Tickets booked using British Airways companion certificate, and I ignore everything I learned in my college economics class

Late last week I asked y’all for advice about if/how I should use the British Airways companion certificate I have that expires in less than a month. I received the companion certificate for spending $30,000 in a calendar year on the Chase British Airways Visa card a couple of years ago.

The argument in favor of using the companion certificate is that I don’t want to “waste” it. The argument against the companion certificate is that it has to be used for travel on British Airways, which comes with hefty fuel surcharges, making a “reward” ticket feel a whole lot like a revenue ticket.

Well, I’m happy to report that I finally redeemed the companion certificate today, and for the first time in a while I put what I learned in my college economics class to good use. Admittedly I spent most of my economics class blogging, so let me make sure I got a proper grasp of the principles I utilized today:

  • Sunk cost dilemma. I put a lot of spend on my British Airways credit card, and damnit, now I have to reap the benefits, even if it’s not a good value. Because otherwise stuff would sink, and that’s not good for anyone.
  • Increasing returns. One companion certificate will take you roundtrip anywhere in the world. So go as far as you can and ignore how many Avios you pay and how much fuel surcharges are. The most important unit of measure is the one companion certificate you’re using.
  • Opportunity cost. Other than flying British Airways, the next best use of my companion certificate is… nothing. Therefore I should redeem it.

In all honesty, I really struggled with redeeming the companion certificate. I knew I wanted to use it so I could review British Airways first class for the blog’s sake, as I’ve yet to fly with them in first class. Furthermore, I knew I wanted to fly somewhere warm, which is a top priority since moving to Seattle. As tempting as the Christmas Markets in Europe would have sounded while I lived in Florida, it’s not a place I’m dying to go during a dark Seattle winter.

After a lot of back and forth I originally decided on Istanbul. Roundtrip from Seattle the cost was cost 190,000 Avios (for both) and ~$1,000 per person. That being said Istanbul is far from warm this time of year, so then I decided on Cape Town. Sounded nice in theory, though a roundtrip would have been 330,000 Avios (for both) and ~$1,500 per person. Okay, United charges just 160,000 miles for roundtrip first class to South Africa without fuel surcharges and without a companion certificate, so that seems like a horrible value.

Then I looked at the Middle East. I took a trip to Dubai/Abu Dhabi last year using ANA miles for travel in Etihad first class, and I had a great time despite being sick. The weather in Dubai is downright beautiful this time of year, so it sounded tempting. The award would have cost me 270,000 Avios (for both) and ~$1,500 per person.

Cost per person for sample dates next year (not factoring in companion certificate, which covers Avios for second passenger)

In the end that’s what I decided on. It would get me four segments in British Airways first class, plenty of time in the Concorde Room, and travel to a warm destination that I find interesting.

Except I changed my mind about 15 minutes after booking (and fortunately I’m a British Airways Gold member, which means there are no change fees).

So after rethinking it I decided to keep the outbound, which as far as I’m concerned gives me a good “taste” of British Airways. I have a long layover in London with Concorde Room access and two segments in longhaul first class, which should give me a very high chance of getting British Airways’ new first class on at least one of the segments. Then I decided to book an alternative return, which saves me 135,000 Avios and $750 per person in fuel surcharges.

So in the end I guess we’re paying 135,000 Avios and $1,500 for two passengers to travel first class from Seattle to Dubai. Is that a great deal? No, but it does let me finally experience British Airways first class and the London Concorde Room, gets me to a warm destination, and makes me feel like I didn’t totally waste the companion certificate.

London Heathrow Terminal 5

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to returning to the UAE. We’ll do a couple of days in Dubai, then head to the desert for a bit, and then also spend a bit of time on Saadiyat Island. Both Park Hyatt and St. Regis opened resorts there in the past year or so (I actually toured the Park Hyatt right as it opened), and I think it’ll be a world class beach destination once fully developed. I’m looking forward to seeing it firsthand now that both resorts are open.

Beach at Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi

So, what do you guys think? Did I make the right decision on the companion certificate?


  1. mmm sunk costs mean ignore costs you’ve already spent on making a decision when you won’t recoup those costs if you decide not to proceed.

  2. @ John Doe — Perhaps I should’ve used a smiley. Sorry.

    @ Nathaniel — Thanks for the reminder, need to work on that!

  3. You should know that passengers in First on BA can pre-book a massage appointment at LHR. Don’t know the exact procedure, but worth looking into!

  4. Yes, Dubai! I’m here right now, away from cold and soggy London. Checkout Irish Village and Autodrome to get off the beaten track. Maybe go to Redrock to ride some quads in a desert, just don’t kill yourself

  5. @ Jonathan — I was British Midland Gold and that got status matched with the takeover.

    @ DavidO — Cabana has already been reserved, and since we have a really long layover figured I’d take care of the spa reservation day of.

  6. @ G — I may or may not have booked Etihad connecting somewhere else using American miles. 😀

    @ seeder — That’s the plan!

  7. I wouldn’t have booked it, though I can understand your desire not to waste the “earned” companion certificate and you mitigated the expense by switching to a one way for a trip you are looking forward to. I appreciate your post because I have been vacillating over whether to pursue the extra spend towards the certificate and seeing your dilemna have decided not to do that.


  8. I wonder how is it traveling to these middle eastern countries… if you’re two men i assume they won’t even give you a room with king size bed at the hotel… so you get a room with two queens but then when the maid sees only 1 bed was used… could that ever be a problem there?

    i have always wanted to go but i wonder how much oppression and discrimination there would be.

  9. @ TommyS — Technically that’s the case, though in practice it can be used for one-ways departing the US online.

    @ Dan G — A struggle indeed, and I don’t blame you!

  10. To all outer appearances we have here a classic sunk cost mental trap–you have already lost time and money so now you have to lose more time and money. For me personally, I have not chosen to visit that destination because it just sounds sterile and boring, and the photograph makes it LOOK sterile and boring. For me, it would definitely not be the right choice. In fact, just the words “world class beach destination” make me yawn. But we’re all different on the inside, so if you like it there, have a great trip!

  11. @ Jon N — Well I used the companion certificate for a one way, and then booked a return not using the companion certificate on an award that had much lower fuel surcharges.

  12. @bluecat
    what is crass about my post???
    i was asking a serious question that many would probably want to know the answer to.

    but you should go back to your own world where minorities don’t exist… you’re probably still hoping Romney will win the election… seriously, what’s wrong with you???

  13. I’m no economist, but..

    I don’t think you quite have the grasp of all of the principles you described.

    First, a sunk cost is already that — sunk. You can’t get your money back. Generally, the point here is that you don’t want to throw good money after bad.

    Second, increasing returns — why is the companion pass the *only* measure here? Avios and cash (fuel surcharges) are very real, and I’d argue more important, as you didn’t actually pay for the companion pass. Besides, I’m not convinced that *distance* is the appropriate measure here. Shouldn’t it be fare cost?

    Third, opportunity cost — you have the opportunity cost for the Avios and the cash. That’s real, and you can’t ignore it.

    I face similar kinds of choices on an ongoing basis. I’ve done well with the miles game (thanks to you and Gary) to the point where I can take a month off and go to Europe next year, and have all of my hotels and transportation covered. But going for that long is likely going to set us back $6k, which isn’t cheap. Do I burn the $6k so I don’t “waste” the miles? Or do I “waste” the miles and save $6k?

  14. Good grief folks, Ben was being sarcastic! He probably understands economics better than any 22 year old I know! (and probably better than you!)

  15. The real title of this post should be: “BA Companion Cert: Basically Useless”

    If Ben can’t figure out how to use the damn thing, I sure as hell hope I never end up with one!

  16. I ve been to dubai many times with male friends,booked suites with king size bed,never ever had any issue!!!yes you will have a problem if you behave indecently in public area like some drunk tourist do!!!!many are giving Dubai bad reputation why???is it because they succeded in turning a desert to a first class tourist destination??or because they have the best airline in the world!!!!lucky i just travelled BA first class from london to seoul,they just inaugurated this route last week and sorry to say it,they are crap,i asked for a voffee it took her 30 min and a reminder to bring it,i asked fir a tomato juice,it was hit like hell served with no salt or celeries or tabasco!!!!if this us first what should voach passenger endure???most of the crew are not british,they were from poland,greece,one korean etc yeap saving money by hiring cheap labour.

  17. Off topic: How long does it usually take your award booking service to process a request? I emailed over the weekend. Just asking 😀

  18. @bluecat

    I don’t think Lantean had any intent of being crude. His comment was not meant to be taken like frank. I assume, instead, that Lantean is lgbt and is legitimately and genuinely concerned about how he would be perceived in UAE.

    Lucky has never directly addressed his sexuality on this blog, and perhaps he needn’t. But the fact that he has regularly posted photos of single king beds in suites when he’s been traveling with male friends probably has indicated to some readers–both lgbt-friendly and also jerks like frank–that Ben may or may not have male partners.

    Don’t jump on someone just because they’re actually asking a legitimate question. He was not trying to be crass or rude. At worst, Lantean was presumptuous.

  19. @Lantean You are crass and frankly questions like the one you posed are idiotic. It’s also doubly shameful that you still don’t understand the criticism.

  20. @steve

    Thank you for that, i made the exactly same assumption like you did based to reading this blog. I apologize to Lucky if i came across as presumptuous, I didn’t mean to offend him in any way or invade his privacy. I just assumed the answer to my question would interest many. Now I guess I wish I had never asked because there clearly are many homophobic readers here like bluecat and victor and they do not want to understand the discrimination lgbt community faces when we travel.

    can we please drop this topic?

    Lucky, is possible, please delete the discussion. Thanks.

  21. I have no idea if Ben is gay or not, and really could care less….

    But why would you assume that a guy is gay just because he travels with a male friend and posts pics of a suite with a King size bed?

    I travel for work all the time with other dudes, and I can assure you that most business travels do not share rooms! (Even when I was working for a poorly-funded startup we stayed at the Comfort Inn — but in our OWN rooms!) Considering that all of Ben’s travel is for WORK, why would you assume they don’t each get their own rooms?

  22. Not to beat a dead horse but both @steve and @Lantean presume too much. You presume Lucky is gay, you presume this board is the arena for such a discussion. You presume I am a homophobe (au contraire). The real issue is that you are simply rude. Plain and simple. If you want to know if Lucky is gay then the appropriate venue is a personal email…not a passive aggressive fishing expedition made up to look like a legitimate travel question.

  23. @hobo13

    I don’t really care one way or the other what Ben does in his free time, but to answer your question from a critical thinking POV:

    Sometimes, what *isn’t* said is as important as what is said. Has Ben ever referenced, at all, anything about a room that his friend stays in? I’ve never heard him talk about upgrading his friend, making his friend stay in a standard room (oh the horror!), how much better Ben’s room was than his friend, or anything? One would think that with Ben’s writing style, at some point along the line we would have gotten some snarky commentary about how his friends have been enlightened enough to chase status because standard rooms suck 🙂 You’d also expect some posts along the lines of which programs make it easy to upgrade companions, and which ones don’t.

    Further, Ben doesn’t stay at Comfort Inns, like you do when you travel for work at a startup. Ben stays at places that he would never pay cash for (and neither would I) so do we assume that his friends pay cash, or that Ben forks over points? “For work” only matters because 1) someone else is paying for it, and 2) it’s written off as a business expense. I’ve never once heard Ben talk about writing anything off as a business expense.

  24. @victor

    I’m presuming nothing.

    I was trying to make a plain case why Lantean should not be seen as being crude. I at not point stated my own beliefs about Lucky’s sexuality; I was trying to put a reasoned response to discussion that had turned into ignorant ad hominen attacks.

    There was no passive aggression in either Lantean’s original response, nor mine. His subsequent responses, assuming others are homophobic, are perhaps misguided.

    The basic question–regardless of how it is formulated–was a fair one. How do hotels in conservative countries in which homosexuality is technically (if not always in practice) punishable by law respond to male travelers–gay or not–who have a request for a single bed.

    This question is a perfectly legitimate question. Lucky’s own preferences are, incidentally, unrelated to the answer to the question. However, the fact that someone made a false presumption, a presumption which they felt had bearing on their perfectly reasonable question, is not a reason to call them crass or idiotic. It is best to display civility and tact, and at least render your disagreements not as a reactionary.

  25. blah. I really should re-read my posts before submitting. I apologize for the very silly grammatical errors peppered throughout.

  26. I let a BA two-for-one lapse too. Personally I think this is a horrible redemption, paying these outrageous YQ fees only fuels the fire that BA have been instrumental in lighting. I’d rather have used the AA miles to go Etihad there and back. The only time I’d go BA F is if a) I could expense the YQ (I did this once on a biz trip) or b) from Brazil using AA miles so no YQ. Anyway each to their own and hope you have a great trip but I would not have coughed up the dough

  27. Have fun Lucky, hopefully no sandstorms! I thought about getting the Chase BA card, but I think I would have a hard time using the certificate too. I hate fuel surcharges! 🙁

  28. Lucky, I’m trying to stay on topic here (rather than add to the mindless back and forth), but I would call You First and book the spa ahead of time as it may be busy. The cabanas are nothing special IMO, but do offer a fair measure of respite during a long day at LHR. I prefer to walk around and check out the T5 shops. CCR is nice with the champagne bar and terrace and views – an open feel.Make sure you have the signature burger. BTW you can track new F here: (very high NF percentage to SEA) and

  29. I am pretty sure the companion ticket is only good for round trip. last year I bboked r/t for 190k Avios plus the fees when I had to change the return they refunded the fees but not half the avios and told me it was only good round trip

  30. @ Stewart — The rules say it has to be used for roundtrips, though in practice you can book one-ways online. The issue is that once you ticket a roundtrip you can’t make it a one-way unless you redeposit the entire award (or get a really good agent).

  31. I would feel uncomfortable going to Dubai given the rather miserable state it’s in because of the GFC, that said the companies that employ there never really had the best workplace relations to begin with…

  32. I agree the economics of the deal are, um, less than compelling. I used a companion pass last year and thought it was an okay deal (150k plus less than $2000 for two Phoenix to Rome in first). I just qualified for another companion pass but not sure we will use it.

    I’m thinking it’s time to dump the credit card. Do you know whether it’s necessary to be a card holder at the time you redeem the companion pass?

  33. I hope you are going to Al Maha out in the desert. Absolutely wonderful in every way, along with the St Regis in Saadiyat

  34. I should note that there is at least one highly reputable law firm in the USA that is preparing a class action against British Airways for the fuel surcharges, so I’d keep all documentation related to these redemptions on file and keep an eye out for any chance to participate in a settlement, should one be forthcoming.

  35. @stewart and @lucky

    The rules went out the window when the program moved to Avios. RT became a moot point. I used mine on OpenJaw with Stop Overs. (I ended my trip in Canada, even though the rule states you need to start and stop in USA)

    My Companion Trip (BA Metal)

    If you stop in LHR for more than 10 hours, also stop in the BA T5 Arrivals Suite to enjoy their F Breakfast room.

    LHR Concorde is much nicer than JFK Concorde

  36. We have a TON of Avios from the 2 original CC bonuses
    100k + 100k a yr later for very little spend x many family members in household.
    We used 1 companion cert to SIN in biz and it cost us 1k each or so
    It did save us 120k US miles = worth 1800$ at the time
    so we did not feel too bad about it
    The other certs we just let go; too much hassle and not worth throwing more money down the tubes

    We have all our OneWorld travel in the US fixed from now on for the next 10 years I think on AA assuming that it survives and on LAN to SA

  37. I’ve had two of these certificates. One expired in October, and I have another that I will let expire in October, 2013. There are so many other options to use frequent flyer miles for premium class tickets on other airlines (with no YQ) that I just couldn’t bring myself to use it.

  38. I think you made the right choice and will enjoy DXB. Park Hyatt there is great and I was just there yesterday–weather is perfect this time of year.

  39. Why do you always make such short trips to far away destinations? You almost spend more time in the air than on the ground. Not to mention the jetlag.

  40. I think that is not a good value for Mr John Doe. But since you are using it to experience new products and then blog about it, then it makes a lot of sense.

    Having said that, as a gay person, I feel that is none of your damn business to assume Ben’s sexual orientation whether straight or gay or lesbian or asexual. I read his blog because of his amazing travels and all the tips I get and that gives me something to dream about. Don’t be rude!

  41. @ Michael — For one, my blog is more focused on the journey than the destination, so reviewing flights/hotels is kind of what I do for a living (in part). I still have to work while traveling, so it becomes really tough if I’m gone for more than a week or so. This trip is eight days, for example.

  42. i really enjoyed DXB on a somewhat budget last month, and i think your trip sounds awesome. relax. enjoy. and i can’t wait to read the trip report. oh, and take lots of pictures – i’m not sure i took enough! take care.

  43. Lucky,

    May be worth noting this post

    Are you being charged 2×120=240 pounds for LHR-DXB and 2×150=300 pounds for LHR-SEA on the return? That’s about $860.

    Would it be possible to cut down on them by flying somewhere close to the UK, but still warm (Morocco? Algiers?) I think you still get CCR access if you arrive in LHR in F.

    To be honest, your dilemma is not making me regret deciding to put the min spend on other cards over BA, but good luck 🙂

  44. @ Eric — Hah, thanks. I actually don’t pay the Air Passenger Duty at all since I’m in London for less than 24 hours, so that’s not a factor in this case. 🙂

  45. I cannot believe that in 2012 there’s still such casual bigotry as @Bluecat and @victor’s. Can we just clarify that there’s nothing wrong with being gay or straight, and asking a question about how those issues are treated in authoritarian theocracies is no different from if @Lantean had asked how eating shellfish or going topless on the beach might be treated. It’s an innocent cultural question which only a homophobe would think it “crass” to raise.

  46. @Lantean and Steve, the topic of discrimination you bring up IS an interesting one. There are travel and cultural guidebooks that cover this to some extent. There are other points bloggers that might be more open to talking about this. I hope one does. But, although you have elevated Lantean’s original post to something more noble, let’s not ignore that its outing overtone was uncalled for.

  47. Lucky,i just returned from seoul with the same crew that were on flight saturday!!!!welll the service as bad as ongoing trip!!!!i dont know where they git this crew from,there are mixture young and old (very old spanich guy like 60s),thanks god they are using asiana first lounge at seoul quite strange!!!!i mean qantas and cathay pacific should have decent lounge that ba can share.
    They were 4 passengers in F and they run out of my starter choice.

  48. Ben, this is a little late to comment on, but if you wanted warm, why didn’t you fly on BA to South American to use your pass up? I realize they wouldn’t let you route US to London to SA, but I am sure you could have figured out another way to get to UK before heading south to warmer weather.

  49. @ Katie S — The companion certificate can only be used for travel originating in the US, so unfortunately there’s no way to do that.

  50. @ Katie S — Yep, technically has to be a roundtrip and originating the US. Can get around the former restriction, though not around the latter.

  51. I’m not sure why some of you are griping at the perceived waste of money. For us in the UK a return flight to the states in First Class would cost in the region of £11000, so about $17k

    These companion vouchers enabled me and a partner to fly to the states for £525, which is this countires obscene fuel surcharges & taxes.. thats still cheaper than 2 coach tickets and flying in the lap of luxury. Its a no brainer. I only wish you people letting them lapse, could donate them to me 🙂

  52. Has it always been possible to book one ways using the voucher? I just traveled to India and made my voucher expire since the taxes were ridiculous. I instead came on the new business class seats on Lufthansa.

  53. Oh boy, there must be a way to get these vouchers reassigned so people could give them to someone else. So many of us would use these in a flash…one man’s junk is another’s treasure!

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