenger load factor % 78.5 77.0 79.1 76.1 76.1
Cargo tonne km (CTK) m 4,537 4,638 4,892 4,695 4,929
Total revenue tonne km (RTK) m 15,588 16,054 16,797 16,112 15,909
Total available tonne km (ATK) m 21,278 22,293 22,872 22,882 22,719
Overall load factor % 73.3 72.0 73.4 70.4 70.0
Passengers carried ’000 31,825 33,117 34,613 33,068 32,432
Tonnes of cargo carried ’000 760 777 805 762 795
Revenue aircraft km m 618 644 644 637 614
Revenue flights ’000 257 279 281 276 280
Average manpower equivalent (MPE) 37,595 41,473 41,745 42,683 43,814
RTKs per MPE 414.6 387.1 402.4 377.5 363.1
ATKs per MPE 566.0 537.5 547.9 536.1 518.5
Aircraft in service at year end 238 245 245 242 284
Aircraft utilisation (average hours per aircraft per day) 10.43 10.68 10.91 10.82 10.29
Unduplicated route km ’000 628 621 629 589 574
Punctuality – within 15 minutes % 81 77 63 67 75
Regularity % 98.0 98.6 98.2 98.5 98.8
Passenger revenue per RPK p 6.30 6.85 6.42 6.44 6.31
Passenger revenue per ASK p 4.94 5.28 5.08 4.90 4.80
Cargo revenue per CTK p 12.12 14.51 12.57 12.74 12.94
Average fuel price (US cents/US gallon) 189.24 284.06 245.26 209.60 188.22
Interest cover (note 2) times (2.9) (3.6) 15.4 16.7 6.0
Dividend cover times n/a (5.2) n/a n/a n/a
Operating margin (note 3) % (2.9) (2.4) 10.0 7.1 8.5
Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and rentals (EBITDAR) m 642 645 1,780 1,549 1,666
Net debt/total capital ratio (note 4) % 52.0 56.3 28.7 29.1 44.2
Net debt/total capital ratio including operating leases % 63.1 62.8 38.2 39.6 53.0
Total traffic revenue per RTK p 48.31 53.00 48.91 48.79 47.53
Total traffic revenue per ATK p 35.39 38.17 35.92 34.35 33.28
Total operating expenditure per RTK (note 5) p 52.76 57.38 46.91 49.26 47.26
Total operating expenditure per ATK (note 5) p 38.65 41.32 34.45 34.68 33.10


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