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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)

  • samuel says:

    I am not that unhappy. I don’t spend 20K anyway. Honestly, who does if you are a middle-class person? Only if you put a house loan on your card or buy a car I can imagine that happening. But the most important aspect £1 = 1 avios is retained. I still can save Avios and buy Eurosaver flights. The economy voucher will make it easier to fly to a farther destination with my partner. So all in all, while the luxury aspect is gone, I see some good things for myself and people in my situation.

    • Rob says:

      But you are better off with the Amex Rewards Credit Card if you don’t spend £12k.

  • lumma says:

    I wonder if we’ll see more long haul economy RFS options? While you’d generally be mad to pay 50k Avios +£100 instead of just buying a cash ticket to NYC, 50k +£200 with a 241 will certainly have appeal to the mass market, especially those that don’t apply a cash value to their Avios and with Sainsbury’s giving Nectar points away like confetti

    • Memesweeper says:

      My bet is those options will be excluded from the companion voucher. Simply not worth it unless you are booking short notice or absolutely must have the flexibility and don’t want to pay for proper Y class tickets.

      • lumma says:

        Why though? They’re still getting £500ish worth of Avios, plus £200 cash, so it’s not outstanding but it’s an easy thing to understand for the average person.

        If the cash element is only £100 a usually solo traveller might be able to get a companion to come with them too.

  • Seb says:

    Anyone else having problems converting Avios points into Nectar online? Says you can only convert Avios to Nectar at present.

    • ChrisC says:

      Everybody.

      You’ve needed to call the special BA number for a couple months now to transfer from avios to nectar.

    • Mikeact says:

      Question should be in today’s chat…not on here where it is irrelevant.

      • lumma says:

        He’s had the question answered here (one answer from the owner of the site) so what’s the issue?

        Until they set up a real forum, it’s arguably better to ask a question on an article that is something to do with what you need answering rather than it getting lost in the 300+ comments on the chat article.

    • Rob says:

      Correct, need to call.

  • Laura says:

    I’m actually quite happy with these changes. I will never fly business, I will always fly economy. I’m Avios poor, so I’d rather travel 10 times in economy rather than 3 times in business (considering my Avios availability).

    Is it worth it to start the journey in Spain to reach some areas of South America? Or will the extra Avios needed to get to the UK and then to SA outweigh the value of starting abroad?

    Scenario 1: Use Iberia to SA
    Scenario 2: Use BA 2-4-1 to SA

    I’m temporarily working in Spain, hence my question 🙂

    • Mark says:

      I’ve tended to look at it from business class redemption perspective, but certainly in that case Iberia’s relatively low taxes and fees make it relatively attractive for long haul redemptions even taking into account the extra leg to Madrid. As someone whose closest airport is Heathrow, it is generally on a par from a value perspective with using an Amex 241 on BA. Given that taxes and fees often make up a relatively high proportion of economy fares you may find the comparison in that case tips further towards Iberia, so long as you book on Iberia’s site (not BA’s). Certainly the issue with BA long haul economy redemptions is that you usually save very little compared to a cash fare once you account for the value of the Avios. You’d probably be better off using them on trips between the UK and Spain than for BA long haul redemptions.

    • Mark says:

      One tip with Iberia… If you are starting your journey in the UK, book the leg from the UK separately and, if necessary, stay a night at Madrid airport. That will save money in avoiding UK long haul air passenger duty. If you want to book a connecting flight on the way back, you can make three separate bookings: UK-Madrid, Madrid-Destination and Destination-UK which last time we did it worked out the same overall, even to the US where Virgin and BA load on substantial extra fees to bookings originating in the US. Obviously that doesn’t apply if you’re starting in Spain.

  • Christine says:

    I have a legacy BA Amex card, which I pay a £95 annual fee for and my spend is triggered at £15,000: any news on how this card will be affected?

    • Rob says:

      It is scrapped on 31/8.

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      I forgot about the mid tier BA card. Was the voucher valid 2 years like PP or 1 year like the free card? I seem to recall the earning rate was 1.25 Avios per pound

  • Andy says:

    Is it legal to apply this midway through someone’s membership year? I appreciate they reserve the right to change T&Cs, but when you’re effectively half way through a contract (Spend X in your membership year and we’ll give you Y) it doesn’t feel right that they can change Y midway through the year.

    • Memesweeper says:

      Feels like an unfair contract term to me. Surprised Amex are letting BA do this.

      • Rob says:

        I told Amex this, they told me they can do what they like as long as you have 30 days notice.

        • Andy says:

          Interesting – thanks. The law isn’t quite that simple in the UK (just because you’ve put it in the T&Cs doesn’t mean you can do it) but I certainly don’t have the energy to fight it. Shall just withhold future business from them.

  • SJL says:

    Probably a stupid question but will ask it anyways.
    With these changes will the old trick of spending £9500 on the free card then upgrading to the Black card to spend the last £500 still work to trigger the 2-4-1. Then downgrade back again so that you have the 2 year expiry period?
    Or will this no longer work as it will be effectively two different types of 2-4-1 vouchers going forward so any running total annual spend on the free card would no longer count towards it?

  • jack says:

    can you still upgrade or downgrade after september , or is it a new year starting ?

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