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Why Should You Avoid The Free BA AMEX Card Like The Plague

Many people taking their first baby steps into the land of UK travel hacking (collecting hotel and airline miles) make the mistake of opting for the FREE BA AMEX card. This card is officially known as the British Airways American Express Credit Card, but for the purposes of this post I will refer to it as the Blue card, given its navy branding.

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, or Black card, may levy a whopping annual charge of £195, but consider this an investment. An investment which will likely reward you ten times over in value if you use your perks efficiently.

Details of the BA Amex Premium Plus card

Let’s start with the basics of the card.

Free BA AMEX card

AVIOS rewards

The blue card is entirely free and rewards cardholders with 1 point (AVIOS) per £1 spent on non BA spend.

Sign up bonus

However, the quickest way to rack up tons of AVIOS is to take advantage of multiple sign up bonuses on these types of card. For blue card holders, this bonus is a paltry 5,000 points (6,000 if you use my referral link) when you spend £1,000 within 3 months.

Companion voucher

Once you spend £20,000 within a twelve month period, you will earn a companion voucher. This allows holders to redeem the Avios for one flight but book two flights, a buy one get one free if you like. Passengers still need to pay taxes and fees for two passengers, so don’t let anyone tell you these are FREE flights.

The flights are never free, but if you can fly business or first for less than 20% of the normal cost using this companion voucher and a number of techniques I teach in the 14 week guide to travel hacking, surely you would want to?

I have literally saved thousands on club seats to Tokyo, Canada, India, South Korea and various destinations throughout Europe

Quebec for non-skiers alternative activities
Exploring the ice hotel in Quebec after flying Club

It all sounds pretty awesome right? Noooo……wrong. Here’s why!

Black card benefits

Earning rate

The Black card has a higher earnings rate. Every £1 on non BA spend earns 1.5 AVIOS and this doubles to 3 AVIOS for spend on British Airways or BA holidays.

Sign up bonus

As if that’s not enough, the sign up bonus is massive in comparison. 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. The black card only requires £10,000 spend to earn the companion ticket. That ticket is valid for 24 months whereas the blue card companion voucher is only valid for 12 months.

This may seem like a minor point, but given that redemptions can be hard to come by on popular routes, you will need to book long haul flights as early as possible, to secure reward flights to some destinations.

Flights become available 355 days in advance, and I recommend booking them within a few weeks of their release, to maximise your chances of success. If you have a companion ticket that is only valid for 12 months, you need to time your qualification for the voucher to allow you to travel within the relevant timescale. Moreover, you will need to book those flights within weeks of earning your voucher, if you don’t want to struggle for availability.

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 as you have to travel your outbound leg before the 12 month period expires. This is often not realistic, and I’ve heard too many stories of people with this card struggling to use their voucher.

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 an £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. Let’s suppose you spend £20,000 on both the blue and black card and meet the minimum spend qualification. Here’s how the two compare, assuming all spend is non BA.

Blue card Black 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 Black 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 (it’s much easier when you have 24 months), then you have potentially lost out on thousands of pounds of savings. If you don’t believe me, read these posts on how I saved a fortune on flights to Vancouver and Seoul. You may take the view that you don’t care about using them to fly business, but here’s why I do not recommend using them for short haul or for economy flights.

Seoul for less tips
Seoul Hanok

If you manage to save £5,000 on flights then that £195 investment is giving you a massive return in 12 months. There aren’t many investments (if any….) that can give guarantee that 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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  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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