Everything you need to know about the American Express British Airways Companion Voucher changes
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This week, American Express announced big changes to both the British Airways American Express Card and the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card. More specifically, the Companion Voucher benefits on both cards are changing, as well as the annual fee on the Premium Plus. You can read about all the changes here.
As a brief overview, here’s what you need to know:
- British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card: The annual fee on the card is increasing from £195 to £250 as of 1 September 2021, however, the companion voucher is getting more valuable. More specifically, you can now use it on flights that don’t begin in the U.K., and British Airways is opening up more award availability.
- British Airways American Express Card: Also known as “the basic card,” the amount of spend needed to earn the companion voucher is decreasing from £20,000 to £12,000 in a 12-month period and you can use it on flights that don’t begin in the U.K. However, as of 1 September 2021, you can only use the voucher on economy redemptions.
We’ve received plenty of questions from TPG readers about the changes, and we had some questions of our own that British Airways was able to clarify.
Here are your questions, answered.
What happens if my annual fee is before 1 September but I earn my Companion Voucher after 1 September?
If your annual fee is before 1 September but you earn your companion voucher after 1 September, you will pay the existing annual fee of £195 on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card, but the new rules on companion vouchers will apply.
If you earn your companion voucher before 1 September, regardless of your annual fee date, the existing companion voucher rules will apply. Considering that the new rules are more favourable, you may want to hold off on meeting that spend requirement.
If you have existing Companion Vouchers, does this mean they have to be used by 1 September?
No, any companion vouchers you have already earned, or will earn between now and 1 September, are unchanged and you can use them as you have in the past — whether that is before or after 1 September.
It is only those vouchers earned after 1 September that change.
My basic card anniversary date is in October. Does this mean I have to achieve the £20,000 spend by the 1 September deadline?
If you want to redeem your companion voucher for classes other than economy, you will need to earn it before 1 September. You can then redeem it with the existing companion voucher conditions provided it is earned (by meeting the £20,000 spend) before 1 September.
If you earn it after 1 September on the basic card, the spend required drops to £12,000, but the new voucher rules will apply, namely that it can only be redeemed for economy-class flights.
Is there still value in the basic card Companion Voucher after 1 September?
There is some value in the basic card companion voucher, but it will likely be less than before.
On long-haul flights, the fees, taxes and surcharges British Airways charges the second passenger on the companion voucher (i.e. who is travelling for “free”) are so high they may be similar to just buying an economy ticket on sale and not bothering with the companion voucher.
Where an economy companion voucher redemption could be valuable is for last-minute travel where cash fares are high, assuming there is Avios availability to use the companion voucher. If you wanted to fly to Santorini last-minute in the summer, with the low fixed fees and taxes for short-haul Reward Flight Saver redemptions, you could save some money.
Should I delay earning my Companion Voucher until after 1 September?
If you are earning it from the no-annual-fee British Airways American Express Card, you shouldn’t delay it, because you want your voucher to keep the current voucher conditions if possible.
If you are earning the voucher from the Premium Plus Card and wish to redeem it for Club World seats, you should wait until 1 September to earn your next voucher if possible, as you’ll have access to extra Club World availability.
How does the additional British Airways availability work?
In addition to the existing Avios availability and the doubling of the minimum guaranteed number of Avios seats for all Executive Club members announced recently, British Airways will also open up additional Club World seats for Companion Vouchers earned from the Premium Plus Card from 1 September.
Here’s how it should work in practice.
Say you’re wanting to fly to Dubai (DXB) on Christmas Eve in Club World. This is a peak travel period and usually difficult to find Avios availability.
If I search without a companion voucher, business class is not available with Avios on 24 December:
However, British Airways has said that, from 1 September 2021, companion vouchers from the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card will also have access to “I class” award availability.
Checking those Christmas Eve flights on ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), there are plenty of seats available in the “I class” fare bucket, which would be available to book with a companion voucher.
This means on these flights, availability using a companion voucher is significantly better than without.
How will I see if there’s extra availability?
British Airways has advised TPG that extra Club World availability will be clearly marked as such when searching for redemption opportunities using a companion voucher after 1 September 2021.
Will you still be able to earn Avios with these cards as before?
Yes, there are no changes to the welcome bonuses or Avios earning rates of either card.
If I switch from the basic card to the premium card, does my Companion Voucher spend carry over?
Yes. If you haven’t earned your companion voucher from the basic card yet and decide to upgrade to the Premium Plus Card, whatever spend you’ve achieved towards your voucher will carry over to the new card.
How does the relaxation of the ‘must start in the UK’ rule work?
Currently, you can only redeem a companion voucher for a journey starting in the U.K. This does not need to be London — you could, for example, redeem for Edinburgh (EDI) to London (LHR) and onward to Miami (MIA) and return if you wish, as the journey still begins in the U.K.
From 1 September, this rule changes. You can start your journey anywhere to redeem your companion voucher. This is handy if you live outside the U.K. or perhaps want to save money on the APD tax by starting your journey in, say, Paris (CDG). You can have up to four sectors per companion voucher redemption, so if you wanted to start your journey outside of the U.K. you could redeem Paris (CDG) to London (LHR) to Miami (MIA) after 1 September.
This rule change is also handy if you only want to redeem your Companion Voucher for a one-way journey. You could start anywhere British Airways flies and redeem it for a one-way flight back to the U.K.
Open jaws are still allowed, too, though you may need to call British Airways to book this if it’s not possible to do it online.
Is the Platinum Card now a better deal than the British Airways Premium Plus card once the Premium Plus annual fee increases?
They are very different cards with very different benefits.
The Platinum Card from American Express has a much higher annual fee (£575), but in exchange, it comes with a long list of travel benefits like lounge access, travel insurance, several elite hotel statuses and more. The British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card, meanwhile, is designed more for British Airways travellers in pairs who can maximise the companion voucher.
Both cards have very valuable benefits, depending on how you travel, and with which airline you typically fly. Neither is definitively “better” than the other.
Why should customers continue to use these cards?
If you spend less than £10,000 on either card each year and therefore would not earn any companion voucher, the basic card remains a great, no-annual-fee way to earn Avios on your everyday purchases. If you can earn a companion voucher, I would argue the Premium Plus Card becomes even better on 1 September. Though the annual fee increases slightly, you should find it much easier to redeem your voucher for Club World.
What is the next best card with no (or a low) annual fee?
The Preferred Rewards Gold Card is a great alternative to the basic BA card. There’s no annual fee for the first year, two free lounge passes, a £10 Deliveroo credit each month and a generous welcome bonus of 20,000 Membership Rewards points. You could try this card for the first year to see if you like it before the annual fee is charged in the second year (£140).
Just remember the American Express welcome bonus rules.
Is there another card worth swapping to in order to earn Avios?
If you want to avoid an annual fee in the first year, consider the Preferred Rewards Gold Card. The British Airways Premium Plus American Express Card remains the highest-earning Avios card for everyday spending in the U.K., and the Companion Voucher from this card remains as valuable as ever. If you’re loyal to Avios and put enough spend on a credit card to earn a Companion Voucher each year, it’s still a great card.
When is the optimal time to upgrade from the basic card to the premium card?
Before 1 September is the real sweet spot. Any spend you have made toward your next companion voucher will be carried over to the new card, and you will also be charged the existing annual fee of £195, rather than the increased fee of £250.
If you earn your new companion voucher on the premium card after 1 September, you can enjoy the increased Club World availability.
The changes to British Airways American Express Card from 1 September are not good — there’s no way of sugar-coating it. While the spend required to earn the companion voucher reduces considerably from £20,000 to £12,000 and there remains no annual fee, the changes to the companion voucher means it becomes much less valuable.
The changes to the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card, meanwhile, are much milder, and arguably make the card slightly better. There is a small increase to the annual fee, but you should find it even easier to redeem the companion voucher for hundreds or even thousands of pounds value.
Featured image by Liam Spencer/The Points Guy.
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