My post-coronavirus British Airways Companion Voucher strategy
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Planning on how to use my British Airways Companion Voucher is one of the biggest and most important points and miles decisions I make each year. This is both because it usually wipes out a big chunk of my Avios balance when I redeem it and because it can easily save me thousands of pounds, depending on how I use it.
I usually earn a Companion Voucher each year from my British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card by spending £10,000 in a card membership year. The Voucher is valid for two years once I earn it. And importantly, I must book and travel at least the outbound leg before the expiration date of the Voucher.
If you are looking to maximise your travel by using it to book long-haul premium cabin British Airways seats, then you’ll need to book well in advance to find availability — up to (and ideally) a year in advance. Some years, I redeem my Companion Voucher soon after I earn it. Even looking for seats a year in advance, it gives me a year to decide when to travel and to where. Other years, I have no immediate use for it, so I might wait some months before booking anything and end up travelling close to the end of the Voucher expiry, even though I might book the flights close to a year in advance.
Given I can earn a new Voucher each year, and the Voucher from this credit card lasts for two years, sometimes there are two Vouchers in my account at once, so I don’t feel a huge need to redeem both quickly. I often have a tricky situation where if I need a six-figure Avios balance in order to redeem the Voucher for something valuable, I need to wait to build up my Avios balance from the last big redemption and hope the seats I want are still there when my Avios balance is big enough.
This brings me to my current Companion Voucher conundrum. I earned a Voucher in August 2018 with an expiration date of August 2020. I had no immediate use for it (nor a huge Avios balance to burn), so I sat on it for some time. Around a year ago, I was invited to a wedding on the Indonesian island of Bali to be held in May 2020. While BA doesn’t fly to Bali (DPS) itself, it does fly to several airports in the region where I could easily connect on to Bali. So, I booked two Club World seats to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) with British Airways.
Then COVID-19 happened.
The wedding was cancelled, as were my flights. This meant I could refund the Avios, fees, taxes and surcharges and the Companion Voucher went back into my account. The wedding has been rescheduled for the same time next year. Hopefully, the world will be a very different place by then.
To British Airways’ credit, it has extended the expiration date of all Companion Vouchers by six months. So a Voucher expiring in August 2020 now expires in February 2021.
My issue is that the extended date doesn’t currently cover the new dates for the wedding. I have no other unredeemed Companion Vouchers in my Executive Club account — the Voucher I earned in 2019, I booked and flew to Hong Kong (HKG) at the start of this year.
Here’s my current thought process and my options.
Another Voucher extension?
British Airways may extend the expiration date of all Vouchers by another six months given that the FCO’s global “Do Not Travel” warning shows no signs of being relaxed anytime soon. I cannot imagine it being safe for U.K. travellers to travel to the United States for the foreseeable, for example.
Where people are booking flights up to a year in advance, the amount of planning and flexibility required by the traveller may mean one six-month extension may not allow them to use their Voucher the way they wish, and the airline is aware of this. If British Airways extended the Vouchers by a further six months (so a 12-month extension in total), then the second extension would cover the new dates for the wedding and I could just book the same flights a year later.
It may extend, it may not.
Earn another Companion Voucher?
I haven’t yet earned a new Companion Voucher in 2020, as for the first few months of the year, I was travelling in places where I didn’t want to pay the 2.99% foreign transaction fee for using an Amex card abroad.
I could focus on earning a new Companion Voucher now, which would cover the new wedding dates, though like many people, my spending has reduced dramatically as a result of lockdown. I could usually meet the £10,000 spend requirements within a few months if I put absolutely every expense I could think of on the card (especially future travel). However, the most extravagant purchases I’m making right now include buying a steak from the supermarket rather than mincemeat. It will take me a long time to reach that spend if lockdown continues for the foreseeable future.
I’m hesitant to book big chunks of future travel with all the uncertainty around travel right now. I could potentially do something like buy points and miles for future travel to trigger the Voucher, but again that is often not advisable.
Use my Voucher a different way?
Another option is to use the Companion Voucher for something else for travel before February 2021 on the assumption that BA will not extend the Vouchers any further. There is so much uncertainty with future travel right now, but given Spain and Greece have publicly stated they plan to welcome tourists this summer, I could potentially book a beach getaway week late in summer. This isn’t a great use of the Voucher, though it would definitely be better than letting it go to waste if it expires before I can travel with it long-haul.
It’s a bit of a gamble how I should use my current Companion Voucher. I personally suspect British Airways will extend the validity of the Vouchers further, especially given how much advance planning some people need in order to maximise the Voucher properly. However, that is far from certain, and just my personal view.
Everyone is watching their finances carefully right now — myself included. So, pumping £10,000 through my American Express card when I don’t have a lot of expenses right now doesn’t seem like a great idea.
I could just redeem my Companion Voucher now for a late summer beach holiday in Europe, though that’s not a great use compared with long-haul premium cabin flights. The Voucher remains very valuable, so I want to make sure I use it properly.
For now, I think I’ll sit tight and wait and see. How about you?
Featured image by Travelstoxphoto / Getty Images
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