How do British Airways American Express 2-4-1 companion vouchers work?
I get quite a few emails each month about various aspects of the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher, both about how to earn it and how to use it.
I wanted to clear up some of the more popular questions in this article.
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.
IMPORTANT: Substantial changes are coming on 1st September 2021
American Express has announced substantial changes to the 2-4-1 companion voucher from 1st September 2021.
Here are the five articles you should read:
- From 1st September, new 2-4-1 vouchers earned with the free British Airways American Express credit card can ONLY be used for Economy flights. On the positive side, the amount of spending required is reduced to £12,000 from £20,000.
- The fee on the British Airways Premium Plus American Express credit card is increasing from £195 to £250
- 2-4-1 vouchers on the Premium Plus card issued after 1st September will have a VERY valuable new feature – they will book into I-class revenue seats as well as standard Avios seats. This makes it substantially more likely that you will be able to redeem Avios for Club World on the flight you want.
- You cannot combine a 2-4-1 companion voucher earned after 1st September 2021 with one earned before that date – this is problem for families of four who use two vouchers earned by the same person to do ‘1+3’ redemptions
- If you get a free or £30 British Airways Premium Plus Amex because of other American Express cards you have held in the past, the game is up – I have saved over £3,000 thanks to this deal
The content below will be correct until 1st September 2021 but do also read the articles above to see what will change.
What does the 2-4-1 companion voucher do for me?
It allows you to book two Avios redemption seats 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.
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 valuable perk of ANY UK credit card (I ranked the most valuable credit card perks here).The £195 annual fee for the British Airways Premium Plus card is a small price to pay for this.
How do I earn a 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.
The voucher will be added to your British Airways Executive Club account within a few days of the 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.
Due to the current coronavirus situation, all existing companion vouchers have been extended by up to 18 months. All new BA American Express companion vouchers issued by 31st December 2021 will also come with an additional six months validity on top of the usual 12 or 24 months.
You can only earn one voucher per card year irrespective of how much you spend on the card.
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 British Airways. 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. This article looks at how to book open jaw flights using Avios.
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 tricks you can use to extend the validity of the voucher.
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 ‘Friends and Family’ 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.
There are no circumstances under which you can ask BA to extend a 241 voucher. Don’t waste your time.
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.
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.
How are short-haul flights priced?
Over the last year, British Airways has been experimenting with ‘no taxes’ redemptions on short-haul flights. Some long-haul flights are also now trialling ‘use more Avios taxes, pay less tax’ on Avios bookings.
Here is an example.
Historically, a return economy flight to Amsterdam was 8,000 Avios + £35 in taxes and charges, using ‘Reward Flight Saver’ on off-peak dates.
Under the new trial, there is a band of prices. The lowest cash option is now 17,000 Avios + £1 return. See:
However, when using a 2-4-1 companion voucher, you will pay the ORIGINAL price. There is no flexibility.
In our Amsterdam example, you will told that the price is 8,000 Avios + £70 taxes and charges for two people. You cannot adjust the ratio of Avios to taxes. See:
This is not a problem, to be honest, because the new £1 taxes pricing options are generally a bad deal and should be avoided. In our Amsterdam example, you are being asked to use an extra 9,000 Avios to save just £34 in taxes and charges. This is a terrible deal as you are getting just 0.38p per Avios.
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.
If you must travel on a specific date, you need to call an open BA call centre (usually the US or Japanese ones, you can Google the numbers) on the stroke of UK midnight (or 1am during British Summer Time). A call centre agent can always grab seats ahead of someone waiting online, because until you submit your credit card details online, a call centre agent can ‘steal’ your seats from your basket
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.
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.
There is a new ‘Plan B’ option for booking your return flights …..
There is an alternative way of securing your return flights, assuming you booked the outbound at 355 prior to departure to guarantee you got what you wanted. If you don’t want to ring the call centre at midnight to book the return you can, if you have enough Avios, book your return seats online using 100% Avios (ie paying for both tickets in full) and then call BA at your convenience to get half of the Avios for the return leg refunded.
There are three problems with this approach. Firstly, you obviously need to have enough additional Avios to pay for the return flights at full points cost. Secondly, on high demand routes, you still need to call because the call centre gets priority over website users. Thirdly, and most importantly, BA does not equalise your taxes. The taxes you pay via this method are 2 x one-way flights instead of 1 x return flight.
For North America this makes a substantial difference. For most of the rest of the world, the difference is modest or nil. For eg, if a UK-US return in Business has taxes of £600, you’ll find a one-way UK-US and a one-way US-UK have combined taxes of nearer £1000!
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 charge 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 Air Passenger Duty out of Inverness as the linked article explains.
Whilst there is also no Air Passenger Duty on flights to London from Newquay, the rules are different and it does not remove the APD on a long-haul connection.
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. Absolutely not. Reader experience also shows that you will still get your voucher back if you cancel a 2-4-1 redemption but no longer hold your BA Amex at the time of cancellation.
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 in a higher class after I’ve booked?
Yes. Standard Avios change fees apply of £35 per person, plus of course the additional Avios. 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.
Why 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 voucher on the free British Airways American Express credit card. Here are four reasons why:
- As I explained above, the two year validity of the Premium Plus voucher is hugely beneficial 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). 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.
Oh 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 24 months.
One quick warning …. due to an Amex IT bug, if you downgrade to the free BA Amex after earning your voucher on the Premium Plus card, your online statement will say that you can earn a 2nd voucher (in the same card year) for hitting £20,000 of spending. This is an IT bug and is not true. It is not possible to earn a 2nd voucher in the same card year irrespective of whether you upgrade, downgrade or don’t touch your card.
If you have any further questions about the voucher, please ask them in the comments.
Our reviews of the two British Airways cards are 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 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.