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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)

  • ADS says:

    Haven’t you always told us that we should never spend £20k on the free card ?

    This really doesn’t feel like “gutting” – the 1 avios per £1 spend is being retained

    And whilst I agree that existing card holders are being “stuffed”, I suspect that very few of your readers are impacted – see first point !

    • Mark says:

      That was my first thought too when I read the article. Personally the most concerning thing about this is Amex’s willingness to move the goalposts at short notice, screwing existing cardholders who are part way through hitting a spend threshold. In many (albeit not all) cases spending £20K on the free BA Amex never made sense and so most HFP readers probably aren’t impacted by this by may be next time.

      • Memesweeper says:

        “ Personally the most concerning thing about this is Amex’s willingness to move the goalposts at short notice, “ — I did wonder if you’d spent significantly towards the old voucher Amex could actually changes the terms of the benefit you are “saving up” for. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

  • MM says:

    I think “guts” is a bit strong. £1 per Avios is still there and the 2-for-1 in Economy on a £12K spend puts a voucher in reach for a lot of families

    • Rob says:

      A worthless voucher …..

      • jj says:

        Worth less than before, maybe, but definitely not worthless. When you factor in baggage charges, it’s easy to save £300 on an economy trip to Greece or the Canaries….not a bad return from a free credit card.

        • Paul says:

          Agree. I only ever used the voucher for Euro Econ flights, so actually I’m all good with these changes! I get that the big value was Club World redemptions, but if you were not spending a ton to fly Club World then no loss there!

          • Louise says:

            I also agree, European economy fare free at Xmas or Easter (or skiing at half term peak to you skiers) will certainly be worth £300 often.

            So you get the 12000 Avios points (£120?) and £300 on top. £400 off £12000 = 2.5%.

            Plus a load of Amex offers.

          • Rob says:

            As Feb half term is fixed across England and BA probably has 10 flights on the Sat of half term to ski resorts (ski hotels are all Sat-Sat changeovers) then there are 80 guaranteed Economy seats and 40 guaranteed Club seats to go for. I wouldn’t build my card strategy around such odds.

            Most years I have used the ‘guaranteed BA Gold seat for double Avios’ which is still, financially, a great deal given that seats are £500 return in Economy for those flights.

            Ironically, I booked for next Feb on Friday when the extra 4 economy seats opened up.

          • Louise says:

            OK nice move on the skiing half term.

            But all I’m saying is that provided you are saving £300 on ANY return European flight – and think August as well as Xmas & Easter – it’s 2.5%+ on a free card if you get to £12K spend.

  • sigma421 says:

    Any idea if there’s a chance of the 2-4-1 point on a redemption dropping down to the subsidised level on economy flights (or Club Europe flights?). If the price of an LHR-JFK return with a 2-4-1 became 55,000 Avios + £200 then there’s (just about) value in that.

  • Edmo says:

    I actually think this is quite reasonable. I think few people with the free card probably get to the £20k spend and this actually represents an opportunity. think they missed an opportunity with the new WTP availability however – the voucher should have been valid for economy and premium economy.

    • Rob says:

      Would be a fair point if it was worth using a 241 in Eco …

  • Alex W says:

    Interesting that they have done the opposite to Virgin.

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      ^^^^^^ This. As a solo traveller, the BA 241 has sucked. I even managed to get a few of them with the Lloyds card, only for them to expire. Really does make the VS cards a lot more appealing

  • TimM says:

    My use case for the new free BA card would be a one-way flight to Madrid from South America with Iberia after a repositioning cruise there from Europe. Pretty limited I know. The point being that one-way cash fares are around the same cash price as return fares while in Avios they are half and Iberia have very low taxes. Plus repositioning cruises are a great bargain compared to two weeks in a circle.

    • TimM says:

      Oh, you can’t use the 2-4-1 with Iberia?

      • Mark says:

        No. The best you could do is use it for a BA redemption from Madrid back to London, assuming that’s where you want to go. Gets you relatively limited value though for £12K of Amex spend.

  • Sarah says:

    Not great but would be more useful if there were more RFS to Europe from Scotland/regions and not just London. Not really worth it to have to pay cash/use Avios to get to London first. Do you think this is something BA will look at?

  • Noel says:

    If I take out the premium card now? Spend £10k before 1st September 2021 will I trigger the voucher that can be used in Premium cabins ok?

    That voucher I assume would have a year for me to use it.

    Have I got that right?

    • Noel says:

      Albeit perhaps I could just take out the free card now and spend £12k now to get a premium cabin eligible 241 voucher?

      • Noel says:

        Can’t see how to delete comments, just seen that the paid card is all fine for premium 241’s 🙂

    • Rob says:

      Yes

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