How to earn and use a British Airways American Express (BA Amex) 2-4-1 companion voucher
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This article explains how to make best use of the 2-4-1 companion voucher that comes with the British Airways American Express credit card.
The “Avios Redemption University” series is a good starting point for beginners, although I hope everyone will learn something from it. Click here to see the other “Avios Redemption University” articles.
It is not an understatement to say that, used properly, the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 Avios companion voucher is the most valuable perk of any loyalty credit card in the UK.
If you want mathematical proof of that, take a look at this HfP article on the best credit card bonuses for long-term spending. The companion voucher from the Premium Plus card should get you at least £750 of value if used ‘properly’, which is 7.5% of the £10,000 you spent on the card to earn it.
Remember that the two BA Amex credit cards come with a sign-up bonus:
- The sign-up bonus on the free card is 5,000 Avios points. Representative APR 22.9% variable.
- The sign-up bonus on the £195 Premium Plus card is 25,000 Avios points. Representative APR 76.0% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.
The key thing to know is that, whilst both cards offer a 2-4-1 voucher, it makes no sense to earn the voucher on the free British Airways card. You should focus on the Premium Plus card instead. I will explain why later.
What does the BA Amex 2-4-1 ‘companion voucher’ do?
It allows you to book two Avios redemption seats on British Airways for the points of one.
You can instantly see the savings available here – up to a maximum of 400,000 Avios in the unlikely event you were able to find two First Class return seats to Australia. Even on the worst possible redemption – an off-peak economy return to Paris – you would save 8,000 Avios points.
In reality, most people use them for long haul redemptions in Club World, typically something like New York. That would save you 100,000 Avios on off-peak dates and 120,000 Avios on peak dates.
Assuming you value an Avios point at 1p, the 2-4-1 voucher would be worth £1,000 to £1,200 for such a trip. This makes it easily the most generous perk of ANY UK credit card. The £195 annual fee for the British Airways Premium Plus card is a small price to pay for this.
Note that taxes and charges are due on BOTH tickets. Only the Avios element is ‘free’ on the second ticket.
How do I earn a BA Amex companion voucher?
You need to spend either £20,000 (on the British Airways American Express card) or £10,000 (on the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card) on qualifying purchases within a card year. Note this is ‘card year’ and not calendar year. Your card year runs from the date you are approved.
There is a progress bar on your American Express online statement showing how close you are to triggering your voucher.
The voucher will be added to your British Airways Executive Club account within a few days of your spending target being reached.
The voucher on the free credit card is valid for one year. The voucher on the Premium Plus card is valid for two years. This is a very important difference as I will explain later, and the key reason why the Premium Plus card is better.
You can only earn one voucher per card year irrespective of how much you spend on the card.
If you upgrade or downgrade your BA Amex during your card year, after triggering your 2-4-1 voucher, the Amex website will mistakenly reset your progress bar. It will show you working towards another voucher in the same card year. This is an IT error and you don’t get a second voucher when you hit the threshold.
What small print do I need to know?
This is where some people come unstuck, because they don’t understand the limitations of the voucher.
It can only be used on British Airways services. You can’t use it on Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific etc even though you can book such flights on Avios.
It can’t be used on franchise or codeshare services. This means, for example, you can’t use it on the Comair-operated but BA-branded flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
It CAN be used on ‘open jaw’ flights, where you return from a different airport, even though these can’t be booked online and require a call to BA. The only rule is that the distance between your arrival and departure airport must be shorter than either of the two flights. London – Johannesburg, Cape Town – London is fine. London – Moscow and Madrid – London is not.
You need to book AND fly the outbound leg before the expiry date of the voucher. You can fly back at any point.
There are no circumstances under which you can ask BA to extend a 2-4-1 voucher unless there has been a BA-wide issue such as a strike or, at present, coronavirus.
If you need to cancel a flight booked using a 2-4-1 voucher, you get the voucher back. The original expiry date remains the same.
It CAN be used on one-way flights, but only for flights which depart the UK. You cannot book a one-way flight TO the UK with the voucher.
You can fly a different class on the outbound to the return. However, both passengers must travel together in the same class. You cannot fly in First and book your companion in Club World if there is only 1 First reward seat available.
The BA Amex cardholder MUST be one of the two travellers. There is no way to avoid this. If you are in a Household Account, the second passenger must be in the household account or on your ‘Family and Friends’ list.
If you have two vouchers to use, they can be used together for the BA Amex cardholder and three other people. This is what we do for our family of four. This situation would occur if you triggered your voucher for the next card year before you had used the voucher from the previous year.
You cannot use ‘part pay with Avios’ in conjunction with a 2-4-1 voucher. Your booking must be ‘100% Avios’.
‘Gold Upgrade For Two’ vouchers (issued when you earn 2,500 tier points) CAN be used in conjunction with a 2-4-1 voucher.
You cannot change the name of the second traveller after booking. You would need to cancel the whole booking with no guarantee that the seats would be re-offered for Avios redemption.
You cannot turn an existing Avios redemption into a 2-4-1 redemption with half of the Avios returned to you.
Both passengers must travel together at all times.
Despite what Amex tells you, you do not need to use the card to pay the taxes when you come to redeem your 2-4-1 voucher. You must use an American Express card but it does not have to be a BA one or even a card in your name as Amex does not do name verification.
You will not earn Avios or tier points on your redemption flight in line with standard Avios redemptions.
Your flights will not be cancelled if you cancel your BA Amex card after making your 2-4-1 booking.
What is the best way to secure the flights I want?
British Airways makes two Club World and four World Traveller / Economy seats available on every flight. These become available at midnight 355 days before departure as we covered in this article on ‘when are Avios flights available for booking?’.
More reward seats are usually made available closer to the date of travel – a lot more, on some routes – but if you absolutely must travel on a certain day you need to book 355 days out. There are NO First Class or World Traveller Plus seats guaranteed to be made available 355 days in advance.
This is the first reason why the voucher on the Premium Plus voucher is FAR more valuable than the voucher on the free card. Because of the two year expiry date, it is easy to use it for a trip 355 days out. You can’t do this with the voucher on the free card – it only has a one year expiry and the seats you want will already be past the 355 day mark.
For a booking 355 days out, you should look to book your outbound flights on the day they become available. Do NOT wait until the return flights come up. You then call British Airways on the day that the return flights becomes available and add it to the booking. You should not be charged a change fee for this.
Most people call the USA BA office at midnight GMT (1am during BST) to secure seats. Whilst they also appear online at midnight and can be put in your basket, the seats are not yours until you have filled in all of the passenger details and submitted your payment. It is very likely a call centre agent will have put them on hold in the 2-3 minutes you need to do this. I recently tried this out as an experiment and this is exactly what happened.
Are there any easy ways of reducing the taxes payable?
Not easily, because you must start a 2-4-1 journey in the UK and thus incur Air Passenger Duty. There are two options though:
Start your trip in Jersey, because Jersey is outside the UK for APD purposes but inside the UK for 2-4-1 purposes. If you fly Jersey – Gatwick – Heathrow – XXXXX your taxes bill will be a lot lower. You cannot stopover in London for more than 24 hours or full APD is charged regardless.
Start your trip in Inverness. There is no APD out of Inverness.
There is also no APD out of Newquay which will add another option when the British Airways services start later in 2020.
In reality, none of these options make a lot sense for the majority of people.
I wrote this article recently about how to save Air Passenger Duty by starting your British Airways flight in Inverness.
Can I travel with an infant or book without my baby being born yet?
Yes. For infant (under 2) bookings you pay 10% of the Avios and 10% of the taxes of an adult passenger.
If your child is not yet born, book for the two adults and then call to add the baby when it has arrived and has a name! These rules apply to standard Avios redemptions as well.
If I cancel my BA Amex card after earning the voucher, is it lost?
No, although the American Express call centre has a habit of telling people otherwise.
Evidence also shows that, if you cancel a 2-4-1 redemption ticket after cancelling your British Airways American Express card, you still get the voucher back.
If I downgrade from the Premium Plus to the free card after earning my voucher, do I retain the 2-year expiry period?
Can I change my class of travel if seats open up after I’ve booked?
Yes. Standard Avios change fees apply of £35 per person, plus of course the additional Avios and any additional taxes due. You may need to call BA to do this – I’m not sure if ba.com can handle this in conjunction with a 2-4-1.
Do you recommend the Premium Plus card over the free BA credit card if I want to use a 2-4-1 voucher?
There is no logical reason to earn the 2-4-1 voucher on the free British Airways American Express card. This is why:
As I explained above, the two year validity of the Premium Plus 2-4-1 voucher is hugely valuable compared to the one year validity of the voucher on the free card
You earn an extra 0.5 Avios per £1 for your spending on the Premium Plus card (1.5 per £1 vs 1 per £1 on the free card) as well as double Avios on British Airways spending. This offsets much of the fee.
If you are capable of spending £20,000 on the free card to earn a 2-4-1 voucher, a far better strategy would be for you and your partner to get two Premium Plus cards and spend £10,000 each on those. You end up with two vouchers per year, each valid for 24 months, instead of one voucher per year valid for 12 months.
Alternatively, instead of spending £20,000 on the free card, you could spend £10,000 on the Premium Plus card and use your next £10,000 of spend to hit sign-up bonuses on other credit cards.
Uh oh. I have been working towards a 2-4-1 voucher on the free card and now realise my mistake. Can I upgrade to the Premium Plus card?
Yes, simply call American Express. Your card year remains the same. If you have already spent over £10,000 in this card year, your 2-4-1 voucher will be triggered immediately. You will NOT get a sign-up bonus for upgrading as bonuses are only given if you have not had either BA Amex card in the previous six months.
Is the British Airways American Express Avios 2-4-1 companion voucher for everyone?
It is easy to give the impression that the 2-4-1 is the greatest deal in the world. However, you still need to be able to generate a lot of Avios each year to take full advantage of it.
If you want to fly to the New York once a year in Club World on your 2-4-1, you still need to be able to generate 100,000 Avios per year (off-peak) on top of being able to spend the £10,000 on the card.
Of course, the 2-4-1 vouchers are also valid on short-haul flights. However, you are saving fewer Avios with your voucher that way and the £195 Premium Plus card fee may seem poorer value. I have in the past used vouchers to save 18,000 Avios on Club Europe flights and did not feel too bad about it.
The 2-4-1 voucher also implies that you have someone to travel with. If you are a solo traveller, it will not be any use at all. I wrote this article on the pros and cons of using miles and points as a solo traveller.
You should also remember that Amex cards are not accepted everywhere, so spending £10,000 is not always as easy as it seems – although I run regular articles on Head for Points on ways of generating Amex spend more quickly.
Need more information on the British Airways Amex?
The official terms and conditions for using the voucher can be found via this page at ba.com. It is interesting to note that the T&C’s still refer to the ‘Premium’ version of the card which was scrapped around 10 years ago, and which was a mix of the free and the Premium Plus card.
You might find these Head for Points articles useful:
My full review of the free British Airways American Express card
My full review of the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card
“Why NO-ONE should spend £20,000 on the free British Airways American Express card”
“Miles and points for the solo traveller – should you have a different collection strategy?”
Want to learn more about how to maximise your Avios redemptions?
You can see the full list of all 15 articles in the ‘Avios Redemption University’ series here.
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. The site discusses products offered by lenders but is not a lender itself. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as an independent credit broker.