Pros And Cons Of The British Airways Visa

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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.

Short-haul redemptions

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-Business-Class
British Airways A380 Club World business class

This can be especially lucrative when combined with the AARP discounts, particularly when there’s a fare sale between the US and Europe.

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

Fuel surcharges

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.

Bottom line

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.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Another con is that you might miss out on a 100k offer if you apply for the 50k now. Better to accumulate MR via an Everyday card (and transfer them to Avios) until then.

  2. The 10% off is valid till 31st Dec 2014 and the customer rep has no idea for 2015. So time to cancel the card.

  3. Another con is that you might miss out on a 100k offer if you apply for the 50k now. Better to accumulate MR via an Everyday card (and transfer them to Avios) until then.

    Btw, do you know if the companion ticket works oneway in reverse AND from outside UK? e.g. CDG-LHR-USA only.

  4. @Stannis

    but there is no guarantee there will be a 100k offer… i can’t remember when the last one was but it’s been years.
    plus it didn’t waive the annual feel.

  5. I have toyed with the idea of getting the card a number of times but have found that the availability for short-haul domestic flights within the US (where Avios are really the most useful) seems to be diminishing with time. Has anyone else found so too?
    Plus you’re often restricted to one-stop itineraries as the itinerary only uses AA and US flights.

    For coast to coast flights it’s still good, but there you can use the same number of miles with AA or UA so the BA card itself doesn’t add anything extra.

  6. Lucky,

    I know it is not the intent, but this post just seems very deceptive. Here are a few issues:

    1. As other commenters noted, there have been 100k offers in the recent past. That is worth noting, even if you can’t predict the future.

    2. You fail to mention that the travel together ticket must be used only on British Airways:
    “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.”

    3. You should also mention the high taxes if you travel from London since invariably many people will use Avios for that redemption.

  7. @ Sundhar — I don’t have any insight ultimately, though they have renewed it every year up until now, despite the offer frequently having expiration dates.

  8. One (small) pro to this card is that they do not change foreign currency transactions fees. Also, the latest versions of this card (finally) have a chip, but sadly, it is still a “Chip and Sign” card, not a “Chip and Pin” card.

  9. Does the “24 months” rule start ticking from the time your first bonus is posted to your credit card account? or is it based on 24 months after you cancel the card before you can reapply to get the bonus again?

  10. @ Raymond — I believe it’s based on when you last earned the bonus, and not based on when it was canceled.

  11. Do you think I could fly tpa-nia-lim? I can’t find any space yet for March. Does BA allow stop overs in the States?

  12. @ slytravels — BA charges you on a per segment basis, so you could basically do as many stopovers as you wanted, since you won’t be charged extra for that. You might want to search availability segment by segment to maximize your chances of finding space.

  13. You guys realize than the 100k offer required $21k (!!!) spending right?
    It can be done (MS is your friend, or even without it for many here, but still is quite different from 50k for $0 AF and only $2k spending.

  14. You now earn 3 Avios per $1 spent on BA, but only 1 Avios per $1 spent elsewhere. This article states 2.5 and 1.25.

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