Higher annual fee and devalued Companion Voucher: American Express details massive changes to BA cobranded cards

Jun 1, 2021

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There’s good and bad news for cobranded British Airways American Express cardholders, depending on which card you hold and how you like to use your Companion Voucher.

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First, the good news. From 1 September 2021, British Airways American Express cardholders (the basic, no-annual-fee card) will be required to spend less to earn a valuable Companion Voucher. The amount of spend is being reduced from £20,000 in 12 months to £12,000.

This means you can earn the Voucher faster, with less spend required. There will also no longer be a requirement to use the Companion Voucher for a journey starting in the United Kingdom, which will be handy if you are struggling to find availability ex-U.K. and instead want to just use it for your return journey. Until now, you have not had this option.

Now, for the bad news — and it’s not great.

Any Companion Vouchers earned from the British Airways American Express Card (again, the basic, no-annual-fee card) from 1 September 2021 can only be used for redemptions in economy class — whether that’s short-haul Euro Traveller or long-haul World Traveller. Premium economy, Club World/Club Europe and First tickets will no longer be available for Companion Voucher redemptions. With the high compulsory cost of fees, taxes and surcharges payable to economy class redemptions for both passengers using the Companion Voucher, this significantly reduces the potential value a cardholder can obtain from the Companion Voucher.

Related: How to use a British Airways Companion Voucher with a Household Account

Historically, you will usually get the best value redeeming your Companion Voucher for a premium cabin, though this will no longer be possible for Vouchers earned from the basic British Airways American Express Card from 1 September 2021.

Luckily, for cardholders of the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card, the news isn’t nearly so bad – in fact there’s even some good news. The card’s annual fee is increasing from £195 to £250 per year from 1 September. If your annual fee is due before that date, you will be charged the lower £195 fee. Crucially, however, there will be no changes to Companion Voucher cabin redemptions — anything from economy up to First class will still be an option, provided there’s availability for two passengers on the desired BA-operated flights, which is the same as the current Companion Voucher rules.

Companion Vouchers earned through the Premium Plus Card will also no longer be required to commence their journey in the United Kingdom, which offers nice flexibility.

Related: How to best maximise a BA Companion Voucher with 100,000 Avios

Remember, British Airways has doubled the guaranteed minimum number of seats on each of its flights bookable with Avios and Companion Vouchers. In addition to this, British Airways will also open up additional Club World (business class) award availability for Premium Plus Card Companion Vouchers earned from 1 September 2021. This means “I class” seats will be available for Companion Voucher redemptions, but not for other Avios or partner redemptions.

This will mean it should be easier to find the business class seats you want with the Premium Plus Card Companion Vouchers.

Both cards will receive a new physical card design for the first time in 25 years, with the card number moving from the front to the back of the card. These cards will be sent out from 1 September and on annual review dates for existing cardholders.

Related: How to book mixed-class Companion Voucher itineraries

(Photo by Josh Gribben/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

For most cardholders, the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card has traditionally been a better value proposition — even with the annual fee, as it has a much higher welcome bonus, lower spend to earn the Companion Voucher and the Companion Voucher is valid for 24 months rather than 12 months. While an annual fee increase is never welcome, the tradeoff that Vouchers can be redeemed for journeys starting places other than the U.K. could be considered a fair one, offering more flexibility and potentially lower taxes and fees.

The basic British Airways American Express Card changes are difficult to swallow, especially the fact that you can only redeem those Companion Vouchers earned from 1 September 2021 for travel in economy class. This makes the Voucher — and therefore the credit card — much less valuable, though it will still not charge an annual fee.

Featured image by Josh Gribben / The Points Guy

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