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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)

  • mhuk01 says:

    I have used a 2-4-1 voucher to book a flight LHR – HKG in October. We will not be able to go due to the current HKG Quarantine rules, but don’t want to lose the 2-4-1 voucher (which has expiry date April 2022).
    – Am I correct that I can contact BA to convert the LHR-HKG 2-4-1 flight to a Flight Voucher, which doesn’t expire until 2023?
    – Will this retain the 2-4-1 side of things, and does it mean I have to find a new flight which has reward seat availability?
    – Also the flight is Economy for going out and Business on the return, will this be an issue?
    – Should I call BA for this or do it online?
    – Is there any cost?

    Many thanks!

    • Anna says:

      Your voucher will be for the amount of cash and avios used, plus your 241. So cabin class isn’t an issue but you will need avios availability for the new booking.
      If you don’t want to tie up that much money & avios you call BA and cancel your booking (or ask them to do it via Twitter) for £35 pp, then re-use the refunded 241 for a RFS e.g. LHR-MAN then cancel again and get another voucher.

    • AJA says:

      1)Yes you can convert it to a FTV (It will be for both outbound and return flights)
      2) The FTV effectively stores everything booked on the 2-4-1 inside it so same passengers and same seats ie Economy outbound and Business return. When you redeem the FTV you can add Avios to upgrade to Premium Economy (only one cabin upgrade possible)
      3)You will have to have reward seat availability to redeem the FTV and you will have to phone BA to do so. This is the one downside of going for the FTV
      4)I believe you can exchange the current booking for the FTV online
      5) Exchanging for a FTV is currently free, as is rebooking in the future

      • AJA says:

        Just to clarify – if you upgrade an existing 2-4-1 it can only be a one-class upgrade. ie Economy to Premium Economy or Club to First. If you cancel for a FTV you can pay the extra for Business class ie go from Economy straight to Club. Both require reward seat availability

        • mhuk01 says:

          Ok thanks. Slightly confused though…

          So currently I have LHR-HKG Economy and HKG-LHR Business. If I take the FTV, can I then just get the exact same classes (LHR-HKG Economy and HKG-LHR Business) assuming seat availability of course, and not have paid any extra in avios or taxes?

          • pauldb says:

            Your FTV will hold the raw value of your ticket, with no real memory of what you booked: so something like a 241, 130k avios and £1200. When you use it, you have those elements to spend (or top up). If the avios and taxes required for the same trip haven’t changed, you can buy the same trip.

          • AJA says:

            Yes you can use the FTV to rebook exactly the same itinerary with the same seats ie Economy outbound and Business return without paying any extra Avios or Taxes Fees and Charges.

  • Dominic C says:

    Rob probably a stupid question, but on extending an expiring 2-4-1 by the FTV route, if I book economy return to Manchester for 2 persons using Avios/2-4-1, cancel after 24 hours and obtain FTV, when I ring BA in 6 months to book business return to South Africa, why will I not have to pay extra avios for 2 persons? In other words, does the FTV recognise the 2-4-1 and so I will only have to pay the extra avios for 1 person?

    • Rob says:

      The 2-4-1 is recognised, yes. Loads of people have done this with no problems.

      • Oonagh Cacioppo says:

        Am I being dumb here… are you saying that the avios total points for cancelled economy flights to Manchester, will be sufficient for business flights to South Africa? For either one or two people? I understand 241 still available but not clear on how avios used?

    • AJA says:

      You will have to pay extra Avios to pay for Club World but it should only be the cost for 1 person.

  • Roy says:

    I’m curious – is there any way to use the new-style 2-4-1 vouchers to open up the extra seat availability, but without actually booking a second traveller? Just hypothetically – imagining a solo traveller, and that the voucher would otherwise expire unused.

    What would happen if one booked a second traveller, who simply didn’t show up for the flight?

  • awk says:

    As per your article, I decided to make and then cancel a 2-4-1 booking and force the Sept-2023 extension. Just waiting for the 24 hours to expire.
    Can I just confirm that when you say cancel, is that the “request a voucher” form, or do I actually cancel in “manage my booking”
    Sorry – but I don’t want to do the wrong thing !

  • Billy Nicholson says:

    How long does it take to receive the FTV? And is using it against a replacement reward booking easy? ie can you do it online, or does it require a phone call like all other quirky bookings?

  • Helen Francis says:

    We are looking at the possibility of amending our return flight (used 241 voucher for a return to/from LDN – YVR) as we may want to fly to somewhere else e.g. Toronto. Are we able to amend one leg and would we lose the 241 voucher?

    • Rob says:

      Yes, you can amend as long as Avios seats are available. 241 stays intact. Open jaws are perfectly fine with BA.

      • JDB says:

        Rob, isn’t there an issue with the open jaw in this instance as BA apply two rules – 1. the distance between the arrival and departure airports cannot be greater than either flight, which is fine here, but also, 2. that once booked you cannot change zones (and YYZ/YVR are in different zones) without cancelling and starting again, so you need more Avios availability on the flight you are keeping.

        • Rob says:

          Could be, because it will reprice the ticket – I wasn’t sure off the top of my head if zones was going to be an issue.

          • JDB says:

            I was reminded about it yesterday from your library article – “There is one other quirk. It seems that once an open jaw is booked, you cannot amend it if it means a change to the Avios required, ie if you move into a different Avios pricing zone.”

            I experienced it once trying to change a Beijing out/return to making the return from Shanghai, but luckily there were additional seats as they insisted on cancelling the whole booking.

  • FlightDoctor says:

    Quick question on booking and then cancelling a 2-4-1 booking to force an extension to 2023; does this need to be a return flight (e.g. LHR-MAN-LHR) or would one way still work (e.g. LHR-MAN) and therefore taxes to be paid “up front” would only be £35? Clearly I’d want to use it for a proper return flight when reactivated in due course and not be restricted to a one way trip….

  • Phil says:

    I’d like to see you investigate British Airways claims that it makes four Club seats available on every flight. I’ve been closely monitoring Vancouver and there is no way this is happening. I’ve seen other people making similar comments on other threads about this.

    • Anna says:

      I don’t think BA has ever officially claimed to do this, it’s normally 4 in economy and 2 in club. More have been released recently because of the extraordinary times we’ve been in for the past 18 months.

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