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I’ve written about the awesome British Airways Visa Signature® Card, which is offering a sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 bonus Avios, depending on how much you spend. The thresholds are as follows:
- 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 within the first three months
- 25,000 additional bonus Avios after spending $10,000 total within the first year
- 25,000 additional bonus Avios after spending $20,000 total within the first year
Regardless of whether you plan on just completing $3,000 of spend to earn the 50,000 Avios, or whether you put $20,000 of spend on the card (which is the equivalent of earning six Avios per dollar spent on non-bonused spend for your first $20,000), this is a great sign-up bonus. I applied for the card a few months ago, and have earned 100,000 bonus Avios. Keep in mind that this card isn’t subjected to Chase’s 5/24 rule, meaning a lot of people should be eligible for the bonus.
Given that a lot of people don’t like paying the high surcharges on British Airways award tickets, I also wrote a post about some of the best ways to redeem British Airways Avios without paying huge fees.
There’s one other feature of the card that interests a lot of people, so I wanted to take a closer look at that in this post.
The basics of British Airways’ companion voucher
One of the potentially cool perks of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is that earn what’s called a “Travel Together Ticket” when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. Cardholders can earn up to one of these per year, and it will be deposited in your Executive Club account 4-6 weeks after you’ve completed the required spend. Here are the basic things you need to know when it comes to redeeming the certificate:
- It’s exclusively valid for travel on British Airways originating in the United States
- You can use it for a one-way or roundtrip ticket
- You can use it for travel in economy, premium economy, business, or first class
- You need to redeem the certificate within 24 months of when it’s issued (outbound travel has to occur by that date, though you can return on a subsequent date)
- You’re allowed to have stopovers on the tickets
- There needs to be award availability for two passengers on the flight you want in order to use it
- You need to pay the taxes and carrier imposed surcharges for both passengers, though you only need to redeem Avios for one passenger
Earning the British Airways companion certificate isn’t necessarily that tough
Personally I’ve put $20,000 of spend on the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, so that I can earn the full 100,000 Avios sign-up bonus. Due to the tiered sign-up bonus, the incremental earnings rates are as follows:
- If you spend $3,000, you’re earning ~17.7 Avios per dollar spent (53,000 Avios for $3,000 of spend)
- If you spend $10,000, you’re earning an incremental ~4.6 Avios per dollar spent (32,000 Avios for $7,000 of spend)
- If you spend $20,000, you’re earning an incremental 3.5 Avios per dollar spent (35,000 Avios for $1,000 of spend)
I’m happy with an incremental return of 3.5 Avios per dollar spent on non-bonused spend, which is why I earned all 100,000 Avios. Now that I’ve spent $20,000 on the card, I’m only $10,000 from earning the companion certificate.
So what’s the opportunity cost of that $10,000 in spend? I value Avios at ~1.2 cents each, so by putting $10,000 of spend on the British Airways Visa Signature® Card I’d earn $120 worth of Avios.
Meanwhile if I instead used one of the most rewarding cards for everyday spend, I’d be earning the equivalent of a return of ~2.5%, which I’d value at $250. So to me the acquisition cost of the companion certificate is roughly $130, at least in my situation. Everyone will have to crunch the numbers themselves.
For me this is very much a real life example, as I’m trying to decide if I should try to put another $10,000 of spend on the card to earn a companion certificate or not.
Examples of British Airways companion certificate uses
British Airways has a distance based award chart, and the cost of each segment is calculated separately, per the following chart:
|Zone // Flight Distance||Economy|
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
|4,000 // 4,500||5,750 // 6,750||7,750 // 9,000||15,500 // 18,000|
|6,500 // 7,500||9,500 // 11,250||12,750 // 15,000||25,500 // 30,000|
|8,500 // 10,000||12,750 // 15,000||17,000 // 20,000||34,000 // 40,000|
|10,000 // 12,500||20,000 // 25,000||31,250 // 37,500||42,500 // 50,000|
|13,000 // 20,000||26,000 // 40,000||50,000 // 60,000||68,000 // 80,000|
|16,250 // 25,000||32,500 // 50,000||62,500 // 75,000||85,000 // 100,000|
|19,500 // 30,000||39,000 // 60,000||75,000 // 90,000||102,000 // 120,000|
|22,750 // 35,000||45,500 // 70,000||87,500 // 105,000||119,000 // 140,000|
|32,50 // 50,000||65,000 // 100,000||125,000 // 150,000||170,000 // 200,000|
The biggest catch is that British Airways has very high carrier imposed surcharges, so expect to pay over $1,000 per person roundtrip to Europe for travel in a premium cabin.
With that in mind, let me give some examples of what might be some popular redemptions with a companion certificate (all the below screenshots show the Avios and surcharges for one passenger, so you need to double the surcharges to figure out what you’d pay when redeeming the voucher).
Two people can fly roundtrip business class off-peak from New York to London for a total of 100,000 Avios plus $2,528.78.
Want to fly first class instead? The same route off-peak will cost you 136,000 Avios plus $2,528.78.
At that point paying an extra 9,000 Avios per person per direction to upgrade to first class is a phenomenal deal.
Let’s pick another city pair and look at the peak season. Say in summer you want to fly roundtrip first class from Houston to Copenhagen. You’d pay 218,000 Avios plus $2,222.02.
Now let’s say you want to go further. You can fly roundtrip from Los Angeles to Johannesburg for 250,000 Avios plus $3,470.76.
To take a slightly different approach yet again, let’s look at a one-way business class award from New York to London to Singapore to Sydney. With a companion voucher you’d pay 210,000 Avios plus $1,752.76.
So… is it worth it?
There’s no “one size fits all” answer to that. If you’re trying to decide, here are the things I’d consider:
- How much do you value each Avios?
- How much do you value the ability to have a “free” stopover in London enroute to your final destination (though keep in mind you’ll be subjected to additional taxes)?
- How much do you value flying first class over business class?
I can explain how my math would work on the above, and anyone can adjust the numbers for themselves. I value Avios at 1.2 cents each, so it’s quite easy for me to compute my real “cost” of the above awards. The total cost in dollars (after converting Avios at 1.2 cents each) for two passengers when using the companion certificate would be:
- New York to London roundtrip off-peak business class — $3,728.78
- New York to London roundtrip off-peak first class — $4,160.78
- Houston to Copenhagen roundtrip peak first class — $4,838.02
- Los Angeles to Johannesburg roundtrip off-peak business class — $6,470.76
- New York to Sydney one-way peak business class — $4,272.76
Again, I calculated this by multiplying the number of Avios required by 1.2 cents, and adding the surcharges for two passengers.
Are any of those a good deal? None strike me as a particularly amazing value, though of those, what interests me most is paying $4,160 (under $2,100 per person) for roundtrip British Airways first class from New York to London. That’s a good value, but I’m not sure it’s amazing, given the alternatives out there.
The (often) better way to book British Airways premium cabins
Given the high surcharges involved with redeeming Avios for awards on British Airways, the better value is often redeeming for upgrades instead. A couple of years ago Tiffany wrote a post about the value of upgrading using Avios, and made the following chart, which shows the number of Avios required to upgrade:
|Zone // Distance||Econ. To Prem. Econ.|
Off peak // Peak
|Prem. Econ. To Business|
Off peak // Peak
|Business To First|
Off peak // Peak
|1,750 // 2,250||2,000 // 2,250||7,750 // 9,000|
|3,000 // 3,750||3,250 // 3,750||12,750 // 15,000|
|4,250 // 5,000||4,250 // 5,000||17,000 // 20,000|
|10,000 // 12,500||11,250 // 12,500||11,250 // 12,500|
|13,000 // 20,000||24,000 // 20,000||18,000 // 20,000|
|16,250 // 25,000||30,000 // 25,000||22,500 // 25,000|
|19,500 // 30,000||36,000 // 30,000||27,000 // 30,000|
|22,750 // 35,000||42,000 // 35,000||31,500 // 35,000|
|32,500 // 50,000||60,000 // 50,000||45,000 // 50,000|
Let’s use the above roundtrip New York to London off-peak business class award as an example. If redeeming the companion certificate, you’d end up paying 100,000 Avios plus $2,528.78.
Alternatively, you could book premium economy tickets for $1,172 per person, and then upgrade to business class for 24,000 Avios per person per direction, for a total of 96,000 Avios. So you’d pay fewer Avios and less cash using this method, not to mention you’d earn elite qualifying and redeemable miles for the flight, and don’t have to redeem a companion certificate.
As you might expect, the math doesn’t necessarily work out as well upgrading from business to first class. While it only costs 18,000 Avios each way to upgrade, the cheapest business class fare is ~$3,900 per person. However, British Airways does often have business class fares sales, and when we see those, upgrading can be a great deal.
I always go back and forth about whether or not the companion certificate that comes with the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is worth it. I know some people who say they wouldn’t use it if they got it for free, while I know others who swear by it. I’m somewhere in the middle, personally.
As someone who values elite qualifying miles with oneworld carriers, I tend to think that the sweet spot with Avios for travel on British Airways is upgrading rather than redeeming outright. However, at times a companion certificate sure would be valuable for a first class redemption when I really want to visit London.
So I guess if you’re someone who values flying first class to London, and wants to fly nonstop, a companion certificate is a useful thing to have. Personally there are other ways I’d rather spend my Avios, so I’m leaning towards not going for it.
Where do you stand on the British Airways companion certificate — is it worth it or not?