Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Why you shouldn’t spend £20,000 on the free BA Amex credit card

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

I wanted to give this topic another run out today (it’s well over a year since we last covered it). It has a lot of value for new HfP readers who may be putting £20,000 per year on the free BA Amex because they believe it is the sensible thing to do.

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 companion 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 companion voucher each year when you spend £10,000. The voucher lasts for 2 years.

Why is getting the companion 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 companion voucher annually.  I think 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 companion vouchers each year.  That is what we have done in our house in the past.

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, may want 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 points 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 points sign-up bonus +

You receive a sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin points 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 points 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 points 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

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 (24)

  • MarkS says:

    Thanks Rob, interesting as always
    What would the strategy be these days once you have done
    Amex Gold within last 2 years
    Amex Platinum within last 2 years
    BAPP – me + wife
    Sitting on 3 companion vouchers with seemingly little chance of using them in the near future. Need more avios points in order to use them really as only have 250k in the household account.

    • Rob says:

      I assume you don’t have a small business?

      If no, you are a bit stuck for Avios products, although lets see what the Barclays private banking deal looks like in a few weeks. HSBC World Elite is also interesting but as you’re paying £390 to trigger the 40,000 Avios bonus on the credit card it isn’t a no-brainer.

      How about, assuming you can do the spend quickly, 30,000 Amex points via the Plat ICC card? https://www.americanexpress.com/icc/cards/the-platinum-international-currency-card.html Cancel quickly for a fee refund. Note that it is 3:2 into Avios, not 1:1.

      • The Streets says:

        I’ve been waiting for the rerelease of Barclays Avios deal.. sounds like it will be soon!

        • AndyGWP says:

          Barclays told me (they were forthcoming with it, I didn’t ask) that it was going to be delayed until flying, and therefore Avios, became more appealing again.

    • Doug M says:

      MarkS. Don’t forget you can get a Gold card again, no bonus but it’s free first year, and you get I think 3000MR for adding a supp, which you can work with your partner, referrals and supp on each others card to not pay fee. Although if you spend £15K it’s worth the month or so of fee to get the 10K bonus. Double MR on airline spend. At 3% it’s questionable for overseas spend, but if you need that bit of extra spend to trigger the bonus then probably worth it.

  • Vit says:

    I did spend close to 20k back in 2019 on free BA AMEX card (thanks to large expenses to Home Office’s route to becoming a British citizen) before I discovered HFP. the more I read about these articles the more stupid I feel. 😉

    • KD says:

      I’d be interested to know if this worked for downgrading as well can you get recommend and get the bonus

    • Anna says:

      Try not to think about it like that – I think many of us have found HFP relatively late in our travelling lives and sometimes wonder how we used to cope with 10 hours in economy! Just be happy you’re enjoying the benefits now!

      • AJA says:

        +1 As Anna says just enjoy the benefits and advice since you’ve discovered HfP

      • Vit says:

        haha! That’s true. Make me wonder when HfP was actually conceived? On a side now, happy with the tips and hints to get ~200k avios and 1 x 2-4-1 voucher now. Just enough to get a return F for two of us — hopefully next year!

  • KD says:

    Myself and my friend both have BA Premium which is his first ever Amex – I also have the Amex Gold – he is interested in getting the Amex Gold because he has now hit the companion voucher – am I right in thinking he wont qualify for the Gold bonus but if I recommend him would we both get a bonus?

  • Kevin says:

    If I downgrade to the free BA Amex from premium – do I lose all my saved offers, those hotels offers I have saved will save me more than the pro rate fee refund

  • Sol says:

    Or if you only spend £10,000 you can have the free BA card, when you have spent £10,000 you upgrade to premium which will trigger the voucher (with a two year expiry) and you can then downgrade and get a pro rota refund.
    Also useful if you want to spend now and trigger at a later date in the year.

    • rk says:

      You upgrade just before £10k spend to premium, spend to get over £10k threshold. And then downgrade should you wish to.

    • Sol says:

      Sorry,
      I just saw that it was alreay posted above.
      However whats important to note that you can upgrade even after you have hit the £10,00 or more and still get the voucher when you upgrade which could be very convinent if you spend now and trigger at the end of the year.

      • Polly says:

        Or cancel the card after the 241 voucher is in your baec ac. And get the pro rata refund. Might get away with just 1/12 of the fee, a few £.
        Get referred for a different card if you qualify for a bonus.
        Or just go for the green Amex, with an upgrade to plat to get the 20k MRs on a 4K spend. If you have ongoing Amex spend that is.

        At this stage we are all probably earning 2 yr 241s which we might not get to use. So maybe collecting MRs will give you hotel spend options alongside your avios. Just depends on what your goals are.

  • Else says:

    Hi, does anyone know how to see your Virgin companion voucher on their website?? I have emailed Virgin and they say I have a voucher and it should show on my account as a ‘credit card voucher” but I can’t find anything. Plus they say they emailed me when I hit the spend target, but I never received any email. My husband’s account is the same. Anyone else finding the same?

  • Chris Russell says:

    If you have a decent pool of Avios to redeem then I completely agree with Rob. I’ve had the BA Premium card for several years and have benefited from redemptions. However, when I speak to newcomers to points collection, I always recommend using a free card where possible to build up a pool then switch to a more premium card. No point in spending several years worth of annual fees to get zero benefit

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