My post-coronavirus British Airways Companion Voucher strategy
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.
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.
In the past year, my strategy for how to use my Companion Voucher has changed at least once. That’s because ensuring how I can extract the most value from it at a time when restrictions are constantly changing has been hard to do. Here’s how I’m strategising to use it this year.
Companion Voucher basics
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 recently announced changes to the Companion Vouchers from 1 September 2021 hasn’t changed this strategy for future years. I’m definitely keeping my Premium Plus Card after the changes take effect, as, despite the small annual fee increase, the Companion Voucher has become even better with the relaxed routing rules and additional Club World availability.
The Voucher from the Premium Plus Card is valid for two years once I earn it. Importantly, I must book and travel at least the outbound leg before the expiration date of the Companion Voucher.
If you are looking to maximise your travel by using the Companion Voucher 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 usually 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.
My 2020 Companion Voucher
I earned a Companion Voucher in August 2019 with an expiration date of August 2021. 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 to Bali.
So, I used this Companion Voucher to book two Club World seats to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) with British Airways.
Then COVID-19 happened.
The wedding was postponed, and my flights were cancelled. This meant I could refund the Avios, fees, taxes and surcharges, and the Companion Voucher went back into my Executive Club account. The wedding was rescheduled to May 2021, and then postponed again, as the chances of anyone making it to Bali this year weren’t much better than last year. I didn’t actually rebook flights, as I was waiting for more certainty on international travel, so the Companion Voucher has remained untouched in my account for the past 12 months.
Depending on when your Companion Voucher was issued, the expiry date may have been extended up to three times. My Voucher has only been extended once — by six months — from August 2021 to February 2022. This doesn’t sound quite right — it should have benefited from at least one more extension.
I may contact BA to clarify, though I am really hoping to redeem it before February 2022.
My 2021 strategy
I’ve been keeping a close eye on the U.K. government’s traffic light system with the hope that many more countries make it onto the green list sooner rather than later. I’m hopeful that international travel should be in much better shape by February 2022 as the U.K. should have finished its vaccination programme and many other countries should have done the same.
That being said, I’m being realistic. I would expect travel home from major global transit hubs like the United Arab Emirates to have some sort of quarantine or self-isolation requirements for a long time to come.
So, I’m thinking: What long-haul destinations can I travel to that should allow relatively normal travel for fully-vaccinated tourists?
I’m focusing on the Caribbean.
Several islands have very well-progressed vaccination programmes and low COVID-19 cases. With small populations and natural borders they can easily control the flow of people in and out of, island nations like Grenada have not seen a single new COVID-19 case for months.
It’s my birthday in January and for years, I have wanted to visit Barbados (BGI) and St Lucia (UVF). Barbados looks like a wonderful explosion of colour, music, food and culture as well as some of the best beaches in the world. I know that St Lucia is a very popular honeymoon destination with plenty of luxurious resorts.
I’ve been tossing up between the two islands for years — it’s possible to fly between the two, so I may do both on the same trip. I can use my Companion Voucher for an open jaw itinerary if I like.
Normally finding two Club World seats to the Caribbean in January would require plenty of forward planning, flexibility and luck. For this reason, I set up some seat alerts through SeatSpy a few months ago so I would be emailed if and when additional seats were released to Barbados or St Lucia.
Via all the SeatSpy alert emails I’ve received, I’ve noticed following the recent doubling of minimum guaranteed Avios redemption seats that the Avios availability floodgates have been opened in the past few weeks, and there’s plenty of availability to both destinations using my Companion Voucher in January.
If the depths of next winter in London are anything like the last winter and we are allowed to travel, a week or two in the Caribbean sounds like heaven. So, that’s my current plan for this Companion Voucher.
Other Companion Vouchers
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t earn a Companion Voucher in 2020.
I normally earn one each year, but by far my largest credit card spend is on travel each year, and I spent significantly less on travel the past 12 months than I normally would, as I imagine was the same for many TPG readers. Also, having a Companion Voucher from 2019 I couldn’t even use for long-haul travel made me less motivated to earn another Voucher, as they were rather hard to maximise the last year.
Looking forward, I’m far more optimistic and excited.
I’m already on my way towards earning a Companion Voucher in 2021, and with the increased minimum guaranteed Avios availability as well as the increased Club World “I class” availability released for Premium Plus Companion Vouchers for the first time, there are going to be a whole lot more seats and therefore more options to use this valuable credit card perk.
My next new Companion Voucher can hopefully be used for this repeatedly delayed Bali wedding.
Until the past few months, using my Companion Voucher hasn’t been front of my mind. I’m still drowning in Future Travel Vouchers that I’m wanting to use up first as they are literally money I have already spent. But with the good news from British Airways on availability in the last few weeks, the Companion Vouchers have become more exciting again.
I suspect business travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels for several years to come, which should mean Avios premium cabin award availability on long-haul routes should be excellent for the next 12 months — there are a lot of premium seats to fill up on all those planes.
With everything that has happened the past year, my Companion Voucher strategy may well change again — the travel world is still an uncertain place. Fingers crossed I’ll be spending my next birthday in the Caribbean, though!
Featured image by Travelstoxphoto / Getty Images
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