Can you still get value from the no-fee British Airways American Express Card after the upcoming changes?

Jun 9, 2021

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Last 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 BA 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.

The changes to the Premium Plus Card are fairly mild, while for the basic card, there are a few small positive changes as well as a huge negative change. A few TPG readers have asked if there’s still any value from the card after 1 September when the changes kick in, so I wanted to look into how you can still get value from this card even with a devalued Companion Voucher benefit.

Related: Everything you need to know about the American Express British Airways Companion Voucher changes

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Fees

For starters, there’s no annual fee for this card now, and nor will there be one after 1 September. This means that if you are paying your balance in full each and every month and not paying any interest and not using the card for cash withdrawals or purchases in foreign currencies, the card is basically “free.”

There’s no sneaky “annual fee waived for the first year only” conditions. The card does not have an annual fee now, and I would be extremely surprised if an annual fee is added to this card this year or next year.

This makes the card a really low-risk way to earn Avios and see if the Companion Voucher is right for you. A neat change British Airways has announced is if you apply for the basic card and work towards your way towards the Companion Voucher and then decide to switch to the Premium Plus Card before earning the Companion Voucher on the basic card, any spend on the basic card will count towards the spend required to earn your Companion Voucher on the Premium Plus Card.

Related: A Companion Voucher for me and another for my partner — TPG reader success story

(Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)

Earning Avios

Although there’s no annual fee, you can still earn 5,000 Avios as a welcome bonus when you spend £1,000 in your first three months of cardmembership, noting the Amex restrictions on welcome bonuses. Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, those 5,000 Avios are worth £55.

You’ll then earn 1 Avios for every £1 you spend on your everyday purchases. This means you’ll actually score 6,000 Avios for spending that £1,000 in your first three months as you’ll earn 1,000 Avios for the £1,000 spend, plus the 5,000 welcome bonus.

Those 6,000 Avios are worth £66 and are enough for a one-way peak or off-peak flight with British Airways to the likes of Edinburgh (EDI), Copenhagen (CPH), Berlin (BER), Amsterdam (AMS) or Jersey (JER), plus £17.50 in fees, taxes and surcharges as part of British Airways’ great Reward Flight Saver offer.

You’re still coming out well in front considering there’s no annual fee. If you aren’t going to ever spend enough on the card to earn a Companion Voucher, then it’s a really solid fee-free credit card that still earns valuable rewards.

Companion Voucher

This is where the biggest changes announced last week are happening from 1 September. Here is a summary of what’s changing:

Companion Vouchers earned on the basic card before 1 September Companion Vouchers earned on the basic card after 1 September
Spend required to earn a Voucher £20,000 £12,000
Voucher routing rules The journey must start in the U.K. The journey can start anywhere British Airways flies
Voucher validity (must book and travel by) 12 months 12 months
Classes of service Voucher can be redeemed for Any Economy only (Euro Traveller and World Traveller)

The first and second changes in this table are definite improvements to the basic Companion Voucher. The spend required to earn one will drop significantly, and the routing rules are relaxed.

Currently, you can only redeem a Companion Voucher for a journey starting in the U.K. This does not need to be London, for example, you could redeem for Edinburgh (EDI) to London (LHR) and onwards 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 Paris (CDG), for example. 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.

(Photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

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.

So, the first two changes are improvements to the basic Companion Voucher. The Voucher validity doesn’t change — you still need to book and travel within 12 months, which can be tricky if you are looking at popular routes at popular times. The Premium Plus Card’s Companion Voucher has a much more generous 24-month validity.

The last change is the killer. From 1 September, you can only redeem the basic card’s Voucher for economy class redemptions. Before then, you can redeem for any class of service if you can find two British Airways Avios seats together on the same flight. On high-frequency routes like New York (JFK), it’s traditionally been easy to use the basic Companion Voucher to book two Club World seats, and sometimes even two First seats.

This can easily save you thousands of pounds, making the Companion Voucher enormously valuable.

Related: Suite refresh: A review of British Airways’ Club Suite on the refurbished 777, New York to London

After 1 September, is there still value from redeeming for economy-only flights with the tough new rule? For long-haul economy redemptions, there’s unlikely to be much value in redeeming your Companion Voucher. This is because you will be charged a hefty amount of fees, taxes and surcharges for the second “free” passenger, even though you won’t need any Avios for this second passenger.

Looking at New York as an example, you could use your basic Companion Voucher from 1 September to book two passengers in economy class for 26,000 Avios total on an off-peak date plus £290 each in fees, taxes and surcharges. Why this isn’t a great deal is because we regularly see sale fares in economy to New York for £290 or less each, where you could earn Avios and Tier Points and save your Companion Voucher for something more valuable.

Related: Avios vs. Tier Points: British Airways Executive Club Status Explained

For short-haul travel, it can make more sense. With the fixed fees and taxes of £17.50 per person each way as a Reward Flight Saver, you can think of your basic Companion Voucher as only costing your second passenger £35 to fly return anywhere in Europe. While a sale fare to the likes of Dublin (DUB) even on British Airways might not cost much more than £35 return in Euro Traveller making the basic Companion Voucher similarly poor value to our New York example, there’s plenty of destinations where you can get much better value than that.

This summer, prices to normal European hotspots are all over the place because of the U.K.’s traffic light system. Booking a last-minute flight to Spain with British Airways in June would normally cost you a fortune because Brits would be flocking there in their thousands. However as Spain is currently on the amber list, you can find unusually cheap flights with British Airways all summer.

Though the green list is small and rather obscure, let’s look at the prices of British Airways economy revenue fares on dates in September (after the Companion Voucher changes kick in), and look at the value of using your basic Companion Voucher on these routes:

  • Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF) – Cash fares on British Airways are about £195 return, so the second passenger would save £160 using a basic Companion Voucher;
  • Jersey (JER) – Cash fares are about £100 return, so a £65 saving;
  • Edinburgh (EDI) – Cash fares are about £100 return, so a £65 saving; and
  • Inverness (INV) – Cash fares are about £110 return, so a £75 saving.

As more destinations hopefully join the green list at the next review, you’re likely to see great value using the basic Companion Voucher on longer European routes like the Canary Islands and Greece.

Related: Can I go on holiday to an amber list country right now?

Sunrise landscape at Fjadrargljufur canyon in Iceland. (Photo by Stefan Cristian Cioata/Getty Images)

Bottom line

If you would not spend enough on either British Airways American Express card to earn a Companion Voucher each year, the British Airways American Express Card is a great card for beginners. There’s no annual fee, a welcome bonus of 5,000 Avios and you can earn more Avios for your everyday spend.

If you value the Companion Voucher, especially for a premium cabin redemption, then the British Airways American Express Card does become less valuable from 1 September because of the big change to the classes of service you can redeem the Voucher for. That being said, assuming there are far more quarantine-free European destinations to travel to from 1 September than there are now, you should be able to save £50 to £100 on a return flight to Europe with the Companion Voucher from this card.

Featured photo by Josh Gribben/The Points Guy.

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