British Airways and American Express have changed the game, again. Unfortunately, this time it’s not quite as positive as last time, when the airline announced increased availability on each flight, when you want to use your Avios points. It seems companies can’t just give us a win, without taking something away too.
New limits to usefulness will soon apply to the “no annual fee” version of the BA Amex in the UK, and a higher annual fee will also soon apply to the British Airways Premium Amex. It’s not entirely negative, but the changes don’t go nearly as far as hoped.
TL;DR: BA Amex UK Changes
British Airways and Amex is making the “free” version of the UK Amex card less useful, by limiting the companion voucher you can earn to only cover economy flights. They’re also raising the annual fee on the premium “black” version of the BA Amex from £195 per year to £250.
As a trade off, premium cardholders will have wider access to seats using Avios, which should make bringing a companion easier, albeit £55 more expensive, per year.
What’s Good About The BA Amex Changes
British Airways is going to open up additional “fare buckets” for companion vouchers, which will make it easier for BA Amex Premium cardholders to take a companion along when they redeem their Avios for a flight. This means (I) class will be eligible for any companion voucher tickets, but full Avios must be paid.
Full taxes and fees, which can hit £600+ per person for long haul business or first class will still apply, and still make the “free” companion only true in terms of points.
Having additional flight availability for cardholders is excellent, particularly after BA’s recent announcement that more seats would be opened for points on each flight anyway. Basically, it should be far-far easier to actually cash in your voucher.
What’s Bad About The Changes
They ruin the value of one card, and don’t go far enough on the other.
British Airways had a lofty spending requirement for people to earn a companion voucher with the free card, requiring £20,000 in annual spend, whereas the higher annual fee “premium” card required far less, at just £10,000 in spending per year to trigger the voucher.
Obviously, Amex gets paid every time you swipe, and BA undoubtedly enjoys a percentage of any debt incurred on these cards, so the entities earn considerable revenue off the spending you do, which funds the rewards.
Now, they’re reducing the “no annual fee” card spending to hit the voucher to £12,000, but making it only apply to economy flights. In other words, there’s no aspirational reason to carry the card, and spending £12,000 just to get an economy flight where you still pay the taxes, but not the Avios is a …. terrible return on investment.
What’s frustrating here, is that Amex is raising the annual fee on this card, but missing a golden opportunity. Virgin Atlantic (all too quietly) created a brilliant feature with its Premium+ card, allowing companion vouchers to be used even on cash bookings.
Amex could’ve raised the annual fee, but said a companion can come along on a cash ticket, just paying the taxes and fees.
Many people simply never earn Avios at a rapid enough rate to enjoy an aspirational trip purely on points, so adding another option, where a cash booking can bring a companion for just taxes and fees opens up a whole new ball game.
For what it’s worth, my family holds the Virgin Rewards+ card specifically for this purpose. We spend our £10,000, and then can use the voucher on a points booking or a cash booking.
Thanks to Gold and (or) Silver status, this applies in any cabin, so if I find a £1000 Upper Class fare, the second person just pays taxes of around £450 – and still earns tier points too!
If BA did this here, it could’ve been a huge new attraction to the higher £250 annual fee, rather than a “maybe this will be good enough”, while so much uncertainty – and so few routes – remain.
Should You Keep Your BA Amex Card?
If you earn Avios at a strong clip, have the BA Premium Amex, and will have enough to keep fueling long haul first or business class flights, you just need to stomach an extra £55 a year to enjoy a more seamless companion booking experience.
However, if you held the no annual fee version, don’t earn Avios all that easily, or don’t use your companion voucher for a very (very) high value redemption, you’ve got new expenses to factor, into whether the card actually “saves” you anything.