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Why NO-ONE should spend £20,000 for a 2-4-1 on the free British Airways American Express card

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I wanted to give this article another run today as it has a lot of value for new HFP readers who may be putting £20,000 per year on the free BA Amex in the mistaken idea that it is the sensible thing to do.

The bottom line for this article is the answer to this question – which is the best British Airways American Express card for someone who can spend £20,000 per year on it?BA AmexFirst, let’s remind ourselves of the rules on each of the two BA Amex cards:

The BA American Express card has no fee, earns 1 mile per £1 spent and generates a 2-4-1 voucher each year when you spend £20,000. The voucher lasts for 1 year.

The BA Premium Plus American Express has a £195 annual fee, earns 1.5 miles per £1 spent (3x on BA flights) and generates a 2-4-1 voucher each year when you spend £10,000. The voucher lasts for 2 years.

Why is getting the 2-4-1 voucher via the free BA Amex card a bad idea?

Many people assume that the free card is the best one if you can spend £20,000, because you save £195 in annual fees and you still earn a 2-4-1 voucher annually.  This is the wrong answer.

Here is the first key point:

If you are spending £20,000 on the free BA Amex card, you’d earn 10,000 extra Avios by spending the same £20,000 on the Premium Plus card. 

This is because of the higher earnings rate of 1.5 Avios per £1 on the Premium Plus card compared to 1 Avios per £1 on the free card.  The Premium Plus card also offers double miles when you book BA flights on the card.

Those extra 10,000 Avios alone are worth around half of the annual fee on the Premium Plus card.

Should I move my £20,000 of spending to the British Airways Premium Plus card then?

No!  There is no real logic to carry on spending once you have hit the 2-4-1 voucher on the BA Premium Plus card either.  There are two better alternatives:

Get the Premium Plus card and just spend the necessary £10,000 on it to trigger the 2-4-1. You can then use your additional annual Amex spending to open more credit cards and meet the spending target required to trigger their bonuses – such as the free night voucher on the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard (£10,000 spend required) or the 2-4-1 voucher on the Virgin Flying Club Reward+ Mastercard (£10,000 spend required).


If you have a partner, get them their own BA Premium Plus Amex and get yourself a supplementary card on that account.  You could then spend £10,000 on each card (your own card, then the supplementary card on your partners account) and earn TWO 2-4-1 vouchers each year.  That is what we do in our house.

And there’s more ….

It is also worth remembering that the one-year expiry on the voucher on the free BA Amex card is very inconvenient.  For very popular routes or at peak periods you will want to be booking 355 days in advance if possible and this is almost impossible on the free card unless you can time the triggering of the voucher to perfection.

Even if you could spend £20,000 on the free BA Amex card I think you are better off spending £195 to get the Premium Plus card in order to:

  • earn 10,000 additional Avios if you choose to put £20,000 on a BA Amex
  • get an extra year to use your 2-4-1 voucher
  • have the option of moving spend beyond the first £10,000 to a 2nd BAPP Amex or another card entirely

I am NOT saying that the free BA Amex is useless! You get a decent sign-up bonus of 5,000 Avios and the Avios earnings rate per £1 is not beaten by any other free card.

For someone who spends under £10,000 a year on their free BA Amex – and so could not trigger the 2-4-1 on the Premium Plus card – it is a sensible option.  It is not the BEST option, however.  A lot of people would be better off swapping the free BA Amex for the free American Express Rewards credit card as this article explains.

Anyone who spends £20,000 a year on the free BA Amex card, however, needs to think again. 

Learn more about the credit cards mentioned above

Here is the legally required interest rate information on the credit cards mentioned above, together with links to our detailed reviews:

British Airways American Express – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Avios when you spend £1,000 in three months – apply hereour BA Amex review is here – representative APR 22.9% variable

British Airways American Express Premium Plus – sign-up bonus of 25,000 Avios when you spend £3,000 in three months – apply hereour BA Amex Premium Plus review is here – representative APR 76.0% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

American Express Rewards – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Membership Rewards points – apply hereour Amex Rewards review is here representative APR 22.9% variable

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard – sign-up bonus of 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points after spending £200 – apply hereour IHG Rewards Club Premium review is hererepresentative APR 45.1% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard – sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin Flying Club miles after your first purchase – apply hereour Virgin Atlantic Reward+ review is here – representative APR 63.9% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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  1. Rob H says:

    As people will rarely qualify for the signup bonus due to the recent rules change I wonder if it would actually be better to:

    1) Get the free BA Card
    2) Spend about £9,500 on it
    3) Upgrade it to the BA Premium
    4) Spend an additional £500 on it
    5) Get 2-4-1 voucher
    6) Downgrade to the BA free (Remember you are suposed to have a BA card active to use the voucher)

    This would mean that you would only pay 1-2 months of BA Premium card fee, which to me seems much better than paying the fee to get an additional 0.5 avoid per pound spent.

    (I wonder if this article still has the in-build assumption that you will get the large signup fee with the Premium card – which few people would qualify for)

    • But this article is nothing to do with sign up bonuses… it’s all about where to put your spend to maximise Avios and get the (arguably) better 2-4-1 voucher. Plus Rob has never really condoned churning in his articles

    • Dac123 says:

      Spot on. We do this every year

    • It depends on how long you take to spend the 10K as well as the timing of when you want to trigger the voucher…. as the BA cards round to nearest avios unlike the MR cards, you will on average get 5000 avios extra on the premium card with 10K spend. If you value those at £50 then you might as well pay 3 months of fee.

      • Marcw says:

        There cheaper ways to get 5k Avios.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          What value do you put on your relationship with AMEX?

          • Currently zero given their relationship with customers at present!

          • Doug M says:

            Zero. An individual customer has no relationship with a large corporate. They don’t care about you.

          • TGLoyalty says:

            I agree they don’t care about you. They care about their bottom line and have no reason to keep you as a customer.

            If you want to keep getting 2-4-1’s they have to keep wanting to give you a card.

            Trust me they can and do cut people who abuse their system off.

          • marcw says:

            No one plays against their rules. They write the rules, you just follow them.

          • Doug M says:

            Really? The comments here and on similar sites are a ‘How To’ on gaming the offers. We see the general T&C’s changes like the recent Amex ones, but little or no complaints from individuals about being cut off. Is this not another myth like the not completing your ex-EU will allow the airline to remove your points and status, while finding a way to charge you the repriced fare?

          • TGLoyalty says:

            No myth. Amex financial reviews are real. Do happen and do cancel your cards/take all your points etc.

          • Genghis says:

            It’s a real risk!

    • This is what I am going to do later this summer. Still a bit wary – what if BA Amex rejects my upgrade application? Then my partner and I are doomed

      • Doug M says:

        Like anything if you’re risk averse don’t do it. But given how many people it works for why worry?

    • Billy says:

      You also get 6k bonus avios when you upgrade from free to BAPP but if you call up and ask everyone will deny it and says there is no such promotion. We asked about this on 3 separate occasions and they all said no. A few days after the card arrived I saw bonus adjustment on my statement for 6k Avios.

      Also if you cancel your supp card before applying so as to get an additional bonus of 3k points, Amex will still automatically send out another one.

      What I’ve learnt from people’s comments on here i’ve come to the conclusion that Amex is entirely run by machines. The system will do what it wants. You could probably apply for the 241 card 6 times a year as long as the system doesn’t flag it up.

  2. Johnny says:

    In terms of the vouchers are they travel within the set time or book within the period?

    • Wally1976 says:

      You have to fly at least the outbound journey within the time period I believe.

    • Dac123 says:

      The voucher lasts 2 years even if you ‘immediately’ downgrade your card. We’ve upgraded for only a week in the past and it works (plus you can upgrade/downgrade online and never have to speak with amex to explain yourself!)

    • Johnny, outbound and return must be inside the voucher validity period. Not just the booking or even just the outbound.

      • MikeL says:

        From the BA forum, and my own personal experience, outbound to be taken before expiry of the voucher. Inbound can be out with the validity dates. “The voucher must be booked online at … Members can choose to take anyone as a Companion on their redemption voucher booking. Outbound travel must take place before the expiry date stated on the voucher, however inbound travel may take place after the expiry date.”

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Just the outbound has to be flown before expiry. What I don’t know is can the return peg be added after the voucher has expired

        • Lady London says:

          I would speculate “not” . I would get the structure and probably also the routing of the ticket – single or return, set up before the expiry date of the voucher.

          Also to bear in mind that you are only able to book, or change to if allowed, a return date within approx 11 and a half months after the date the ticket was issued.

          That’s how tickets work – it’s not a voucher restriction.

  3. Wally1976 says:

    OT – sorry, no bits today – have others been having trouble redeeming Amex MR points in the last few days? The site keeps throwing an error for me.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Which partner in particular? I know I have had issues adding virgin FF to my account before.

      • Wally1976 says:

        The error was at the point where I hit the “Use your points” button (so before choosing a partner). Just tried again and it seems OK now anyway!

    • Jonathan says:

      Try a different server . Whenever I’ve had this problem I switch to Firefox which generates works .

  4. Nick_C says:

    Blimey. People really are abusing the upgrade / downgrade between the two BA cards.

    And writing about it on a forum which Amex read.

    I wonder what the next Amex change will be?

    • Bazza says:

      Their reasoning is that you are able to do, Amex allow it, so can talk openly about it…

      Same as they were doing with the sign up bonus, cancel and reapply business….

      That worked out well didn’t it?

    • flyforfun says:

      I moved from the fee paying card to the free one when I thought I wasn’t going to hit the £10k spend. Later, because of a number of large unexpected holidays and other items I could see I was going to hit it and swapped back to the fee paying card. Did it online no problems.

  5. RakishDriver says:

    OT, no bits – Can I put flights and hotel on my SPG amex and still benefit from my Platinum amex’s travel and medical insurance? Not sure if this has changed recently.

  6. OT but no bits today, what time exactly are the +355 days seats released atm on BA, can’t remember if it changes from midnight to 1am at some point.


  7. Is there an article on how to book 2 for 1 tickets 355 days in advance?

    Need some tips on how to do it!

    • Spurs Debs says:

      Yes loads, use the search feature on this site.

    • Shoestring says:

      For European flights, 2 tips:

      1. check the cash price against your T-355 reward cost in Avios – at T-355 the peak/ non peak calendar may not be in operation and BA has been known to offer extremely cheap HBO or standard tickets that work out a bit cheaper than using Avios (valued at 1p/ point). So you might want to pay cash and preserve your Avios – plus earn a few on the flight (and the TPs).

      2. check out the Avios + Money option when you are redeeming Avios for flights – these days there’s usually an option for standard tickets that lets you ‘buy’ Avios for about 0.8p/ point. Which is a nice easy way to effectively buy points on the cheap whilst sitting in the comfort of your home.

      • I don’t think you can use avios + money when using a 2 4 1 voucher though.

        • Shoestring says:

          yeah missed the 2-4-1 bit 🙂

          Tip 3: Don’t use 2-4-1 in Europe – it’s a bit of a waste! lol

          It could actually work out if you are directing (say) £10K of spend to the BAPP instead of (say) Gold, which – if you hit the £15K spend to earn 10K bonus, means points value of about £167 on the Gold.

          £167 to get a free business seat in Europe…hmm, might be worth it to some if you are a lounge lizard, travel with 2x 32kg etc. £167 to get a free standard seat in Europe?,,,maybe if you are booking late but there’s still Avios availability on an expensive route if the alternative were paying cash.

      • Doug M says:

        Are the Avios and Money offers tailored to the user or the flight. What I get offered is always a bad deal, over 1p per Avios. Just did a quick test on Berlin, offers were 900/£10 1600/£20 2100/£30.
        Typically have plenty of Avios anyway, but options offered always seem poor.

        • Shoestring says:

          Must be by route. Berlin doesn’t look to be very good for Avios + Money, not sure if this is true for all 4000/ 4500 Avios routes

          (Mine’s 7500)

          • Doug M says:

            OK cheers. Berlin is a common one for me, I’ll have to check more carefully on the longer routes next time. Sort of dismissed it based on each time I checked it was a very poor offer.

        • Lady London says:

          You can also check Part Pay wih Avios (=cash+avois, rather than avios+cash/money).

          Still not good ratios of money off per avios added unless BA are trying to test user behaviour by offering something different.

          But at least on a cash+avios ticket you would be earning avios and tier points.

  8. Johan says:


    Just to confirm

    If I have had a personal Amex Plat in the last 24 months I will NOT qualify for any sign up bonus for either BA Card?


    • It’s my understanding that you can still get the BAPP sign up bonus (not sure about the free card), as long as you haven’t had a BA card in the past 24 months. Rob did a good article on this when the changes were announced.

      • To confirm, only BAPP, not the free one. You get the signup providing you haven’t held either BA Amex within the past 24 months.

        Similar applies to Plat charge, providing you’ve held no personal MR earning card in the last 24m.

    • No. You WILL get the bonus on BAPP, but not free BA.

  9. I Have been working flat out to spend £20000
    On the free card to get the 241 voucher.
    I have spent £17500. What should I do now?
    I have the gold Amex card and virgin plus credit card . Should I finish now I am nearly there?

    • Shoestring says:

      if you have a tasty 2-4-1 redemption in mind, which can easily be worth £2000+ in Business, you might as well carry on – or upgrade to BAPP to get the voucher immediately

      if it was just a good idea at the time but you have no real intention of using the 2-4-1 voucher…

      • Sharon says:

        Any recommendations for a ‘tasty’ 2-4-1 redemption in business? Never flown business before. Next goal – to utilise Rob’s tip in the article. Need to connect from Belfast, suggestions for good value onward destinations?

      • Lady London says:

        Certainly carry on.
        Upgrade immediately.
        Would this give you a good start for next year’s voucher as well, or are counters set to zero for spend as soon as a voucher is issued>

    • Navara says:

      Upgrade to the Bapp get the 2 4 1 then downgrade back

    • Graham Walsh says:

      I would upgrade so that you get a 2 year expiry on the voucher especially if you are unsure where to use it.

  10. Graham Walsh says:

    So where is the best for long term Avois spend as you can’t get 120k easily if you earn your 241 and need the points to pay for it. BAPP has a good earning rate compared to everything else. Unless I look at my new Lloyd’s card that’s still attached to the paper.

    • Shoestring says:

      BAPP is 1.5 Avios/ £1
      Gold card is 1.67 Avios/ £1 if you spend exactly £15K & it’s all UK spend, higher rate if you mix in foreign spend but you’ll also be paying the 2.99% foreign spend fee (25000 Avios for £15K spend)

      • Graham Walsh says:

        Thanks Harry. Good point re Gold.ill downgrade Plat to Gold I guess.

        Just need to work out either a new bank account that has family travel insurance, lounge access and car breakdown cover or just buy separately. Off to do the maths. What a fun Sunday. Had my RAC renewal through. Doubled the price in one year. So much for customer loyalty when never even called them out.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Why downgrade yet? Get referred by someone from a play to the gold credit. Free for one year and keeps your MR account live.

          Maybe refer someone for an SPG etc too at some point. Then downgrade your Plat to a green.

          • Graham Walsh says:

            I’ve used most of my referrals for this calendar year so Plat becoming less useful to me now.

        • Lady London says:

          Nationwide, NatWest, HSBC (but high income/investment requirement) have versions of what you’re looking for I believe. At least one of these gives mobile phone insurance as well, which is hard to get cost-effectlively otherwise.

        • Lady London says:

          Apparently the thing with RAC is just to phone them and negotiate.
          You could check the AA’s pricing before you do that, though, and maybe Green Flag as well.

          RAC and AA have been outed in various sources as doing this type of inertia ripoff of existing customers. Just like car insurance co’s (most of them), too.

        • Shoestring says:

          RAC? Switch between RAC and AA every year, for sure, earning bonus Avios points while you’re at it – they don’t deserve your loyalty, thieving entities on the renewal quote. We found AutoAid an even better alternative last year.

          • Graham Walsh says:

            Nationwide Flex looks a good package compared to the others. AutoAid comes up top at another site.

      • Thanks Shoestring. I was also wondering how it compared with Gold.

        So would it be a good idea to keep Gold for travel spend and get a BAPP for UK spend? I’m thinking first year free on Gold plus two Lounge passes, 2 MR points on travel plus 10,000 points, and, BAPP for UK everyday spend at 1.5 avios per £ plus 2-4-1 voucher valid for two years? Or is it still better off staying with Gold for all spending do you think?

        • Doug M says:

          All Amex has a 3% FX fee on non GBP spend. No points are worth that. It maybe the only way you can hit a spend target, in which case you need to work out the value to you. Depending on amounts of travel spend a Curve recharged to a points card is good for <£500 month, else look to a zero FX card, Tandem, Barclaycard. Google is your friend on 0% FX cards.

          • Thanks Doug M. FX at 0% is always useful. Alas I’ve got to that certain age where having a wallet loaded with cards has lost its appeal and now just carry one Amex and one Visa on my travels.

          • Doug M says:

            I’ve churned relentlessly in the last few months and got the Tandem when I suspected I might get refused. I think there’s a raft of issues each company have that can influence the decision.

          • Doug M says:

            @Russ. I hear you, but I still make the effort. I used my Lloyds Amex exclusively abroad, and where not accepted the Saga VISA. Saga withdrawn and Lloyds Avios changed to such an extent it’s no longer any use to me. I got the Tandem as a backup to the Curve, just consider them my abroad cards. Amex for home use. Seems minimal effort.

          • @Doug M. I’m just getting lazy 🙂

            @ Shoestring, yes the Gold still ticks most of our boxes and the 2-4-1 voucher we don’t use anyway.

        • Shoestring says:

          Gold has got an important place in my strategy, I think I could make quite a good case to keep it going indefinitely even at £140pa with a target exact £15K spend on it pa

          – 2 free lounge passes & others @£20 if no other lounge passes to hand
          – loads of Amex online offers, £200 off £600 on Amex Travel?
          – Amazon offers need a MR points card
          – referrals quite decent 6000 MR points
          – 25000 MR points for the £15K spend
          – good for foreign spend, maybe not *better* than some alternatives but you are effectively buying MR points @1.1p so nothing to be scared of
          – could be a few more that work for you such as 2 points on airlines direct purchases

  11. I signed by for the free BA card and am close to hitting the target spend for the bonus (not £20k). I regret signing up for the free one though. If before hitting the bonus target one upgrades to the premium one, do they get the higher bonus (25,000 Avios?). Just to clarify I haven’t had the signup bonus from BA yet for the free card.

    • No you get the bonus on the card you signed up for – as it’s a sign up bonus

      If you want the BAPP bonus in the future you need to cancel the free card and wait 24 months (and hope it’s still available in 2 years)

      • Lady London says:

        However to note that referral bonsues are based on the card you refer from, not the card that you refer to.

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