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BAD NEWS (1): Amex guts the free BA credit card for most, stuffs existing cardholders

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American Express has made two important announcements today about the two British Airways credit cards.

We are splitting it over two articles so that you can focus on the card that you have. If you have the Premium Plus American Express card, click here to read about the changes.

It isn’t good news for holders of the free British Airways American Express credit card. Many cardholders are going to feel that they are being treated unreasonably.

Our full review of the free British Airways American Express credit card is here. You can apply here (if you still want to) – these changes do not kick in until 1st September.

Details of the changes are on ba.com here.

What is happening to the free British Airways American Express card?

At present, these are the key features of the free BA Amex card:

  • you earn 1 Avios per £1 spent
  • spend £20,000 in a card year and you receive a 2-4-1 companion voucher, valid on Avios redemptions departing from the UK, in any class (full taxes and charges are due on both tickets)
  • the first leg of the flight booked with your voucher must be taken with one year of the issue date

What is changing?

The card remains free.

There is no change to the sign-up bonus of 5,000 Avios.

There is no change to the earning rate on the card, which remains 1 Avios per £1.

The changes all relate to the 2-4-1 companion voucher.

What is happening to the 2-4-1 voucher on the free British Airways American Express?

Here is the killer:

All companion vouchers triggered from 1st September will only be valid on Economy flights.

You can no longer redeem your voucher in World Traveller Plus, Club World / Club Europe or First.

For clarity, there is no change to the terms of any existing vouchers you have, or new vouchers which are issued by 1st September.

There are two positive changes:

  • the spend required to trigger the voucher is cut from £20,000 to £12,000
  • your 2-4-1 flight no longer needs to depart the UK, although the number of people who will benefit from this is slim
Avios wing 12

“I assume I still get a premium cabin voucher in my current membership year?”

No. You’ve been legged over.

Irrespective of when your current card year ends, you must hit the £20,000 target by 1st September 2021 to get a voucher valid in premium cabins.

If you don’t, you will receive the new-look voucher which is only valid on Economy redemptions.

If you have spent over £12,000 but under £20,000 on 1st September, your ‘Economy only’ voucher for the current card year will be triggered immediately.

If you have spent under £12,000 on 1st September, your ‘Economy only’ voucher will be triggered when you reach £12,000.

“What can I do?”

If you don’t want to be stuck with an Economy-only voucher and you can’t spend £20,000 before 1st September, there is something you can do.

You can upgrade to the British Airways Premium Plus American Express for a temporary period.

If you have already spent £10,000 in your current card year, your voucher will be triggered immediately. If you have spent under £10,000, it will triggered when you reach the target.

This companion voucher:

  • will be valid for two years
  • will be valid for travel in ALL classes, not just Economy

If you leave it until after 1st September to cross the £10,000 target, your 2-4-1 voucher will also benefit from additional Club World availability. See our other article today for details on how that will work.

Once your voucher is triggered, you can downgrade back to the free British Airways American Express if you wish. The £195 annual fee for the Premium Plus card (soon to be £250) will be refunded pro-rata, so you could spend as little as £16-£32 if it took 1-2 months to trigger your voucher.

You will not receive the sign-up bonus if you upgrade from the free British Airways American Express to the £195 Premium Plus version.

Is there value in the new ‘Economy only’ 2-4-1 voucher that you will receive in the future?

Not for long-haul flights, no.

On long haul, whenever we have done the maths, it hasn’t made sense. Once you have added in the taxes and charges, there is minimal value there. You would be better off buying a flight for cash and turning the Avios needed into Nectar points at 0.8p per point.

There IS potentially some value in using a 2-4-1 Economy voucher on short-haul flights at peak times. Realistically, however, it is not going to be worth much compared to the value you would get from using your 2-4-1 companion voucher in Club World or First on a long-haul flight.

British Airways BA 777X 777 9X

Does anyone benefit from these changes?

Yes.

If you currently spend over £12,000 but under £20,000 per year on the free British Airways American Express card, you receive nothing at present.

From 1st September, you would receive a 2-4-1 voucher each year for an Economy flight. This is clearly an improvement.

You will also be able to use future vouchers for trips which start outside the UK, although this is not of any value to most people.

What should you do if you have the free British Airways American Express card?

Good question.

You have four choices:

  • you upgrade to the Premium Plus card – there is a £250 fee (yes, now £250, but that’s another story) but you earn 1.5 Avios per £1 and your 2-4-1 voucher will be valid in all classes and for two years

Ironically, Amex Gold and the Amex Rewards Credit Card earn the same 1 Avios per £1 spent if you choose to convert the Membership Rewards points you will earn into Avios. You also have the opportunity to convert them into other airlines (Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Etihad, Flying Blue etc), Hilton, Marriott, Radisson, Eurostar and many other partners.

How do you upgrade to the Premium Plus card?

There is no ‘official’ upgrade process for the British Airways cards.

The way to do it is to make a fresh application for the British Airways Premium Plus card via this page of the Amex website.

Give the number of your existing free British Airways American Express card during the application process when you are asked about any other Amex cards you have. After you have submitted it, Amex will automatically pick up that you are upgrading and carry over all of your existing transactions and spending history.

You keep the same card membership year and your ‘year to date’ spending carries over towards your 2-4-1 Premium Plus voucher.

The BA Premium Plus application form is here.

Conclusion

There are two things to clarify here:

  • these changes do not take place until 1st September even for new applicants – if you hit £20,000 before 1st September, you receive your next voucher under the current rules
  • some people will benefit from this change – if you spent between £12,000 and £20,000 per year on the card before, you were not earning any voucher, so getting an ‘Economy only’ voucher is an improvement

For anyone who IS spending £20,000 per year on the free British Airways American Express card, you need to decide which way you are going to jump.

If you are at or close to £10,000 of spending in your current card year you should consider upgrading , if only temporarily, to the British Airways Premium Plus American Express.

You will receive a letter from American Express confirming these changes over the next few weeks.

You can find out more about the changes on this page of ba.com.

PS. The card is also getting a new design, which I haven’t seen, which includes moving your card details to the back


Want to earn more points from credit cards? – November 2021 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our November 2021 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus

You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the top current deals:

British Airways BA Amex American Express card

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending ….. Read our full review

British Airways BA Premium Plus American Express Amex credit card

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Earning miles and points from small business cards

If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these offers.

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Amex Platinum Business American Express

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express card

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review

For a non-American Express option, we also recommend the Barclaycard Select Cashback card for sole traders and small businesses. It is FREE and you receive 1% cashback on your spending:

Barclaycard Select Cashback Credit Card

1% cashback and no annual fee Read our full review

Comments (127)

  • N says:

    *whhhoooosssshhhh*

    And that’s the sound of the rug being pulled out from under a whooole bunch of people.

    Who’s this change coming from? Amex or BA?

    • Memesweeper says:

      I’ll bet a pound to a penny this is down to BA

      • Lady London says:

        BA’s cleaning house.

        Their little trick of initially choosing couples travelling longhaul on a 241 to downgrade sooner than anyone else, on the basis that they felt they could get away with compensating/reimbursing only 1 seat but they got both seats back mo to re-sell for more cash, didn’t work very well. It appears a number of passengers went to MCOL and were awarded compo/reimbursrment for both seats. As would have been awarded to any non-241couple.

        BA is eliminating First Class on all but a few rich (eg Barbados) or key (eg some NYC, SFO) routes. First Class using a 241 is a dream many have achieved who wouldn’t have ever travelled in First otherwise. Given the dearth of First Class cabins on BA flights upcoming First Class seats are now a much scarcer resource and BA can afford to reduce contention for them. Additionally every time BA cancels flights or routes with booked First Class seats they will be liable to pay 75% reimbursement per seat etc. I can see why this may be something they’d prefer to reduce their exposure to.

        But who on earth would pay the level of ‘taxes’ BA demands in Economy longhaul? Even for a 241. BA has just knocked the value out of it.

        I also doubt BA/Amex can legally get away with this without giving a full year’s notice as that’s the collection period regardless of any other terms that say they can change what they like. A complaint to the FOS?

  • Dominic says:

    Targeting the mass market by cutting the £20k to £12k, then? For travel enthusiasts, an economy 2-4-1 ticket is an awful selling point; perhaps not for the less informed (e.g. standard), traveller.

    • Joe A says:

      Probably a slight benefit to mass market consumers who might just use it for a short haul RFS redemption anyway

  • Stuart314 says:

    As someone who never hit 20k on Blue, and really only has it for secondary spending, offers and promos etc, even if you had said it was going I wouldn’t have blinked.

    • Rob says:

      You shouldn’t have the card in this scenario. You should have the Amex Rewards Card.

    • Youllnever says:

      +1 and as a solo traveller, the 241 has no value to me either.

  • Super Secret Stuff says:

    Ok but why?

    Targeting the masses? Then why not allow it to be used on Economy cash tickets too? That would really pull in the punters

  • Tim says:

    I’m probably in a minority on HfP, but I’m quite relieved at the scope of these changes to the free card. I’m a very low spender (circa £500 per month), and tend to convert my Avios straight into Nectar, so this card has been (and thankfully remains) the highest-earning reward card in the UK for me (0.8%).
    I’ve long been dreading them cutting the earnings rate on the free card. At least now they’ve done one major re-jig they should hopefully leave it alone for the foreseeable future.

  • Yorkieflyer says:

    You can presumably upgrade at anytime, not just before September to get a ‘proper’ 241 timing just before 10k spend?

  • Andrew says:

    Clearly part of a strategy by BA aligned to the announcement on Friday too. And the lowering of the spend threshold for the 2for1 aligns to the mass-market customer acquisition strategy which the Sainsbury’s deal aims to achieve.

  • Andrew says:

    We all use cards in different ways.

    I’ve a BA Blue and I regularly triggered the 2-4-1 offer, whilst I was Treasurer for a charity, through an annual £12-£15K hotel payment for a conference booking. (Then have the anxious wait whilst the Big Pharma sponsors stump up post event.)

    But I never really earned enough Avios to make it worthwhile using for an international trip. The arithmetic never worked out either, I know that I can achieve 3p per Avios value for a UK domestic.

    So my card use will remain the same. I’ll spend about £8,000 on it, get a few Avios promotions, and earn enough points in a year for a domestic economy flight, with hold luggage, that will save me between £200-£500 per annum.

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