The ultimate guide to the British Airways Companion Voucher
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.
The British Airways Companion Voucher can be the most valuable U.K. credit card benefit out there, but it can be a struggle to redeem it for its maximum value.
Since the programme is much more complicated in practice than a simple buy one, get one free model, we have broken down the details for you.
At the most basic level, the Voucher allows 2-for-1 travel on British Airways Avios redemption 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 part of the redemption is 2-for-1.
Depending on how you use your Companion Voucher, you could save hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, on your next British Airways flights.
Who is it for?
The Companion Voucher is best suited to BA Executive Club members who want to fly British Airways, have a good amount of Avios to redeem and are flying in groups of two.
You’ll see references to changes to the Companion Voucher from 1 September 2021 throughout this guide, but to summarise, here is what is changing:
- 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.
Earning the Companion Voucher
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 membership year, reducing to £12,000 per membership year from 1 September 2021.
- The British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card: £10,000 in each membership 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 you reach your required spend. There’s a handy tracker in your American Express account to show how close you are to earning it.
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 book 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 (more on expiration below), 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 afterwards.
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 account.
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.
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
For Vouchers redeemed before 1 September 2021, you must depart from the U.K., therefore triggering the Air Passenger Duty tax that is charged on all flights departing from the country. The workarounds are to depart from Jersey or Inverness. Both airports are within the U.K. for Amex Companion Voucher purposes but do not trigger APD, so your out-of-pocket cost will be slightly lower.
For Vouchers redeemed after 1 September 2021, 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.
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.
You can book your Companion Voucher redemption 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 cancellation 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 U.K. traveller who wants to fly British Airways with a partner or friend from the U.K.
- Flight must be BA metal (no partners or mixing);
- Flight must originate in and return to the U.K. for redemptions before 1 September;
- 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; and
- Companion must be added to your “Friends and Family” list with 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:
- Can also be used one-way 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 Vouchers can be used in any cabin. From 1 September 2021, the Companion Vouchers earned from the basic card are devalued hugely as they can only be redeemed for economy class going forward;
- 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; and
- Need enough Avios available for the outbound but could wait to add the inbound prior to departure.
How to maximise a Companion Voucher redemption
Companion Vouchers can be extremely valuable, especially for higher cabins of service. Remember, what you’re saving is Avios, which we value at 1.1p, but it is worth also factoring in the notoriously high taxes on British Airways redemptions out of the U.K. 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 normal pre-pandemic 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 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 up the front. 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.
While previously it could be difficult to find two seats in a premium cabin on the same flight, 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, BA 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 a Companion Voucher.
Watch those taxes long-haul
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 Companion Voucher 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.
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, Greece or Croatia — especially in pre- and post-pandemic times — can be highly valuable.
Redemption option 3: Whatever you were going to pay cash for
I previously redeemed my Companion Voucher earned from my Premium Plus Card for two premium economy seats to the Maldives in November 2019. 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 totalled £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.
If you have a specific number of Avios you’re looking to use in conjunction with a Companion Voucher, take these guides into account:
- How to best maximise a British Airways Companion Voucher with 50,000 Avios
- How to best maximise a British Airways Companion Voucher with 100,000 Avios
- How to best maximise a British Airways Companion Voucher with 150,000 Avios
- How to best maximise a British Airways Companion Voucher with 200,00 Avios
A Companion Voucher earned through the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card can easily generate thousands of pounds in value for £10,000 spend, which is the best current benefit available with a U.K. credit card.
From 1 September 2021, the Companion Vouchers change depending on which card you earned it from after that date. For Vouchers earned from the British Airways American Express Credit Card, there are frustrating new restrictions that say the Voucher can only be redeemed for economy class, so you are unlikely to gain value from long-haul economy redemptions because of the high fees, taxes and surcharges both passengers are required to pay.
You may still get some good value from last-minute peak short-haul redemptions. The spend required reduces from £20,000 to £12,000 each year to earn the Voucher, and you can start your journey outside the U.K.
For Companion Vouchers earned from the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card, they become even better from 1 September. There are significantly more seats available for redemption with this Voucher, especially in Club World/Club Suite, which means you can easily obtain £1,000+ from your Companion Voucher.
Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy.
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