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
“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.
Does anyone benefit from these changes?
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?
You have four choices:
- you stick with the free British Airways American Express, earning a 2-4-1 Economy flight voucher if you can spend £12,000 in a card year
- 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
- you drop the British Airways American Express cards entirely and switch to another Amex product – an obvious choice is 1 year of American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (review here, apply here) whilst it is free, and then switch to the ‘free for life’ American Express Rewards Credit Card (review here, apply here)
- you drop the British Airways American Express cards entirely and focus on a Visa or Mastercard, the most valuable of which is the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard. Our review of the Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard is here. It does come with a 2-4-1 voucher valid in premium cabins.
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.
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? – May 2023 update
If you are looking to apply for a new credit card, here are our top recommendations based on the current sign-up bonuses.
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 30th May, the sign-up bonus on the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard is doubled to a crazy 50,000 Avios! Apply here.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 30th May, the sign-up bonus on the free Barclaycard Avios Mastercard is doubled to 10,000 Avios. Apply here.
Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard
CRAZY 50,000 Avios for signing up (to 30th May) and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review
Barclaycard Avios Mastercard
10,000 Avios for signing up (only to 30th May) and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review
You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the best of the other deals currently available.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card is doubled to 60,000 Membership Rewards points – and you get £200 to spend at Amex Travel too! Apply here.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ card is doubled to 30,000 Virgin Points. Apply here.
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
60,000 points AND a £200 Amex Travel voucher until 13th June! Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
30,000 points bonus (to 13th June) and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend 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 Platinum
40,000 points bonus and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review
American Express Business Gold
20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review
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
Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers 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.