The Ultimate Guide to the British Airways Companion Voucher
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The British Airways Companion Voucher is possibly the most valuable UK credit card benefit out there, but it can be a struggle to redeem it for its maximal value. And since the program is much more complicated in practice than a simple BOGOF, TPG UK has dug into the details for you.
At the most basic level, the voucher allows 2-for-1 travel on British Airways reward flights. So, you pay half of the Avios required per two people. Importantly, taxes, fees and carrier charges still apply, and only the Avios themselves are 2-for-1.
Who Is It For?
The Companion Voucher is best suited to BA Executive Club members who want to fly on BA planes out of the UK, have a stash of Avios and are flying in groups of two.
You can earn the Companion Voucher through the following minimum spends on your BA Amex card:
- The British Airways American Express Credit Card: £20,000 in each calendar year
- The British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card: £10,000 in each calendar year.
The spend is on a 12-month basis from your account opening and renewal date. It’s worth noting that you can only earn one companion voucher per 12 months from your renewal date (card year), and money spent beyond the required amount does not roll over. So, even if you spend £50,000 for a year on your BA Amex, you only earn one voucher for that card year.
The Companion Voucher will appear in your BA Executive Club account a few days after your bill in which you reach your required spend. On your Amex bill, you can see how much more you need to spend by your renewal date on the righthand side.
Earning Two Vouchers
You can use two companion vouchers at the same time for a group or family of four if you accrue two companion vouchers across two card years, and take your outbound flight before the first voucher expires.
You need to hold the Premium Plus card to have the 24-month expiration date, but it is possible with a 12-month expiry if you time your spending carefully around your renewal date.
One tactic is to hold off on hitting your required spend until close to your renewal date and then earn another one quickly afterward.
For example, my renewal date is October. I will put most of my summer expenses on my Premium Plus Card to hit the required spend in September and then put my holiday expenses on it to earn another one in December because it is a new earning year. Then, I have two vouchers to use as a family of four that expire around the same time.
As they are valid for 24 months with my Premium Plus Card, I then have more time to find availability and earn the requisite Avios for the redemption.
Having a companion voucher expire is a colossal waste, so keep track of their expiration in your BA Executive Club.
Outbound travel must take place before the expiry of the voucher, but return travel can be after the expiry of the voucher. You have to book the return at the same time or book a one-way.
The Companion Voucher expirations are as follows:
- The British Airways American Express Credit Card: 12 months from issue
- The British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card: 24 months from issue
The dates are listed in your Executive Club account, so you can keep an eye on the expiration.
As Avios seats are released 355 days before the date of departure, you can book your outbound journey online as a one-way and then ring British Airways to add the return destination when your return journey seats open up. Two Club World tickets and four World Traveller (economy) seats become available on release day.
As they are released at midnight GMT and do not appear online for a few hours, TPG UK staff have had luck calling the US British Airways number to secure the seats over the phone before they hit BA.com.
However, most people simply log on when they’ve decided to go somewhere and check flights rather than staying up until midnight GMT and phoning British Airways in another country.
Each time you make an Avios search on BA.com you will be prompted by a checkbox on whether you wish to use your Companion Voucher and, if you have more than one, both will be listed, and you can select one or two. Always ensure you use your voucher with the nearest expiry date first.
That Pesky UK Air Passenger Duty
The reason that the Amex Companion Voucher is frowned upon by others in the points & miles arena is that it requires a departure from the UK, therefore triggering the Air Passenger Duty. The workarounds are to depart from Jersey or Inverness. Both airports are within the UK for Amex Companion Voucher purposes but do not attract APD, so your out-of-pocket cost will be slightly lower.
You can book your companion voucher in whatever class you find available and then upgrade it if flights open up in a higher class for £35 per person each way. You have to call BA to do this and cannot do it online. Like all Avios bookings, using a Companion Voucher redemption has more generous cancelation policies than cash tickets and can be really handy for those of us with shifting plans.
Here are some hard and fast rules when redeeming, but remember that the basic rules suit the traditional UK traveller who wants to fly British Airways with a partner or friend from the UK.
- Flight must be BA metal (no partners or mixing).
- Flight must originate in and return to the UK.
- The person who is listed on the voucher must make the booking.
- The person listed on the voucher must travel.
- Same companion for outbound and return.
- Only for reward bookings paid fully with Avios (not cash + Avios).
- Companion must be on the same flight and in the same cabin.
- Still pay taxes, fees and carrier charges for both tickets, which can be hefty.
- Must use your BA Amex to pay taxes and fees for both tickets. (Note: many travellers report that it needs to be paid with any Amex, not necessarily a BA Amex.)
- Cannot change the name of a companion after booking — you must cancel the ticket.
- Companion must be added to your ‘Friends and Family’ list on BA or be in your household account.
There are a lot of rules that make the Companion Voucher challenging to use for more complex redemptions, but you should also note these positives of the pass.
- Can also be used one-way (originating only in the UK) but then is considered fully redeemed.
- While you have to depart before the voucher expiry, you can fly back at any date.
- You can book mixed-cabin redemptions (e.g., first outbound, business return).
- Companion Voucher can be used in any cabin.
- Companion Voucher can be used on any route.
- You can return from a different city (e.g., MAN-BKK; KUL-LHR), but it requires a call to BA.
- No blackout dates (but must find two or four available reward seats).
- If you cancel your tickets, you do get the Companion Voucher back.
- ‘Gold Upgrade for Two’ vouchers can be used.
- Companion Voucher traveller can be a child.
- You can still have a lap infant when using a Companion Voucher and pay 10% of Avios for the baby.
- Need enough Avios available for the outbound but could wait to add the inbound prior to departure.
How to Maximise a Companion Voucher Redemption
While many seasoned Avios users dislike the Companion Voucher due to the restrictions of needing to fly on British Airways aircraft from the UK, it can be extremely valuable, especially for higher cabins of service. Remember, what you’re saving is Avios, which we value at 1.2p, but it is worth also factoring in the notoriously high taxes on British Airways redemptions out of the UK. On a 200,000-Avios ticket, the companion voucher would be bringing £2,400 of value.
Set out below is a variety of popular redemptions showing the Avios and tax costs for two tickets, against the price of the cheapest cash tickets.
|New York||World Traveller||26,000||£742||£944|
|New York||Club World||100,000||£1070||£5,628|
The chart assumes off-peak travel in November/December 2019 and using a Companion Voucher.
Redemption Option 1: Long-haul
As the taxes are nearly the same between classes, you are parting with a similar amount of cash with a Companion Voucher redemption whether you are squeezed in the back of the plane or sitting in the nose. To earn the most value from your Companion Voucher if flying long-haul, the premium cabins (Club World and first) make more sense if you are sitting on a pile of Avios. It also takes some patience and luck to get two or four business class seats on the same flight.
Watch those taxes long-haul
In some cases, using a Companion Voucher in long-haul economy can cost you more than if you just booked cash, particularly during the sales. For example, in our award chart above, flights to Miami in early December are £569 for two people in economy basic. Yet if you redeemed a Companion Voucher in economy, you’d part with 32,500 Avios and £748 in taxes. So it costs £179 more cash AND 32,500 Avios (worth £390 per recent valuations).
Redemption Option 2: Within Europe on Peak Dates
Many points maximisers swear by saving their Companion Voucher for last-minute intra-European flights in Club Europe.
Intra-European flights over the holidays or in the summer can skyrocket. One easy and valuable redemption is to use your Companion Voucher for a European flight during these times, where the taxes are capped at £50 per return business-class ticket. While our chart above shows advanced fares for December redemptions, doing a high summer redemption to Nice or Croatia can be highly valuable.
Redemption Option 3: Whatever you were going to pay cash for
I recently redeemed my Companion Voucher earned from my Premium Plus card for two premium economy seats to the Maldives in November. I parted with 82,500 Avios and £950 in taxes plus a Companion Voucher.
Why premium economy and not business? Most importantly, there were no business class seats available, and the dates matched up with our Marriott points redemption at the St Regis Maldives. BA also has the only direct flight, and the times are ideal for missing the fewest amount of days in the office.
Finally, we were going to pay cash for the premium economy tickets, which totaled £3,950. My husband is an economist, and as we were saving £3,000 that we were going to spend, we saw this as real cash savings and more valuable than the inherent benefit of flying Club World to another destination that had availability. The flexibility of the ticket also means that if there is a business-class sale, we can still scoop up flights. Or if reward availability opens up, we can cancel these tickets for £140 and have the Avios and Companion Voucher redeposited into my account. We did not factor in the Avios that we would have earned if paying cash, but that should always be an additional consideration.
Redemption Option 4: Two adults plus child under 2 in Club World
Because you only pay 10% of the Avios for a ‘lap infant,’ you can travel as a family of three with a child under 2 and a Companion Voucher for a significant reduction and have more space to spread out, particularly with the two middle seats and bassinet in Club World.
The two seats create a play space for the young traveller and there’s the hope that he or she falls asleep in the bassinet attachment as you sip your Champagne and watch your first film in ages.
A Companion voucher earned through British Airways American Express Premium Plus can easily generate thousands of pounds in value for £10,000 spend, which is likely the best current benefit available with a UK credit card.
Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy.