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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? – October 2021 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our October 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.

The following offers will end soon:

  • 10,000 Avios on British Airways American Express (ends 2nd November)
  • 40,000 Avios on British Airways American Express Premium Plus (ends 2nd November)
  • 60,000 points on The Platinum Card from American Express (ends 2nd November)
  • 30,000 points on American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (ends 9th November)

Here are the top current deals:

British Airways BA Amex American Express card

British Airways American Express

10,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and an Economy 241 voucher for spending ….. Read our full review

British Airways BA Premium Plus American Express Amex credit card

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

40,000 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 – 30,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 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

60,000 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)

  • Anuj says:

    I’m happy with the change to stop forcing flights to start in U.K. it’s going to be much easier to make good use of the voucher now I can avoid those ridiculous taxes. What I don’t understand is why I need to upgrade to the black card by 31st august? Surely I can upgrade anytime before spending £10k still?

    • ChasP says:

      Correct but you can save the fee increase by upgrading before Sept1st

    • Rob says:

      Correct

    • MCO says:

      Aren’t you going to get stung for the taxes on the return anyway? Unless you are coming from Brazil/HK.

      • Anuj says:

        My travelling pattern doesn’t fit 90% of people on here probably. For example being young and still having many countries on my bucket list, I generally dictate where I go based mostly on flight cost. Ie I go on google flights, see where the cheapest flight is, then from there I see where else it’s cheap to fly next to, eventually I hit a country where it’s £5 to get back to the UK. With covid testing fees I’ve decided to explore the UK this summer instead which is a shame as there’s plenty of £5 Ryanair flights this summer.

        With this new change I can play around and see where the cheapest taxes in business or first are, and then find cheap connecting flights on either side, staying in each place for a few days in a hostel. I’ll probably then pick one city where there’s some great hotel I can book on points to relax before heading back to the UK. Hopefully in 2022 covid permitting !

  • JOHN MATRIX says:

    Is it bad? I only redeem in economy & nectar cashout value is for Sainsburys family shoppers and/or travel hack nerds

  • Bee says:

    “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”

    When is this effective from?

  • C says:

    I’ve just upgraded on the phone as I’m near the 10k spend. They must have improved the process as it updated instantly on Apple
    Pay and the app, it used to take a few days

  • David says:

    This change doesn’t affect me, but I must say I’m surprised this is actually legal.

    If someone’s anniversary was 3 months ago and they’ve spent £5k since then, then they’ve (indirectly) paid Amex some percentage of that £5k as merchant fees, in exchange for a promised 2-4-1 voucher valid in all classes. Not giving what was promised when they already have that money seems wrong to me.

    • David says:

      (meant to add this in my previous comment)

      I’ve previously seen Amex as a trustworthy company, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve hesitated slightly to get rid of my Plat even though I will likely never again get value for money from (since the days of commuting to London by air each work are gone for ever). This kind of sharp practice makes me think they’re a company who should not be trusted.

      • Jon says:

        I would have thought the logical / morally correct / goodwill-retaining thing for Amex to do would be to offer existing members whose year spans the September 1st switchover a choice – i.e. if you had already started spending before September 1st but hit £12k after, “Would you like the economy-only 241 now, or wait until you hit £20k and get the old-style voucher (just this once), or might we interest you in an upgrade to the BAPP for just £250 and you can have a better voucher right now…” Or am I missing something?

        • Bagoly says:

          Why do so many businesses miss this sort of idea?
          Yes, it’s more effort in programming and communication, but offering people a choice is just so much better for generating positive customer emotions and avoiding negative ones.

    • John T says:

      Amex have the right to change the terms and conditions of their products whenever they like.

      • sigma421 says:

        Doesn’t mean that a court would agree though. As of right now, the sign-up page for the card says:

        “ Get a Companion Voucher when you spend £20,000 each membership year on the Card, which you can use to take a companion with you in the same flight and cabin when you redeem Avios for a British Airways reward flight. Taxes, fees and carrier charges apply.”

        I’d imagine that anyone signing up today would have a fairly strong case when Amex swap out the value of this clearly flagged benefit in September

      • Lady London says:

        not unreasonably they don’t, even if they have a sneaky clause in their contract purporting to allow this.

        Amex can be taken to the FOS on this I suspect.

      • Andy says:

        Incorrect. That’s not how UK law works

        • Andy says:

          Sorry – meant to add. They can change T&Cs for future business, but it’s not that simple when customers have already spent money with them under an existing contract that offers something in return for that expenditure

        • Benilyn says:

          Sign me up the class action lawusit, alongside the VW Diesel and Mercedes Diesel claims

  • Nathan says:

    It looks like this has been previously answered, but I just want to confirm, so apologies for any duplication. I was planning on the Free > Premium upgrade then downgrade trick shortly before my card anniversary in December (in order to delay triggering the 241 as long as possible due to the limited usage opportunities at the moment). Do these rule changes impact this strategy at all? I.E. Should I now upgrade before 1st September? Or am I fine sitting on this until December (providing the total spend on the free is below £12,000 I presume). Thank you.

    • AJA says:

      The way I read it the annual cost of the BAPP increases for renewals or new applications from 1 September onwards. This means if you want to pay the old fee of £195 pro-rata you need to do the upgrade before 1 September. I think if you do it in early December you will pay £250 for the new year. Of course if the intention is not to hold the card for long you have to weigh up 3 months pro-rata cost of the card at £195 vs potentially only 1 month at £250. The key is that you need to upgrade just before you hit £10k as that is when you earn the 2-4-1 voucher for the BAPP. If you spend over £12k on the free card you will automatically trigger the economy 2-4-1 voucher so no point upgrading after that point.

  • Lady London says:

    I think we are witnessing a devaluation being carried out in stages and unannounced.

    With BA “one train can hide another”. What other upcoming changes would make sense that are congruent with this one?

  • C says:

    Would you need to have the annual fee billed before the 1st Sep or just do the upgrade before?
    From experience when you upgrade the card, the fee is added to your account on your next statement date not instantly.
    This could catch people out if you need to have the fee billed before the 1st Sep.

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