5 reasons I’m currently less interested in earning and redeeming a British Airways Companion Voucher

Apr 26, 2022

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Earning and then deciding on how to redeem my British Airways Companion Voucher is normally one of the most important points and miles decisions I make each year.

Related: My post-coronavirus British Airways Companion Voucher strategy

I make sure I hit my £10,000 minimum spend on my British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card at just the right time so that I then have plenty of notice to find the right seats and can book my travel before the voucher expires.

In previous years I’ve redeemed my voucher on trips to the likes of Hong Kong (HKG) and New York (JFK). In these instances, while there’s always been a hefty co-pay of fees, taxes and surcharges required for both passengers, the Avios saving by booking two people for only one lot of Avios was a great deal.

But, four months into 2021 I’ve realised that not only have I still not redeemed by 2021 Companion Voucher, but I also have no plans to earn a Companion Voucher in 2022 and, quite frankly, have little interest in earning these vouchers in the future.

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Here’s why.

In This Post

1. Ridiculous fuel surcharges

The primary reason I am less interested in earning a Companion Voucher is that it’s simply a worse deal than it has been in previous years. This is due to British Airways already increasing its fuel surcharges twice in 2022 for long-haul business and first class redemptions.

Screenshot from British Airways

If you’re unsure of what fuel surcharges are, here’s a quick refresher. Traditionally they reflected the global cost of oil (fuel) — it is more expensive for an airline to transport you on a seat booked with a Companion Voucher when fuel is more expensive.

The price of fuel has certainly increased in 2022, so you might think it perfectly reasonable for British Airways to increase their surcharge on redemptions in response and I would agree with you. If, that is, the airline also decreased its fuel surcharge when the global price of fuel decreased.

Early in the pandemic the price of fuel plunged from US$62 to just $12 per barrel as the world stopped travelling. Did BA drop the price of their fuel surcharges at the same time? No, they did not.

BA has kept its fuel surcharges amongst the highest in the industry even when oil prices have decreased and have now raised them even more — twice, in a single year.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

2. There’s less first class availability

British Airways has traditionally been very good at releasing first class award availability for Avios redemptions (including Companion Voucher redemptions). If Club World/Suite availability wasn’t available, you might find First was available and decide the extra Avios was worth it to really treat yourself or to make sure you can travel on the exact dates you wanted to.

During the pandemic, BA retired dozens of aircraft with first class cabins, meaning they now have less planes with a First cabin. Their new Airbus A350 aircraft do not have a first class cabin.

Affirming this, numerous TPG readers have contacted me to say they are finding virtually no First Avios availability, even on routes like New York where it’s usually very easy to find seats in First.

Here’s the availability from SeatSpy to New York for two seats in first class for the next 12 months. Some months have absolutely no days with two seats available, the best month (December) has only seven days for the entire month with two seats available.

Screenshot from SeatSpy

If you are considering first class, this means your Companion Voucher is now harder to redeem.

Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy

3. Qatar Airways now use Avios

An earlier contender for the best points and miles news for 2022 for U.K. travellers is that Qatar Airways has adopted Avios as their currency for their Privilege Club loyalty programme.

This means Avios can be transferred between BA’s Executive Club programme and Qatar’s Privilege Club programme at a rate of 1:1 in either direction as often as you want, which opens up all sorts of exciting redemption opportunities.

Related: Qatar Airways adopts Avios: 17 big questions answered — including how to find Qsuite availability

If you are looking at flying Qatar Airways ‘metal’ beyond their hub in Doha (DOH) you’ll likely need to redeem less Avios through Privilege Club compared to redeeming for the same flights via Executive Club.

Qatar also charge lower fuel surcharges than BA do for flights on their own airplanes — this has pushed BA to lower surcharges for Qatar flights booked through Executive Club.

While you can’t use your Companion Voucher on Qatar Airways operated flights (that would be the deal of the decade), Qatar has what I consider to be the world’s best business class with their Qsuite product and has recently had great Avios redemption availability. For me, flights with Qatar are becoming a far more attractive option for redeeming my Avios instead of dropping a six-figure amount on a Companion Voucher redemption.

Having flown both BA’s Club Suite and Qatar’s Qsuite recently, both are great products but the latter is overall much more appealing due to a far better-designed seat and a more personalised service.

Qatar Airways Qsuite. Photo by Qatar Airways

4. Contacting British Airways right now is almost impossible

Tried calling BA lately? Good luck. Their ‘higher than usual call volumes’ have been higher than usual for more than two years now — perhaps they should just admit this is the new normal?

If you try to call BA by phone you’re more than likely to be told you should only proceed if your travel is in the next 14 days, or in some instances that they “aren’t taking any more calls” at the time before being automatically disconnected.

This means if you are trying to redeem a Companion Voucher and it’s one that cannot be done online you may not be able to speak to a real person unless your travel is in the next 14 days, and there’s a good chance the seats you want might not be available anyway.

Now I admit most Companion Vouchers can be redeemed online easily without the need to call anyone. But what about if you need to change or cancel a voucher?

My 2021 Companion Voucher was redeemed for flights to Hong Kong in 2022. These flights were cancelled by British Airways and I was advised I could accept a Future Travel Voucher online. This would have meant tying up well over 150,000 Avios and £1,000 in yet another pesky voucher with irritating terms and conditions.

After many attempts, I finally managed to get through to BA on the phone to have the redemption refunded (tip – trying calling at exactly 8 a.m.). This was over a month ago and the Avios have still not been returned to me. This means organising another day around trying to get through to them on the phone to chase up the refund.

My Avios redemption options right now are largely influenced on what is unlikely to require calling British Airways.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

5. Barclays is influencing how I allocate my Avios

Barclays has introduced new Avios earning products, including the Barclays Avios Rewards current account, as well as two exciting new Barclaycard Avios-earning Mastercards. All three products come with upgrade vouchers that won’t solve the problem of the sky-high fuel surcharges, but will give me additional ways to redeem my Avios outside of the Companion Voucher.

I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to use the upgrade vouchers I’ll earn from both the current account and the Mastercard (I’ll certainly let you know how and when I do), but it’s likely I won’t have enough Avios to properly use both of these, as well as the Companion Voucher for long-haul premium travel.

So, I may decide to allocate my Avios to Barclays vouchers, rather than the Companion Voucher this year.

Related: 25,000 bonus Avios and cabin upgrade vouchers: A review of the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

But, some elements of the companion voucher are better than ever

For Companion Vouchers earned on or after 1 September 2021, British Airways has relaxed the routing rules to allow the journey to start outside of the United Kingdom (from anywhere BA flies). This creates a potential tax saving, as if you start your journey outside of the United Kingdom, you will not have to pay the Air Passenger Duty which would easily save two people travelling together several hundred pounds, making those huge fees, taxes and surcharges co-payment slightly more palatable.

BA has also promised additional business class award availability for the newly earned Companion Voucher and on the searches I regularly run, this has been true.

Related: How much better is British Airways business-class availability using a new Companion Voucher?

Here is a search for business class seats to New York without using a Companion Voucher:

Screenshot from British Airways

And here is a search of the same route and date when using a newly earned Companion Voucher:

Screenshot from British Airways

So, in fairness it’s probably never been easier to redeem a Companion Voucher for business class flights, the problem remains that I’m just less interested in doing so for the five reasons above.

Bottom line

The British Airways Companion Voucher has traditionally been the most valuable points and miles credit card benefit in the United Kingdom. For many years, it was my favourite perk and I’ve been able to extract a lot of value from my vouchers each year.

However, events over the last few months mean I’m less interested in earning more of these Companion Vouchers or even using the vouchers I have. It’s unlikely BA will reduce their fuel surcharges anytime soon. Combined with other BA issues and opportunities for other Avios redemptions I wonder if American Express will find cardholders don’t actually want the Companion Vouchers that are so critical to these cards anymore.

Avios are still very valuable — I’m not abandoning Executive Club even with my increasing interest in Privilege Club. I think the short-haul economy Avios Reward Flight Savers are fantastic and I use them all the time. It’s great to have so many ways to earn and redeem Avios, I’m just not sure if the Companion Voucher will get the lion’s share of my balance each year anymore.

Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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