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The British Airways Visa Signature® Card has launched a new offer whereby the annual fee is waived for the first year. The card benefits haven’t changed, but the $0 introductory annual fee is a new perk, so it may be worth giving this card a second look. I thought it would be helpful to go through the details of the card, along with the pros and cons as I see them.
To recap, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card offers 50,000 bonus Avios after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer is available to those who have NOT received a cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months, which is something to keep in mind.
Reasons to get the British Airways Visa
Travel Together ticket
One of the perks of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is an award companion ticket (officially called the British Airways Travel Together ticket) when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year.
In order to use the Travel Together ticket you have to be departing from the US, though stopovers and open jaws are allowed. When you redeem the companion ticket the second passenger doesn’t have to pay any miles, but is still responsible for paying all taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.
There are several ways to maximize the value you get out of the BA companion certificate, and if you think of it as spending less than you would for an economy ticket, and using miles for a triple upgrade to first class the fuel surcharges aren’t so painful.
I find myself redeeming BA Avios more than just about any other points currency. The distance based award chart makes Avios quite practical, and they’re incredibly valuable for:
- Domestic travel on American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines
- Travel on Aer Lingus and Air Berlin on transatlantic flights, which allows you to avoid the BA fuel surcharges (Boston to Dublin is just 12,500 Avios one-way in economy class or 25,000 Avios one-way in business class)
- Travel to and within South America on LAN, given that they don’t impose fuel surcharges (Miami to Lima is just 12,500 Avios one-way in economy class or 25,000 Avios one-way in business class)
- Travel of short distances within Asia on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Malaysia Airlines
I’ve actually redeemed Avios for over 20 last-minute short-haul flights this year. I would otherwise have needed to spend well over $10,000 on those flights, so this is a place where I get tremendous value out of Avios.
10% discount on purchased tickets
One of the long standing perks of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is the ability to receive a 10% off discount when purchasing flights on British Airways.
The 10% discount is taken on the total fare – which includes taxes, fees, fuel surcharges, etc. You do have to be an US based British Airways Visa cardholder, and must be flying a roundtrip from the United States.
The discount is valid for up to eight passengers, and is valid in any cabin of service. All flights must be operated by British Airways or OpenSkies. The best way to maximize the 10% visa discount on British Airways, in my opinion, is by booking a higher class of service, and then using Avios to upgrade.
British Airways A380 Club World business class
Many transfer partners
The BA program is one of the few that partners with all three of the major flexible points currencies, so it’s very easy to top off your account. You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or Starwood Preferred Guest at a 1:1 ratio.
Reasons not to get the British Airways Visa
The ironic part is arguably that redeeming British Airways Avios for travel on British Airways isn’t worthwhile due to the high fuel surcharges they impose on award redemptions (unless you’re using a Travel Together Ticket, which changes the math a bit).
For a roundtrip ticket between North America and Europe in a premium cabin you’re typically looking at around $850 per person in fuel surcharges if you’re traveling British Airways, American, US Airways, or Iberia. Partners like Aer Lingus and airberlin don’t have fuel surcharges, and they’re comparatively low on Finnair.
The better value for longhaul travel is for flights to South America, where you won’t pay fuel surcharges, or for flights within Asia, where the surcharges are often mild.
You can also “reimburse yourself” by using the rebates from a cash-back card to reduce your out of pocket, which helps.
No bonus categories
In addition to the generous sign up bonus, you earn 2.5 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1.25 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
That’s not an amazing return on everyday spend, but at least you’re getting more than one point per dollar.
The British Airways Visa Signature® Card has chip and signature technology, along with no foreign transaction fees, which in theory make this a great card for overseas purchases, but this probably isn’t a card I’d put a ton of everyday spend on unless you’re aiming for the companion pass.
Premium cabin award availability
If you’re based on the West Coast, know that award availability is horrible in advance.
So if you’re looking to use the BA companion certificate for flights between California and London, know that space is going to be extremely limited, and you’re going to need to look at positioning flights. Flights from Seattle, Vancouver, and Phoenix can be a bit better, but the reality is that you have to go East of Dallas to find space reliably.
On the flip side, space can be fantastic close-in. I’ve seen 7+ first class seats between London and Seattle within a few days of departure, so if you’re open to paying some (moderate) change fees it can make sense to lock in an “acceptable” itinerary and improve upon it later.
Availability isn’t as sparse from the East Coast, but it’s something to keep in mind.
On balance, I think the British Airways Visa Signature® Card offers great value, and is even more compelling now that the annual fee is waived for the first year.
I have had this card previously, and will likely be picking this up again early next year.