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How do British Airways American Express 2-4-1 vouchers work?

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How do British Airways American Express 2-4-1 companion vouchers work?

I get quite a few emails each month about various aspects of the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher, both about how to earn it and how to use it.

I wanted to clear up some of the more popular questions in this article.

How do British Airways American Express 2-4-1 vouchers work?

The key thing to know is that, whilst both BA Amex cards offer a 2-4-1 voucher, the typical Head for Points reader is unlikely to want a voucher from the free British Airways card. This is because it can only be redeemed in Economy.

This is the most significant of the changes that took place on 1st September 2021. Whilst an Economy 2-4-1 voucher will, I am sure, be useful to some people, people who know where the real value is – which is hopefully you, if you’re reading this – will know that premium cabin redemptions are the way to go.

What does the 2-4-1 companion voucher do for me?

It allows you to book two Avios redemption seats for the points of one.  You can instantly see the savings available here – up to a maximum of 400,000 Avios in the unlikely event you were able to find two First Class return seats to Australia.  Even on the worst possible redemption – an off-peak economy return to Paris – you would save 9,500 Avios.

In reality, most people use them for long haul redemptions in Club World, typically something like New York.  That would save you 100,000 Avios on off-peak dates and 120,000 Avios on peak dates.

Assuming you value an Avios point at 1p, the 2-4-1 voucher would be worth £1,000 to £1,200 for such a trip.  This makes it easily the most valuable perk of ANY UK credit card (I ranked the most valuable credit card perks here). The £250 annual fee for the British Airways Premium Plus card is a fair price to pay to get access to this.

As a reminder, from 1st September 2021, vouchers earned on the free British Airways American Express card are limited to Economy class redemptions. This substantially reduces their value. I would go so far as to say that – in 90% of cases – you would be better off buying Economy flights for cash and ‘selling’ your Avios to Nectar for 0.8p per point.

How do I earn a companion voucher?

You need to spend either:

Note this is ‘card year’ and not calendar year.  Your card year runs from the date you are approved.

The voucher will be added to your British Airways Executive Club account within a few days of the spending target being reached.

Due to the current coronavirus situation, all new BA American Express companion vouchers issued by 31st December 2021 will come with an additional six months validity on top of the usual 12 or 24 months.

How many companion vouchers can I earn per year?

You can only earn one voucher per card year irrespective of how much you spend on the card.

You can, of course, get your partner to apply for their own card – instead of having a supplementary on your card – and so earn their own voucher.

Whether this makes sense depends on how many Avios you earn per year (there is no point earning two 2-4-1 vouchers each year if you don’t earn enough Avios to make use of them) and how much American Express spending you can manage.

How do British Airways American Express 2-4-1 vouchers work?

What small print do I need to know?

This is where some people come unstuck, because they don’t understand the limitations of the voucher.

It can only be used on British Airways services.  You can’t use it on Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific etc even though you can book such flights on Avios.

It can’t be used on franchise or codeshare services.  This means, for example, you can’t use it on the Comair-operated but BA-branded flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

It CAN be used on ‘open jaw’ flights, where you return from a different airport, even though these can’t be booked online and require a call to British Airways.  The only rule is that the distance between your arrival and departure airport must be shorter than either of the two flights.  London – Johannesburg, Cape Town – London is fine.  London – Moscow and Madrid – London is not.  This article looks at how to book open jaw flights using Avios.

You need to book AND fly the outbound leg before the expiry date of the voucher.  You can fly back at any point.

If you need to cancel a flight booked using a 2-4-1 voucher, you get the voucher back.  The original expiry date remains the same.

It CAN be used on one-way flights.  Vouchers issued after 1st September 2021 can be used to book one-way flights in either direction. Older vouchers can only be used for one-way flights departing from the UK.

You can fly a different class on the outbound to the return.  However, both passengers must travel together in the same class.  You cannot fly in First and book your companion in Club World if there is only one Avios seat available in First.

You cannot use ‘part pay with Avios’ in conjunction with a 2-4-1 voucher.  Your booking must be ‘100% Avios’.

‘Gold Upgrade For Two’ vouchers (issued when you earn 2,500 tier points) can be used in conjunction with a 2-4-1 voucher.

You cannot change the name of the second traveller after booking.  You would need to cancel the whole booking with no guarantee that the seats would be re-offered for Avios redemption.

You cannot turn an existing Avios redemption into a 2-4-1 redemption with half of the Avios returned to you.

There are no circumstances under which you can ask BA to extend a 2-4-1 voucher.  Don’t waste your time. The only exception, which is temporary, is to make a 2-4-1 booking and then immediately cancel it for a Future Travel Voucher – read more here. This will artificially extend your 2-4-1 voucher until 30th September 2023.

Both passengers must travel together at all times.

Despite what Amex tells you, you do not need to use the card to pay the taxes when you come to redeem your 2-4-1 voucher.  You must use an American Express card but it does not have to be a British Airways one. It doesn’t even need to be an American Express card in your name, as Amex does not do name verification as part of its security procedures.

You will not earn Avios or tier points on your redemption flight in line with standard Avios redemptions.

Your flights will not be cancelled if you cancel your BA Amex card after making your 2-4-1 booking.

Can I combine multiple vouchers in one booking?

The BA Amex cardholder MUST be one of the two travellers.  There is no way to avoid this.  If you are in a Household Account, the second passenger must be in the household account or on your ‘Friends and Family’ list.

There is a ‘get out’ here for families or other groups.

If you have two vouchers to use, issued to the same person, they can be used together for the BA Amex cardholder and three other people.  This is what we do for our family of four.  This situation would occur if you triggered your voucher for the next card year before you had used the voucher from the previous year.

IMPORTANT: For technical reasons, it is impossible to combine vouchers issued before 1st September 2021 with vouchers issued afterwards. If you are in this position you will not be able to use two vouchers together to redeem for a group of four people.

How do British Airways American Express 2-4-1 vouchers work?

How do companion vouchers price on routes where BA offers £1 taxes?

Over the last couple of years, British Airways has introduced ‘no taxes and charges’ redemptions on short-haul flights.  Some long-haul flights are also now trialling ‘use more Avios, pay less tax’ on Avios bookings.

Here is an example.

Historically, a return economy flight to Amsterdam was 9,500 Avios + £35 in taxes and charges, using ‘Reward Flight Saver’ on off-peak dates.

You now see a band of prices.  The lowest cash option is now 18,500 Avios + £1 return.  See:

How do Avios 241 vouchers price?

The ‘original’ price of 9,500 Avios plus £35 is still there, as you can see, but it is tucked away under ‘More pricing options’.

When using a 2-4-1 companion voucher, you will pay this ‘original’ price.  There is no flexibility offered.

In our Amsterdam example, an Economy redemption for TWO people with a 2-4-1 voucher will cost 9,500 Avios + £70 in taxes and charges amount.

This is based on the ‘original’ Avios cost for one person (9,500 Avios return) and 2 x the £35 taxes and charges. You cannot adjust the ratio of Avios to taxes. 

This is not a problem, to be honest, because the new £1 taxes pricing options are generally a bad deal and should be avoided.  In our Amsterdam example, you are being asked to use an extra 9,000 Avios to save just £34 in taxes and charges.  This is a terrible deal as you are getting just 0.38p per Avios.

Where can I find the Avios pricing chart on ba.com?

You can’t. It was removed a few years ago.

The good news is that Head for Points recreated the Avios pricing chart. You can see how many Avios you need for a specific route in this article.

How many seats are released per flight for Avios?

British Airways makes four Club World / Club Europe, two World Traveller Plus and eight World Traveller / Economy seats available on every flight.  

‘New style companion vouchers come with extra Avios availability in Business Class. Without getting too technical about how it works, if cash prices are below a certain threshold, additional Business Class seats are made available when redeeming a ‘new style’ voucher. These seats will show automatically when you search, as long as you select ‘use a voucher’ before searching. (A ‘new style’ voucher is a Premium Plus voucher issued from 1st September 2021.)

More reward seats are usually made available closer to the date of travel – a lot more, on some routes – but if you absolutely must travel on a certain day you need to book 355 days out. Even then, you need to be realistic about your chances of getting seats over Christmas, February half term, Easter and October half-term.

What is the best way to secure seats on peak flights?

Seats become available at midnight GMT 355 days before departure.

If you must travel on a specific date, you need to call an open BA call centre (usually the US or Japanese ones, you can Google the numbers) on the stroke of UK midnight (or 1am during British Summer Time).  A call centre agent can always grab seats ahead of someone waiting online, because until you submit your credit card details online, a call centre agent can ‘steal’ your seats from your basket

For a booking 355 days out, you should look to book your outbound flights on the day they become available.  Do NOT wait until the return flights come up.  You can call British Airways on the day that the return flights becomes available and add it to the booking.  You should not be charged a change fee for this.

There is a new ‘Plan B’ option for booking your return flights …..

There is an alternative way of securing your return flights, assuming you booked the outbound at 355 prior to departure to guarantee you got what you wanted.  If you don’t want to ring the call centre at midnight to book the return you can, if you have enough Avios, book your return seats online using 100% Avios (ie paying for both tickets in full) and then call BA at your convenience to get half of the Avios for the return leg refunded.

There are three problems with this approach.

Firstly, you obviously need to have enough additional Avios to pay for the return flights at full points cost.

Secondly, on high demand routes, you still need to call because the call centre gets priority over website users.

Thirdly, and most importantly, BA does not equalise your taxes. The taxes you pay via this method are 2 x one-way flights instead of 1 x return flight. 

For North America this makes a substantial difference.  For example, a London to New York return in Business has taxes and charges of around £675. However, a one-way London – NYC and a one-way NYC – London have combined taxes of nearer £1,000. Outside North American this is less of an issue and the taxes difference between booking a return vs two x one-way flights is modest or nil.

Are there any easy ways of reducing the taxes payable?

Not easily.  There are three options though:

  • Start your trip in Jersey, because Jersey is outside the UK for Air Passenger Duty purposes but inside the UK for 2-4-1 purposes.  If you fly Jersey – Gatwick – Heathrow – XXXXX your taxes charge will be a lot lower.  You cannot stopover in London for more than 24 hours or full APD is charged regardless.
  • If you have a ‘new style’ 2-4-1 voucher issued after 1st September 2021, you would also be able to start your trip in Dublin, Amsterdam or anywhere else outside the UK – with an aircraft change in Heathrow – to reduce your Air Passenger Duty bill. The cost of getting to and from Dublin etc will eat up much of the saving however.

Can I travel with an infant or book without my baby being born yet?

Yes.  For infant (under 2) bookings you pay 10% of the Avios and 10% of the taxes of an adult passenger.

If your child is not yet born, book for the two adults and then call to add the baby when it has arrived and has a name.  These rules apply to standard Avios redemptions as well.

How do British Airways American Express 2-4-1 vouchers work?

If I cancel my BA Amex card after earning the voucher, is it lost?

No.  Absolutely not.  Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

You will also still get your voucher back if you cancel a 2-4-1 redemption but no longer hold your BA Amex at the time of cancellation.

You will, however, still need access to an American Express card of some sort to pay the taxes and charges when you do use your companion voucher.

If I downgrade from the Premium Plus to the free card after earning my voucher, do I retain the 2-year expiry period?

Yes.

Can I change my class of travel if seats open up in a higher class after I’ve booked?

Yes.  Standard Avios change fees apply of £35 per person, plus of course the additional Avios and any extra taxes and charges.  You will need to call BA to do this.

Is there any value in the free British Airways American Express card, if the voucher can only be used in Economy?

Not really, if you plan to use your companion voucher.

However …. the 2-4-1 voucher is NOT the ideal product for everyone. It is especially useless for solo travellers.

If this is you, it makes a lot of sense to stick to the free card and earn a very respectable 1 Avios per £1 on your card spending. Unless you were spending huge sums – over £50,000 per year – on the card, there is little merit in paying £250 per year for the Premium Plus card purely for the extra 0.5 Avios per £1 spent.

For the first year, of course, it is a different story. Because of the substantial sign-up bonus on the Premium Plus card, it makes sense to:

  • apply for Premium Plus
  • spend the necessary amount to trigger the sign-up bonus
  • call American Express to downgrade to the free card, receiving a pro-rata refund of your £250

If you have any further questions about the voucher, please ask them in the comments.

Our reviews of the two British Airways cards are here:

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

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

Comments (94)

  • B says:

    The new post 1 September vouchers have an additional clause that implies to me you can’t add an inbound flight later (added ** to highlight)

    “Outbound travel must take place before the expiry date of the Companion Voucher however inbound travel can take place after the expiry date of the Companion Voucher, **provided it is booked at the same time as the outbound travel**.”

  • Anna says:

    From what I’ve seen so far, the extra availability on new vouchers is limited to routes where there was always plenty of availability anyway, e.g. New York. It’s still a very valuable perk, as Rob says, but I think BA and Amex were slightly misleading when they implied that this was going to be a major new benefit.

  • Malcolm says:

    The fly from Inverness suggestion is an excellent one although admittedly not practical for many. We live in Edinburgh and have booked to LA using vouchers for July
    2022. From Edinburgh cost was £2900 for 4, from Inverness it was £2200.

    Ok extra fuel and an overnight hotel will add to cost but still think we’ll save £500.

    Worth doing if you can.

    • Grimz says:

      And if your flight gets moved over 5 hrs or cancelled they will happily re route you from Edinburgh for the same price as Inverness!!

  • Ian McDowall says:

    Solo Travellers who are not bothered about earning a companion voucher should consider using an Amex nectar credit card as the earning rate is 2 nectar per £ which converts to 1.25 avios.
    Its free for the first year and £25 after that.

    • John says:

      The £25 fee means the free BA Amex is better for annual spends of under £12500; in practice althe threshold is lower because the nectar Amex rounds downthe pennies from each transaction while the BA Amex rounds to the nearest avios

  • Anna says:

    So – with the new voucher, could you fly DUB-LHR-XXX-LHR-MAN and save on the UK APD? It’s very cheap and easy to get to DUB from MAN or LPL, could be a fun short break to tag onto a longer trip at some point.

    • Mikeact says:

      Of course..Dublin is just one option.

    • PGW says:

      It’s annoying that you can’t price that sort of itinerary on ba.com and IME the charges on the open jaw aren’t anything like as good value as a straight return from DU. Of course there’s few more Avios needed to cover the DUB-LHR leg which I mitigate by selecting Economy for that..

      • PGW says:

        Not DU – DUB!!

        • Anna says:

          There shouldn’t be any extra avios charged on the DUB-LHR leg though, or does that only apply with UK connections?
          I need to do some dummy bookings but normally it’s only returning from the US which causes a problem with the charges if booked separately.

    • Doug M says:

      But this puts your trip at risk if your flight to Dublin to begin with messes up. You have no protection as this is similar to exEU positioning. If you remove risk by going to Dublin the day before you add costs. I’ve done a fair number of these flights, and now consider the savings I’ve made would pay for a trip if written off. It’s a good idea, but you have to be aware of the risk. Also, if you’re a luggage person, you’re either paying fees on the cheap (or not) flight to Dublin, or need somewhere to leave it while you do the Dublin shuffle.

      • meta says:

        If all on one ticket, you have full protection and last time I checked Ireland is in EU. BA would be obliged to put on the next flight, duty of care applies to plus after pandemic you could expect compensation too.

        • meta says:

          And UK has the same EU regulations, now just changed to UK261.

        • Doug M says:

          But Anna’s suggestion of starting in Dublin to avoid APD with a cheap flight from MAN or LPL to get there means it can’t be on one ticket?

        • Doug M says:

          Of course Ireland remains in the EU. The term exEU is generally used to describe starting a trip in mainland Europe rather than the UK, to save APD, get a cheaper fare, or often both. Starting in Switzerland and Norway is typically still referred to as exEU. Until last year any trip beginning in London or Manchester was exEU, but was not normally referred to as such.

      • John says:

        Yeah it doesn’t really make sense on redemption as the APD is probably the same as a hotel in Dublin and there will be more YQ. Whereas with ex-EU paid flights the fare is meant to be significantly cheaper

        • meta says:

          With new 241 voucher you can start outside UK, so just price it up and see how much you can save. And why would you need an overnight stay when Dublin is only cca 60-minutes flight and how many flights are there per day?

          • Anna says:

            The whole point was to add a mini break in Dublin as initially stated, so there shouldn’t be an issue with flight disruption on the first leg. So instead of paying the UK APD, we’d get a couple of nights in a city we’ve never managed to visit yet, which sounds a lot better value!
            So itinerary would be something like:
            Day 1 – LPL to DUB
            Day 3 – DUB-LHR-MIA
            Day 8 – MIA-GCM
            Day 20 – GCM-LHR-MAN
            I love these kinds of trips where you can visit multiple places and combine a city break with some beach time!

          • Anna says:

            Obviously day 8 would be a separate booking from the 241 trip.

          • meta says:

            @Anna The thing is we don’t know how new vouchers work with open-jaws. It most certainly involves calling BA and on top of that getting an agent who knows about new type of vouchers…

          • Anna says:

            I don’t think there would be any need to call, just book both legs separately online then ask for the second lot of avios to be refunded via Twitter. The new Ts and Cs are clear that the journey can now start outside the UK, and open jaw (including with different start and end points) has always been possible.
            No issue with fees on my itinerary; GCM-LHR-MAN is £250 in J!

          • meta says:

            @Anna I don’t think BA is doing this as of late, but it might have changed again.

          • Anna says:

            Doing what, @meta? I got the half avios refunded via Twitter about 6 weeks ago.

          • meta says:

            @Anna was it on a 241 booking? I remember a few posts a month or so ago saying agents didn’t want to refund. I might be wrong though.

          • Anna says:

            Yes it was a 241 booking or I wouldn’t have been asking for half the avios to be refunded! They initially said it couldn’t be done but I gently pushed back (your accounts of persistence on this site are very inspiring dear meta!) and they decided that they actually could.

  • Den says:

    Re – British Airways is adding an additional 6-months validity to all new Companion Voucher or Travel Together tickets earned between June 2020 and the end of December 2021.

    I have the basic Blue Amex and just short of a £10000 yearly spend, I was going to upgrade the card now to get the companion voucher. But may now wait to early Dec to get 2 and 1/2 years from then! (my year ends in early Jan).
    Just wondering if the 6 months additional will be withdrawn before then?

  • Jake says:

    Maybe a silly Q but what’s the difference between:

    1: You cannot turn an existing Avios redemption into a 2-4-1 redemption with half of the Avios returned to you.

    And

    2: book your return seats online using 100% Avios (ie paying for both tickets in full) and then call BA at your convenience to get half of the Avios for the return leg refunded.

    • Rob says:

      In 2) you are merging a ticket into an existing 241 booking. The IT can handle that.

      1) also requires a call to BA which would not otherwise be needed, causing unnecessary admin. 2) requires a call irrespective.

  • John says:

    The companion voucher is not returned if you cancel. It is not returned to you statement but elf on a wrapped with the costs and taxes. You have to ring, and we all know that can be over an hour to even find out the expiry date. As for over £1,200 of taxes it takes a number of calls to books flights and use the funds. Not clear why they cannot issue an e voucher or return the companion ticket to my membership account page.

    • Anna says:

      That’s only if you take a FTV. If it’s s straight cancellation the voucher goes back into your BAEC account, though as with a lot of things that is proving a lot more difficult just now!

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