Home / AVIOS / When Is The Free BA AMEX Card Not Free At All?

When Is The Free BA AMEX Card Not Free At All?

UPDATED post: Many people taking their first baby steps towards collecting airmiles make the mistake of opting for the free BA AMEX card. This card is officially known as the British Airways American Express Credit Card.

Detals of FREE British Airways AMEX card

In this post, I explain why this is a seriously bad idea. The British Airways Premium Plus credit card does levy a mega annual charge of £195 but consider this an investment. An investment which will likely reward you ten times over if you use your perks efficiently.

Details of the BA Amex Premium Plus card

Let’s start with the basics of the free BA AMEX card.

Free BA AMEX card

AVIOS reward rate

The BA AMEX card is entirely free and rewards cardholders with 1 AVIOS per £1 spend.

BA AMEX card sign up bonus

For free BA AMEX cardholders, the sign-up bonus is a paltry 5,000 points (or 6,000 if you use this referral link). To qualify for it you need to spend £1,000 within 3 months.

Companion voucher

To qualify for a companion voucher, you need to spend £20,000 during the membership year. The companion voucher allows holders to redeem only AVIOS for one flight but book two flights. In other words, a buy one get one free.

Passengers still need to pay taxes and fees for two passengers but it is possible to fly business class for less than the cost of economy with this voucher. Why wouldn’t you change your spending habits to fly business but pay less than the cost of an economy ticket?

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Exploring the ice hotel in Quebec after flying Club

Now, here is why the free BA AMEX card is such a poor deal! Although the British Airways Premium Plus credit card charges £195 per year, you get a lot more.

British Airways Premium Plus credit card

AVIOS reward rate

The British Airways Premium Plus credit card has a higher earnings rate than the free BA AMEX card. Every £1 of non-BA spend earns 1.5 AVIOS. For spend on British Airways or BA holidays, this doubles to 3 AVIOS.

BA Premium Plus AMEX card sign up bonus

As if that’s not enough, the sign-up bonus is massive in comparison to the free BA Amex card. Once you spend a minimum of £3,000 in three months, you will earn 25,000 AVIOS (26,000 if you use this link). Now that’s a huge difference!

Companion ticket

But, here’s where things get better still. You only need to spend £10,000 on the British Airways Premium Plus credit card to earn the companion ticket. That ticket is valid for 24 months whereas the free BA AMEX card companion voucher is only valid for 12 months.

Redeeming your companion ticket

This may seem like a minor point, but redemptions can be hard to come by on popular routes. You may need to book flights 355 days in advance to secure reward flights to some destinations. That gives you just 10 days to select your destination and redeem your companion ticket. It also provides little flexibility as to when you travel.

Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Cape Town
Cape Town – a very popular route where redemptions can be hard to find

If you leave it until your voucher is due to expire, your chances of finding a flight will be slim. You have to travel the outbound leg before the 12 month period expires. This is often not realistic! I’ve heard too many stories of people who struggle to use their voucher because they earned it with the free BA AMEX card.

To earn this voucher and not use it, is an unforgivable travel hacking sin! You have just thrown away £20,000 of eligible spend!

Do the maths

Now that said, I know a £195 fee is offputting for many people. I know people who earn significant salaries and still baulk at this fee.

Here’s why it’s an investment though. Assume you spend £20,000 on both the free BA AMEX card and British Airways Premium Plus credit card and meet the minimum spend qualification, here’s how the two cards compare. This assumes that all spend is not British Airways.

Free BA AMEX card BA Premium Plus card
AVIOS earned for expenditure 20,000 30,000
Sign up bonus (assuming you use my referral links) 6,000 26,000
Total AVIOS 26,000 56,000
Companion voucher validity 12 months 24 months

You would earn an additional 30,000 AVIOS with the British Airways Premium Plus credit card,. Assuming an average value of 1p (although this varies enormously) this is worth £300 which is more than your annual fee.

However, let’s say your companion voucher expires because you cannot find availability within 12 months then you have potentially lost out on thousands of pounds of savings. For more evidence, read these posts on how I saved a fortune on flights to Vancouver and Seoul.

Do not redeem AVIOS for economy class

You may take the view that you don’t care about using AVIOS to fly business, but if so cancel your free BA AMEX card and sign up for a different reward card. You will never get value from this card if you only use AVIOS for short haul or economy flights. Taxes and fees account for much of the flight price and you still have to pay these.

The absolute only time it is worth redeeming for short haul or economy is if your companion voucher is about to expire. Better to get some return than no return!

Seoul for less tips
Seoul Hanok

But if you book business class and manage to save £5,000 on flights, your £195 investment provided a massive return. It looks like a bit of a bargain now, right?

What do you think?

If you have either card I’d love to know what you think, and what your experience has been? Feel free to have your say in the comments below.

About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips

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26 comments

  1. It is very astonishing how basic traps can help you in setting aside quite a lot of money. When you have a little information pretty much all the know-how’s, you can most likely profit by the AMEX Card.

  2. Hi, you say that you earn an extra £300 worth of points, more than your annual fee. By my calculations you earn a TOTAL of £300 worth of points, but only an EXTRA £100 worth of points – i.e. £100 more than you would have earned on the free card – therefore the fee for the premium card is still more expensive.

    • No idea how you have arrived at those figures but I’ve clearly laid out how I’ve calculated the £300 based on 1p for each of the extra 30,000 points you earn between sign up and the higher rewards.

      But as I say in the article the biggest issue is the validity of the CV and virtually everyone I know with a blue card struggles to redeem in the timescale. It’s your call but I thoroughly believe the blue card is a waste of time and effort and the fee on the Black card still stacks up

      • What would also be interesting is the calculation based on spending only £3,000 rather than £20,000. In this case there isn’t much difference between the cards:
        Blue card Black card
        AVIOS earned for expenditure 3,000 4,500
        Sign up bonus 6,000 26,000
        Total AVIOS 9,000 30,500
        GBP value of Avios £90 £305
        Annual fee £0 £195
        Net value: £90 £110

        So at 1p per Avios its £90 vs £110 – and (potentially) you have £17,000 spend to use on other cards….

        • Thanks for that very insightful analysis. I guess I just don’t see much value in holding these cards without chasing the companion voucher hence why I’ve never done the analysis at this level. Regards Anne

        • Thanks for your comment John. Not everyone can, or wants to, spend £20,000 on credit cards just to get Avios points. I would put myself in the £3,000 spend at the most but earn most of my Avios by shopping with online retailers (there are 100s but all the major ones are there) via the BA executive club app. The vast majority give 2/3-8 points per £ spent! Just another way of doing it!

  3. Thanks for your tips! I was just talking about American Express and its benefits with one friend the other day!

  4. It is quite amazing how simple tricks can help you in saving so much money. Once you have a little knowledge about all the know-how’s, you can surely benefit from the AMEX Card.

  5. Kathy Rattanasirivilai

    Do you know whether United, Delta airlines (flying within USA) is included? I wanted to know if it is worth getting the BA premium black card or the AMEX gold/platinum in terms of air miles (avios points) and benefits. Thank you.

  6. That a a nice and thorough comparison, which will definitely be a huge help, to everyone, wishing to learn a few travel hacks, by investing in such cards. While I love these kind of travel hacks, the unnecessary credit card bills, create nothing but debt, specially when the income is not fixed.
    However, for business travellers, these travel hacks, are just another cherry on the top.

    • Sorry I think you might be missing the point. The point isn’t to create unnecessary credit card bills, it’s to divert the spending you already make onto the cards to get the points. I’m definitely not advocating that people get into debt to do this. Quite the contrary

  7. I am not familiar with AMEX cards but we were looking into signing up for one. Thanks for the detail explanation. I can see why the black card is a way better deal than the blue card. It clearly has a much better sign up bonus and earning rate.

  8. I’ve never had this particular card, but I do normally find that credit cards affiliated with airlines don’t have the best benefits. Good to know about BA in particular! My favorite card with travel benefits as far as earning points is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I just find I earn points faster with this card than with my AMEX that is affiliated with another airline.

    • Yes that card is definitely better than any UK card but you guys are very lucky in America as your redemptions are also considerably better

  9. YUKTI Agrawal

    I never knew of such cards before reading you post, as I generally collect airlines miles and their cards. I get many benefits from Emirates and Jet Airways card personally. But never thought of such cards as I get lot of benefits from airlines frequent flying options. Thanks for sharing wonderful and eye-opening post about card marketing gimmicks.

  10. I don’t have any cards at the moment, because my flights aren’t enough to justify getting one. I do appreciate the breakdown in explaining the benefits. I think if I had to choose, I’d take the black card and pay the fee; it’s a far better investment in the end than the blue counterpart.

    • And the whole point of the card is that you don’t need to fly a lot to benefit from the Airmiles. Less than a few percent of all my airlines are from actual flights

  11. This is a very candid review and a very useful one too. With multiple credit car offerings and many brands in the fray, it becomes difficult to sometimes wade through the offerings. Again we have so many banks chasing for free cards, but it is always good to read the small script or read between the lines before making an educated choice. In that context, your post is invaluable when looking at options.

  12. I was kinda shocked about the 195 fee – but towards the end when you mentioned about potentially saving 5000 on flights, you put everything into perspective!

    Also, I’m part of one world alliance. I think I might be able to even use the AVIOS points for the one world airlines!

    Thanks Anne! Gonna look into this card!

    • Hi Mick, yes you definitely can use the points for Oneworld which includes BA, AA, Finnair, Royal Jordanian, Qantas and many others. There’s no denying the fee is heavy but the potential savings justify the cost for me.

  13. We initially had the blue Amex and got rid of it quite quickly with not much benefits as you explained. I have the Emirates Amex which is much better when you compare to the ba blue. The Black one though you pay a annual gives you much more. I have always used miles to bump up on flights which is a good touch as tickets are never free and the taxes you pay are too high. Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes I always find it surprising when people have the blue card and want to advise them to get rid as it’s so difficult to get the most from the card unless you really do spend a fortune!

  14. Well, that’s why they say, just because something is ‘free’, doesn’t mean it is better! Clearly the benefits offered by the black card, even though there is a few involved, are better than the blue card! I don’t think we have something similar to the BA Amex card in my part of the world (the UAE) else I would have loved to have one of those! Thanks for sharing this detailed comparison though.

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