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Reader Bill sent me a question asking the following:
If I want to earn British Airways Avios, do you think I’m better off spending money on an American Express Membership Rewards Card and hoping for a transfer bonus or spending money on the Chase British Airways Visa Card?
The unique thing about British Airways Executive Club is that they’re the only program to partner with all three major “transferable” points currencies — American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. In addition to that they have their own co-branded Visa Card issued through Chase.
So practically speaking you can earn British Airways Avios several different ways:
1) Earn British Airways Avios using the British Airways Visa Signature® Card
The British Airways Visa Signature Card is unique in that it offers a flat 1.25 Avios per dollar spent (and 2.5 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways, though I’m guessing that’s not especially useful to most in the US).
That’s a pretty good return for everyday spend, though there aren’t any category bonuses. The one big thing working in favor of using this card is that if you spend $30,000 on it in a calendar year you earn a British Airways companion certificate, whereby you only have to pay the taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges for the second passenger on a British Airways award.
2) Earn British Airways Avios using American Express Membership Rewards via the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express or The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN:
American Express Membership Rewards points convert to British Airways Avios at a 1:1 ratio, so on the surface you’d be better off using the British Airways Visa Signature Card. The major difference is that the Premier Rewards Gold Card and Business Gold Rewards Card both offer hefty category bonuses.
- The Premier Rewards Gold Card offers 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
- The Business Gold Rewards Card offers three points per dollar in one of five categories (you can choose airfare), two points per dollar on the remaining four categories, and one point per dollar on everything else. Terms and limitations apply.
So not only do you have amazing earning potential in select categories, but on top of that American Express Membership Rewards often runs transfer bonuses for conversions to British Airways Avios. For example, through December 31, 2013, they’re running a 20% transfer bonus, though historically we’ve seen even bigger transfer bonuses than that. This year alone we’ve seen a 30% transfer bonus and a 35% transfer bonus, and last year we even saw a 50% transfer bonus.
So, for example, if you put $30,000 of airfare on the Premier Rewards Gold Card you’d earn 90,000 Membership Rewards points. If you were to then make a transfer to British Airways during a 50% transfer bonus, those 90,000 Membership Rewards points would turn into 135,000 British Airways Avios, which is 4.5 Avios per dollar spent on airfare.
The only downside to the Membership Rewards cards versus the British Airways Visa Signature Card is that the annual fee on both of these cards is quite a bit higher ($175 per year, though waived the first year), and your spend wouldn’t count towards a companion certificate. To many people that’s a non-issue, since many think the best uses of British Airways Avios are for travel on airlines other than British Airways.
Since British Airways’ co-branded credit card is issued by Chase, they’re also transfer partners of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and we haven’t seen any transfer bonuses. That makes sense because Chase obviously doesn’t want to cannibalize business on their co-branded British Airways Card. It’s probably the same reason we haven’t seen any transfer bonuses from American Express Membership Rewards to Delta SkyMiles lately, since American Express issues both cards.
So without a transfer bonus why would you use one of these cards over the British Airways Visa Signature Card? Well the benefit would be the category bonuses.
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers double points on dining and travel
- The Chase Ink Bold and Chase Ink Plus offer 5x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services; 2x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and on hotels.
In general, however, I wouldn’t generate Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the intent of transferring them to British Airways. There are so many more valuable transfer partners, like United MileagePlus and Hyatt Gold Passport, and those points are much more difficult to acquire. Add in the American Express Membership Rewards transfer bonuses, and even with the category bonuses you’re not going to earn BA Avios as quickly through Chase.
4) Earning British Airways Avios with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express:
The Starwood Preferred Guest Cards accrue one Starpoint per dollar spent. One of the main benefits of these cards is that for every 20,000 points you transfer to one of their airline partners you get a 5,000 point bonus, meaning when transferring in the right increments you’re basically earning 1.25 points per dollar spent.
That being said, that’s the same earnings rate you’d get directly with the British Airways Visa, so that’s not much of a selling point, especially since you’re only getting the same rate in 20,000 point increments.
The other downside to transferring Starpoints to British Airways is that the transfers aren’t instant (unlike through American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards), so if you’re looking to top off an account for an award you’re eying, it can take one to two weeks to do so.
British Airways Avios are so easy to come by are because of the number of transfer partners they have. Generally speaking I think the best credit card for earning British Airways Avios are the American Express Membership Rewards Cards (given the category bonuses and frequent transfer bonuses) and directly through the Chase British Airways Visa if you want to actually fly on British Airways (for the companion certificate).
While Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest are also a way to rack up British Airways Avios, I generally wouldn’t recommend transferring from them unless you just need to top off an account for an award. There are typically much better uses of those points currencies.