Is The British Airways Companion Voucher Worth It?

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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

BA-100K

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


British Airways 777

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.


British Airways business class

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 DistanceEconomy
Off Peak // Peak
Premium Economy
Off Peak // Peak
Business
Off Peak // Peak
First
Off Peak // Peak
Zone 1
1-650 miles
4,000 // 4,5005,750 // 6,7507,750 // 9,00015,500 // 18,000
Zone 2
651-1150 miles
6,500 // 7,5009,500 // 11,25012,750 // 15,00025,500 // 30,000
Zone 3
1151-2000 miles
8,500 // 10,00012,750 // 15,00017,000 // 20,00034,000 // 40,000
Zone 4
2001-3000 miles
10,000 // 12,50020,000 // 25,00031,250 // 37,50042,500 // 50,000
Zone 5
3001-4000 miles
13,000 // 20,00026,000 // 40,00050,000 // 60,00068,000 // 80,000
Zone 6
4001-5500 miles
16,250 // 25,00032,500 // 50,00062,500 // 75,00085,000 // 100,000
Zone 7
5501-6500 miles
19,500 // 30,00039,000 // 60,00075,000 // 90,000102,000 // 120,000
Zone 8
6501-7000 miles
22,750 // 35,00045,500 // 70,00087,500 // 105,000119,000 // 140,000
Zone 9
7001+ miles
32,50 // 50,00065,000 // 100,000125,000 // 150,000170,000 // 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.


British Airways first class

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 // DistanceEcon. To Prem. Econ.
Off peak // Peak
Prem. Econ. To Business
Off peak // Peak
Business To First
Off peak // Peak
Zone 1
1-650 miles
1,750 // 2,2502,000 // 2,2507,750 // 9,000
Zone 2
651-1150 miles
3,000 // 3,7503,250 // 3,75012,750 // 15,000
Zone 3
1151-2000 miles
4,250 // 5,0004,250 // 5,00017,000 // 20,000
Zone 4
2001-3000 miles
10,000 // 12,50011,250 // 12,50011,250 // 12,500
Zone 5
3001-4000 miles
13,000 // 20,00024,000 // 20,00018,000 // 20,000
Zone 6
4001-5500 miles
16,250 // 25,00030,000 // 25,00022,500 // 25,000
Zone 7
5501-6500 miles
19,500 // 30,00036,000 // 30,00027,000 // 30,000
Zone 8
6501-7000 miles
22,750 // 35,00042,000 // 35,00031,500 // 35,000
Zone 9
7001+ miles
32,500 // 50,00060,000 // 50,00045,000 // 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.

Bottom line

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?

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Comments

  1. In marketing speak, I see this as a “feature” rather than a “benefit”.

    It’s a bit like access to the Elemis spa in LHR T5 which comes with BA Executive Club Gold status – it is not of the slightest interest to me, and therefore is not in any meaningful sense a “benefit” of being OWE.

    Access to First Class check-in no matter what class I’m travelling is, for me, a benefit.

    As you wrote, in all these things it’s a matter of what we as individuals value.

  2. Ugh fuel surcharges really kill you here. If they didn’t make you pay the second person’s fees, I think it would be a good deal, but since you are — I wouldn’t be that excited for $1750 fares in business to JNB on BA’s product even if I didn’t also have to shell out 250,000 avios. That would be a maybe. So now we’re talking $1750 for me and my wife, plus 250,000 avios, plus no earning or MQM? Pretty poor value proposition.

    I think if I had one I’d use it for a one-way ex-USA, then use a cheaper mileage program to get back

  3. The only thing I’d add is that BA guarantees that 2 business class seats will be made available on every flight when they are added to the schedule 355 days ahead. While not guaranteeing that you’ll be able to be the first to try and grab those seats, it better than many airlines where no availability even appears.

  4. @ JimNYC

    No, no, no: BA is the worst airline in the whole world. Period.

    Please don’t spoil things by pointing out where they’re actually not bad. It ruins the fun for everyone.

  5. The piece of the analysis that this leaves out is that BA has comparatively attractive close in availability in business and first on the New York / London route (often can be booked a few weeks in advance at reasonable flight times).

    Most points collectors should be looking at their various balances as a portfolio – collect some for cheapest redemption that require a ton of planning (with excruciatingly low transatlantic availability in business, like AA) and then some with better availability but higher prices (BA).

    That being said, you can still get most of that benefit on BA from upgrading from premium economy.

  6. I just ran the numbers on Heathrow to Tokyo, and whilst First doesn’t turn out too bad, even with the 2-4-1 voucher I might as well just buy the business class tickets… though if I was doing that then I’d probably just pay for first with Japan Airlines (which is only a little more than BA’s business).

    I guess the real question is, what’s the odds of finding reward availability in first class for that trip? I’m assuming not good.

  7. I find the best value is for short-haul ex-UK, where taxes, fees and charges are capped at £50pp round-trip. So London to Cyprus, Greek islands, Canaries etc. in business (ok the seats are shit unless you get an old 767, but the service is appreciated on a long flight) would be £100 + 36,000 Avios off-peak for two, return using the 2-4-1. Fantastic value. Also available to Moscow on A321s and wide-bodies with proper Club World.

  8. @Richard G I just booked that exact trip, using the voucher. A lot of planning but baredemptionfinder.com helped a lot with dates. I was using the UK based card though, so it was 177,000 miles return (business out, first back) + £1,200 taxes. Some may think this is crazy, but I was looking for an ‘affordable’ way to take my father to Japan in premium classes, and this worked out ok in my books. I earn a lot of the miles through work so i’m not counting every penny for mile earned.

  9. Handy site, cheers. 🙂

    I just realised that I had actually miscalculated the business class figures and based on 1p a mile I might as well just buy the tickets (£3,230 calculated redemption “cost” vs £2,860 to buy the tickets).

  10. I took the BA credit card and went for the companion ticket believing it would be great!. The reality is that I cannot find a lot of availability between LA (where I live) and Europe (where I am from) and as you mentioned the fees are more than $2200 usually which makes it prohibitive and not competitive. Bottom line, I am going to lose the benefit of this companion ticket in a few month and I will close the BA credit card. Overall, I found that using the Chase sapphire reserve works much better for me : can use it anywhere, can buy what ever airline I want for business class and earn elite miles at the same time.

  11. Passengers traveling on these 2-4-1 vouchers are first in line for a cabin downgrade, and it happens frequently, according to reports on flyertalk. No compensation as well.

  12. @Lucky: Slight correction to your post is that outbound travel MUST occur before certificate expiry (24 months), not just ticket issuance. Return travel can be later. Exact wording from BA’s site: “8.Outbound travel must take place before the expiry date stated on the voucher, however inbound travel may take place after the expiry date.”

    I have one that’s going to expire precisely because, as others have mentioned, there’s rarely availability and it’s overly expensive for a subpar product. Especially from the West Coast of the US. Was able to use my partner’s, and it was a good-ish deal because we always book at 331 days out to maximize availability. But ultimately I can’t say I’d recommend this for anyone unless they’re in the NY metro area with tons of flights. But then again, it’s such a short flight at that point, and with so much competition, it almost makes more sense to just purchase a fare.

  13. You have to fly BA OR Openskies metal. Flying to Orly will incur far fewer surcharges and make this a better deal. (I have had about 6 companion tickets lapse and just gave up and cancelled the card). Never tried Openskies but heard it’s not bad and if you are getting the companion ticket, it is probably the best deal.

  14. I’m London based and am starting to think that the 241 voucher (as provided by the UK BA Amex) is not really worth it. I tend to value Avios at 1p. Two out of three times I’ve used the voucher, the effective cost worked out about the same as just buying the flights in business starting ex-EU or buying premium economy and upgrading as above – and it would work out cheaper taking into account the Avios i’d be earning back on the fare.

    The only time it was a really great deal was when I made a return redemption on the CWLCY service for a weekend in New York, pre-2015 devaluation.

  15. I used two: once for the JFK-LCY all Business Class flight, and once for JFK-LHR First. (I’ve done trip reports for both). While those were fun flights, once you run the math, it’s just not worth it when you can routinely find lie-flat J on NYC-Europe flights under $2000. Well, that and the fact that BA’s F is still not even as nice as EVA Airline’s J…

    I actually let my 3rd one expire and have no plans to get another. The surcharges are criminally high.

  16. I only use avios for short distance flights with partners. For this use case avios have a great value. Using avios for booking a flight from new york to london seems crazy since there are often business class tickets on sale for 1400 usd.

    Surcharges on avios tickets are basically the price of business class you can get during sales.

  17. Having lived in the UK and moved to the US only recently, I have a different take on this. In the UK, I just need to spend only GBP 10K on the BA Amex Premium Plus card to get this voucher. It was a pretty good deal. I made use of 4 vouchers this way including a first class from LHR-HKG-LHR. Spending GBP 10K wasn’t a big deal for me. However, spending $30K for the voucher doesn’t appeal to me that much. The only real advantage is if I can somehow get BA first class availability and those are hard to find. If I am going to make $30K spend on this card, it will have to come from work travel. Say about $15K from flight bookings which translates to 75K Amex MR points. The rest would be a combo of hotel and misc spend. If I spend $ 10K on the Hilton Surpass card, I get 120K Hilton Honors points.

  18. Usually these things aren’t worth it because of the fact that they make you pay enough for the one person that you could have got both people for a cheaper total fare. Your ticket is not the cheapest ticket or a discounted ticket.

  19. The companion voucher is a waste of time and money. Buying a ticket in economy is much cheaper these days than paying the fuel surcharges and fees. And those fees are even higher for premium cabins. I’d save my $2-3000 and find better ways to use points to get to my final destination. Chase and BA should be held accountable for the misleading advertising that goes on around this. I earned one and am letting it expire. Avios can be used for much a much better value in many other ways.

  20. I just got the companion pass and am finding it hard to find a way to use it without paying an arm and a leg on taxes and fuel surcharges. Best use I can find is 60k avois peak/50k non peak + $1000 for two business class tickets JFK/EWR to ORY on Open Skies as it avoids LHR completely. Was going to use 115k AA miles to get to Europe in spring 2018 so this might be a good alternative, plus there seems to be a lot of award availability on Open Skies

  21. I have used the companion voucher three times over the past 5 years, each time taking a different one of my children with me on a business trip to Africa. Because my business pays for my ticket and the taxes and fees are about half the price of a ticket I ended up taking my kids for virtually nothing. It has worked out great for me, though with one significant exception. In order to get 2 seats I booked the Africa portion of the itinerary 11 months out. I booked a 5-day stopover in London, but I planned to visit another European city instead. About 3 months out I decided on Amsterdam and booked separate flights, not realizing that BA would not check our luggage through to Amsterdam. So the day we started our flight at IAD I was told I could get boarding passes to AMS but I would need to collect and re-check luggage at LHR. “FastTrack” took more than 2 hours at LHR and we missed our flight. BA said too bad and charged us $100 each to rebook. This was ridiculous and my efforts to get reimbursed by BA have been met with silence even two months later. Buyer beware!

  22. To follow up on my previous post – to clarify, I won’t be trying to earn the voucher again. As many have posted above, the math stops working out pretty quickly. I am not based in the UK and therefore had to position to use it with my father. I routinely get sub $2,000 fares between scandanavia and Hong Kong where I am based, so earning and using the voucher will be a one-off.

  23. Has anyone actually been able to use a companion voucher on an OpenSkies ticket in recent times. I have used 2 travel companion tickets in the past without difficulty, however never on OpenSkies. I have been trying to do this for the last 3 hours on the phone, but the agents all say that it is not possible because it is not a “mainline BA flight”. On the online search, it comes up (however no AA, Iberia, or other partners do) which leads me to believe this is bookable. Is there a trick to this? I considered booking just that segment then calling to make the changes, but the BA agents said the first booking would be canceled, then the ticket would have to be re-issued, so I’d likely run into the same problem! I’m getting desperate here.

    As background, I’m doing this over the phone because I’m booking different classes of service, which it will not let me do online.

  24. I’ve used twice with a third one to plan. I’ve let a few expire. For me it’s a great deal as I took my 75 yo mom on her first trip to Paris (business class) and London flying home 1st with Concorde Room. Mom still talks about that trip and BA treated her like a star. I did same with 11yo niece in Club World. I fly out of JFK and home to PHL. I have another niece to travel with. The experiences are totally worth it and reason to use Avios earned from my biz trips.

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