Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Why NO-ONE should spend £20,000 on the free BA Amex

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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.

Here is the question I want to answer: which is the best British Airways American Express card for someone who can spend £20,000 per year on it?

Why you should not get the free British Airways American Express card

First, 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 Avios 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 Avios per £1 spent (3 Avios per £1 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.

Dont get the free British Airways American Express credit 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 2-4-1 voucher on the Virgin Flying Club Reward+ Mastercard (£10,000 spend required).

or

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.

Why the BA Premium Plus card is better than the free card

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

You can learn more about how the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher works in this ‘Avios Redemption University’ article.

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 card

British Airways American Express

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Receive a companion voucher, letting you book two flights for the Avios of one, when you spend £20,000 in a card year
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 22.2% APR variable

See if you qualify for the 5,000 Avios sign-up bonus +

You will receive 5,000 Avios as a sign-up bonus on the free British Airways American Express card if you spend £1,000 within 90 days of signing up.

To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s British Airways American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held a Business American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the British Airways American Express card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the companion voucher and the other card benefits.

Learn more about the card benefits +

When you spend £20,000 on the British Airways American Express card, you receive a companion voucher entitling you to book two Avios redemption flights for the miles of one.  This voucher is valid for one year.  (Full taxes and charges need to be paid on both tickets.)

This voucher is the most valuable perk available in the UK airline and hotel credit card sector in my view. It could save you 150,000 or more Avios when used for a long-haul redemption in a premium cabin.

You receive your voucher within a few days of reaching the spending target.  You need to fly the outbound leg of your 2-4-1 flight before the expiry date of the voucher.

If you want more flexibility, the voucher issued with the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card is valid for two years and only requires 10,000 of annual card spend.  The Premium Plus card also has a higher earning rate of 1.5 Avios per £1 on general spend and 3 Avios per £1 on spend with British Airways and BA Holidays.

BA Premium Plus American Express card BAPP

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Receive a companion voucher, letting you book two flights for the Avios of one, when you spend £10,000 in a card year
  • Annual fee: £195

Representative 56.6% APR variable based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £195 annual fee. Interest rate on purchases 22.2% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the 25,000 Avios sign-up bonus +

You will receive 25,000 Avios as a sign-up bonus on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card if you spend £3,000 within 90 days of signing up.

To qualify for the bonus, you must not have held the British Airways Premium Plus or the free British Airways American Express cards in the previous 24 months.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s British Airways American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held any other American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the British Airways Premium Plus card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the companion voucher and all of the other card benefits.

Learn more about the card benefits +

When you spend £10,000 on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card, you receive a companion voucher entitling you to book two Avios redemption flights for the miles of one.  This voucher is valid for two years.  (Full taxes and charges need to be paid on both tickets.)

This voucher is the most valuable perk available in the UK airline and hotel credit card sector in my view. It could save you 150,000 or more Avios when used for a long-haul redemption in a premium cabin.

The voucher with the Premium Plus card is far more powerful than the voucher given with the free British Airways American Express card.  You only need to spend £10,000, instead of £20,000, in a card year to receive it.  More importantly, the Premium Plus voucher is valid for two years.  The voucher on the free British Airways American Express card is only valid for one year.

You receive your voucher within a few days of reaching the spending target.  You need to fly the outbound leg of your 2-4-1 flight before the expiry date of the voucher.

Amex Reward Credit Card ARCC

American Express Rewards

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Your best choice if you want a ‘free for life’ card which earns Membership Rewards points
  • A good choice if you want to close a Gold or Platinum card but keep your points intact
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 22.2% APR variable

See if you qualify for the 10,000 points sign-up bonus +

You will receive 5,000 American Express Membership Rewards points as a sign-up bonus on the American Express Rewards card if you spend £2,000 within 90 days of signing up.

Membership Rewards points are hugely flexible. You can transfer them into Avios, Virgin Flying Club or other airlines (at 1:1) or into various hotels schemes, into Club Eurostar or use them for shopping vouchers.

To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held a Business American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the American Express Rewards card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You may want to do this if you are thinking of swapping your Preferred Rewards Gold or Platinum card for a free alternative, and would prefer to keep your existing Membership Rewards points balance alive.

Learn more about the card benefits +

American Express Rewards is the only ‘free for life’ American Express card which lets you collect Membership Rewards points.

We do NOT recommend this card if you would also qualify for the sign-up bonus on American Express Preferred Rewards Gold.  The Gold card is free for the first year, comes with two free airport lounge passes and has a higher sign-up bonus of 10,000 points.

The best reason to get American Express Rewards is if you are coming to the end of your free first year with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold, or no longer want to pay the fee on The Platinum Card, but want to keep your Membership Rewards points intact.

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Get a ‘2 for 1’ voucher, valid on cash or miles tickets, when you spend £10,000 in a year
  • Alternatively, claim an upgrade voucher or Clubhouse lounge passes
  • Get free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK
  • Annual fee: £160

Representative 63.9% APR variable based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £160 annual fee.  Interest rate on purchases 22.9% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the 15,000 miles sign-up bonus +

You receive a sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin Flying Club miles with your first purchase.

There are no restrictions on earning the bonus if you are accepted.  However, you cannot apply for a card if you currently, or in the previous six months, had a Virgin Money credit card.

Learn more about the card benefits +

All Virgin Atlantic credit card holders receive free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK.  A list of sites is here.

When you spend £10,000 per year on the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard, you can choose a benefit.  This is what you can pick from:

A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Atlantic cash flight or Virgin Flying Club redemption, in Upper Class, Premium or Economy

A return upgrade – on either a cash or miles ticket – from Premium to Upper Class, or from Economy Delight/Classic to Premium.  You can either upgrade 1 x return flight if travelling alone or 2 x one-way legs of two return flights if travelling with someone else.

A Virgin Clubhouse lounge pass (requires a same-day Virgin Atlantic, Delta, KLM or Air France flight)

Here’s the small print:

If you are a Red (no status) member, you need to pay 50% of the miles for your 2nd ticket if you redeem your 2-4-1 voucher in Upper Class.  This means that, for Upper Class redemptions for Red members, it is effectively a ‘2 for 1.5’ voucher. For Economy or Premium redemptions, it is a genuine ‘2 for 1’.

If you are a Gold member, you would receive two Clubhouse lounge passes instead on one if you chose that option

Taxes and charges need to be paid on the ‘free’ ticket as part of your 2-4-1 booking

Vouchers are valid for two years and you must fly the outbound leg of your trip before the expiry date

(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.)

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.

Comments (203)

  • 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)

    • sayling says:

      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

    • John says:

      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?

          • John says:

            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!

    • Alex Sm says:

      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.

  • 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!)

    • Lee says:

      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 ba.com. … 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.

  • 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 .

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Josh says:

    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.

    Thanks

  • Lee says:

    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.

      • Anna says:

        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.

  • Johan says:

    So

    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?

    Thanks

    • Anna says:

      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.

      • Guesswho2000 says:

        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.

    • Rob says:

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