To companion certificate or not to companion certificate, that is the question…

One of the benefits of the Chase British Airways Visa Signature card (which is presently offering a sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 Avios) is a companion certificate after spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. The companion certificate covers the mileage component of an award ticket for the second passenger traveling on the same itinerary. The “catch” is that British Airways imposes fuel surcharges on award tickets, and both passengers have to pay all the taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.

A roundtrip first class award ticket to Europe typically costs you a minimum of $1,000 in fees per passenger, plus the mileage for one passenger. So the way I usually look at it is that you’re paying the coach fare for a ticket, and getting a triple upgrade to first class by using the miles, which makes it seem like slightly better of a deal.

I earned one of these a couple of years ago when British Airways offered the 100,000 mile sign-up bonus for the first time on the British Airways Visa. These certificates are valid for (a generous) two years from the date of issue, and as it turns out mine is expiring in just over a month:

Outbound travel has to occur before the expiration date, so it’s not just that I have to book in the next month, but I also have to travel. For example, here’s one option I see available, where the second passenger wouldn’t pay any miles but would pay the taxes/fees/fuel surcharges.

If I had planned this better I would definitely say I should’ve taken advantage of this. A trip to Europe in summer for 75,000 Avios per person plus $1,000 seems like a good value to me. In winter I’m not convinced it’s worthwhile. I do like the Christmas Markets in Germany, but aside from that I’m really looking for sunshine after spending a bit too much time in Seattle lately.

So do I let this beautiful electronic certificate expire, or take one for the team and experience the Concorde Rooms in New York and London, British Airways’ new first, etc., as I had planned on doing earlier in the year?

Comments

  1. It seems pretty costly to me. The opportunity savings could be $2k plus travel expenses even using points another 500-1k. Also you have to get to NYC. Not worth it in my opinion. I feel your pain! Off peak usairways 55k business FTW!

  2. Head for the Mediterranean šŸ™‚ Greece, South of France, Southern Spain – Costa del Sol and the Canary Islands!

  3. Yea I just hit my 30k spend this year and will have to do with this reward/problem. I have read on flyertalk you can just do a one way,which would save quite a chunk of change..so I might do that and use all my Avios for short flights.

  4. Would you regret it if you didn’t end up using it? It is a lot of money and not an ideal time to travel but you also put some effort into hitting that spend. Doesn’t necessarily seem worth it for me but then again I would enjoy seeing the trip report.

  5. so basically everyone agrees that British airways makes money on award travelers, even with this certificate…

  6. I flew the new first class and experienced the London Concord Room in 2011 using companion cert. – the fees were expensive.
    I have booked it again for 2013 and the fees were even MORE expensive. What I discovered during booking for 2013 is if you have enough miles to NOT use the cert. you can save a bundle (upwards of $600) on fuel surcharge fees by booking your departure and returns as one way and not round trip and the amount of miles are the same as it is distance based – BA charges less in fuel surcharges for one way than roundtrip on the exact same itinerary. (they will not tell you this and when questioned claimed the difference was due to security/passenger/other government fees) Try booking a sample paid itinerary on ba.com as roundtrip and then the same exact flights as oneway to see the fuel surcharge DIFFERENCE.

  7. It’s a fine time to go to FCO or even to MAD. Once there, stay a night then hop a train and head south. Go hang out in the warm sun with all the British tourists on the Costa Brava. šŸ™‚ Since you hate cold weather.

  8. Do the T&Cs really state that you have to be one of the travelers? With a bit of work, you can have someone else use it.
    1. Create a family account and add the two travelers.
    2. Move all your Avios to Iberia Avios so that you don’t end up using your own points.
    3. Book travel for two using their Avios points.
    4. Remove them from your family account.
    5. Transfer Avios back from Iberia.

    If I understand the program correctly, this should work…

  9. Is 1 hr enough time to transfer at lhr?

    Speaking of Christmas markets I am in Cologne now enjoying them. We did have snow most f the day, 6 inches but it is winter and the food is so good. I am enjoying the Hyatt Regency here. Very nice hotel although the walk to the metro could be closer (or provide another exit from the hotel) since you have to walk 270 degrees around the hotel which in the winter isnt ideal.

    Tomorrow might hit Aachon before heading back to cdg for the ride home.

    Could you write on how you prioritize spending on cards after meeting the sign up bonuses? I.e. where does trying to spend 30k on ba cc rank with other spend bonuses?

  10. My certificate hit the waste basket too. It just didn’t make sense to use it. I don’t regret putting the 30k spend on the card as I reedeemed the points for a nice Asia CX experience.

  11. Can it be used on a one way ticket? Fly one way with it, the use other currency to fly back and that only costs you half the surcharge.

  12. You should totally go.

    I’m flying BA F for the first time in March and would love to get your perpective on it. So this is a selfish recommendation, but I think you should do it.

  13. @Lucky – the tax amount on your 2nd image is wrong – the total tax is x2 (150k Aviois correct).

    Haveing done this many times since 2-for-1 was launched,

    a. Their “new” 747 ex NYC F sucks. Reduced storage for window seats, non-existent storage for aisle (no bins atop, everyone uses the bin atop the window seaters); MUCH smaller & narrower seats for both window and aisle. At 6′ I hit my toes and they’ve sharply narrowed the 747 F top-cone of the seat so when you’re fully-flat you don’t have room to move your feet. This is not an issue on 777s – wider seats, longer seats, more storage side/top.
    Crew said they tried to squeeze in more J seats backside so F nose-cone had to come down a few feet. 777 F is much better than 747 F but neither is as good as the “old” F or the CX F.

    b. While it is always good to save Avios, I find it somewhat easier to justify the high surcharge/taxes if I use the 2-for-1 for the really long-haul (US to LHR to JNB or HKG or SIN-SYD) as all those mileage rates went through the roof (India remained unch, most closer cities got reductions) so two flying really long-haul together makes me feel I beat BA at their own game. Mind game, of course, but still. Anyway, diff strokes for diff follks, letting a voucher die won’t be the end of the world if you’re 50-50.
    c. Finally, once you commence journey, you can’t change the itin.

    For the others:
    – itin has to start/end in USA
    – only valid on BA metal so that Iberia trick won’t work
    – LHR T5 allows ~55 min connections now; but expect bags to be late.

  14. There is a way to reduce your fees. The big expense is triggered by your return out of LHR. If however your return is simply in transit through LHR the fees are much lower.

    So say you wanted JFK-LHR. Instead extend this to JFK-LHR-CDG but don’t do the CDG part until you are ready to come home, whereby your return is really CDG-JFK in transit through LHR. Fees will be lower.

  15. @been_there: unable to replicate magnitudes, though differential taxation point is valid.

    one sugg was to fly one-way using the 2-for-1 voucher and the other way using no voucher.

    Example JFK-LHR-JFK in F using voucher = 120k miles + $2331 tax (as of today)

    Same journey in F:
    JFK-LHR using voucher = 60k + $875 total Tax/Surch
    LHR-JFK using 2 indiv = 120k + $1141 tax/surch
    Total 180k Avios + $2016

    Effective saving $315 but we spend 60k extra Avios so it is like we “bought” 60k for $315 or got a value of 0.525 cebts/mile – not worth it imho, as 60k Avios can extract far more value on short-haul OneWorld sectors.

  16. I’d use it but the problem w/the companion certificate is that it can only be used on BA metal which means if you live in Seattle, you have to get yourself to/from NY on your own nickel/mileage preferably on a BA partner so that at least the reservations can be “linked”. I just ran into this hassle in going to Spain next summer out of our home in Portland. Had to buy Alaska flights to SFO and another home from LAX.

  17. @ russell — This itinerary is only transiting London, not originating there, so that’s about as low as the taxes get.

  18. Ben, you should use it and come to FCO. Once you are here, we should have a mini DO. I’d also enjoy reading your takes on BA F, since I have a flight with them next summer.

  19. If you’ve got the Avios, get yourself down to Cape Town! Four F sectors and glorious weather this time of year! Even do J all the way to keep the mileage cost down if needed…

  20. @Lucky,
    1. If I accumulates two BA Companion Certs (by spending $30K each year for 2 years), can I use them together at the same trip to take two persons with me for free (just paying the fees)?
    2. It seems your trip to Germany is too costly. How about a domestic flight from northern states to Florida? Does your companion cert requires you to take international flight?

  21. @ Andy — You can’t use the companion certificates to have two people fly for “free,” unfortunately. And keep in mind the voucher is only good for travel on British Airways, so can’t be used for a domestic US flight. All British Airways longhaul flights have those hefty fuel surcharges.

  22. Very timely post, just crossed the 30k spend line today. Now to figure out how to use the fewest Avios and redeem the companion cert from the US (ORD) preferably in F, spending time somewhere other than London (I like the German Christkindlmarkt idea-but not this year). Also didn’t appear from the BA site that you could do ORD-LHR-South America via BA metal on the certificate, even though BA metal flights exist. Lowest fees/Avios appear to be ORD-LHR-Europe outbound, then Europe-LHR-ORD return (not stopping over in LHR on return in order to save some fees/taxes).

  23. I just redeemed mine from 2011 last month for travel next year to EDI with LHR stopover and the all-in price was $2,600 and 150k miles in F class, thus 75k and $1,300 per person . If we had connected to mainland Europe, fees would have been a bit cheaper by $200-$300 total.

    I earned another companion ticket for spend this year and intend to use the companion award again. I still think the economics are good and availability in F seemed to be quite attainable, especially out of IAH, less so from the west coast. And it was easy to book, all online.

    Will put that spend in 2013 to a different card, perhaps Hilton Reserve. But i am looking forward to trying the BA F product and next year we may use the 2nd companion award to go outside of Europe on BA.

  24. We let our certs (2) expire, as the limiting step in our travel equation is time away from work/home. Like a few other plays, we had a plan for the certs, but in the end we just booked LH F with US Airways miles instead.

    Decisions, decisions… šŸ™‚

  25. I’d like to see your take on BA F. I flew it a few months ago and was actually pleasantly surprised. It’s not Singapore, and I’ve yet to experience Cathay F, but it’s a really nice product. The fuel surcharges suck, but it’s probably worth it for you and a friend to go.

  26. I have used this certificate to fly Business from the west coast and then back to east coast for holiday travels, found it to be the best deal when wanting to spend NYE in london and dealing with family over Christmas.

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