Benefiting from a FREE airline companion ticket
One of the best ways to make your frequent flyer miles more rewarding is to use them in conjunction with a FREE companion airline ticket allowing you to fly business class for less than the cost of economy.
For those unfamiliar, these are vouchers that credit card companies award to members of frequent flyer clubs on achievement of certain milestones. They are offered in conjunction with specific airlines and each country has different options.
Who will find this useful?
This article focusses on tickets available to UK residents although a simple Google search will help you identify similar offerings in your home country. For US customers, the Globetrotting Teacher and Economical Excursionists can offer a raft of resources on airline vouchers and credit cards.
If you are just starting out collecting airline reward points, and are unsure which airline you want to get into bed with (literally as most business class cabins now have lay flat beds!) please read this before taking the plunge.
Your UK flight companion ticket options
There are only three airlines, in conjunction with airline credit cards, that offer companion vouchers to UK residents. Each airline offers different routes, qualification criteria and redemption rules and it is important you familiarise yourself with these before making your choice if you want to avoid disappointment.
British Airways Companion Pass
British Airways is the only airline to offer only American Express credit cards. Anyone who owns an AMEX knows it is not always accepted (especially in the UK and Asia) meaning you will need to retain a VISA or MasterCard from another provider.
You have two options – the British Airways American Express Credit card and the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card.
The Premium Plus card requires spending of £10,000 to qualify for the companion voucher which is valid for 24 months (all the others are valid for just 12 months). It also offers higher points accumulation (1.5 points per £1 rather than 1) than the standard card which requires £20,000 spending to qualify for a voucher valid for 12 months.
The Premium Plus account does however have a hefty annual fee of £195, whilst the standard card is free.
Finally, the BA companion pass can only be used with AVIOS. There is no option to redeem it in conjunction with a paying passenger.
Virgin Atlantic Black and White Cards
Virgin Atlantic offers an American Express and Visa combination which is fantastic on those occasions where AMEX is not accepted. Both cards are billed as one account and accumulate points albeit at lower rates for the VISA card.
Customers can select from White or Black options both of which offer companion vouchers. To qualify, holders of the white card must spend £15,000 throughout the year. Black card holders must spend £7,500 which is the lowest spend required to secure a companion voucher in the UK.
The huge disadvantage of this option is the inability to use airline reward points with the voucher. A full fare has to be purchased in addition to payment of taxes and charges on the companion voucher seat which I find unattractive.
Two tickets in business class using a BA voucher usually costs around £1000 plus 150,000 points. Redeeming the voucher with Virgin Atlantic or Emirates and paying for one qualifying fare costs upwards of £2,000. These cards thus require a much higher actual outlay for the business class flights.
However you only need to spend £7,500 or £15,000 to secure the voucher and are not using any points to redeem. With British Airways you need to accumulate the voucher and required points.
You may wonder why all the emphasis on business class? What if you use the vouchers for economy class flights? This would be considerably cheaper right?
Well I have only ever used my BA companion pass to upgrade to business class. Redeeming them for economy class tickets and paying taxes and fees only saves a few hundred pounds per passenger. Using them for business class flights saves thousands compared to the cost of purchasing those flights. See Fly Business Class for more details.
Emirates Skywards Elite Credit Card
Both Emirates and Virgin Credit cards are offered by MBNA and so the Skywards Elite Credit card accumulates points at the same rate as the Virgin Atlantic Black Credit card. However in every other respect this is the least attractive option. It has:
- the lowest bonus on sign up of 10,000 points, particularly when considering the £150 fee
- annual fee of £150
- no ability to earn upgrade vouchers
- redemption restrictions requiring a full flex fare to be purchased for the companion voucher to be redeemed. This type of ticket is considerably more expensive than a standard business fare as can be seen from the comparison chart at the end of the article.
WARNING: Read the small print thoroughly so you know the rules.
British Airways is the most generous when it comes to redemptions allowing AVIOS points to be exchanged for flights in conjunction with the British Airways companion pass. I used 80,000 points to book two business class flights to Montreal, 100,000 points to book two business class flights to both India and Japan (pre the AVIOS devaluation) and 150,000 to book two business class flights to Seoul (post devaluation).
This makes these flights an exceptional deal. Although I have to pay the tax and fees, each time I redeem this way the tax for the two business class flights has been less than the cost of two flights in economy.
I would strongly advise against using AVIOS to redeem for economy class flights unless they are short haul and have a flat tax of £35 each. It simply doesn’t represent good value as tax is often the largest element of the overall ticket price when flying economy. For more information, read this post comparing short haul v long haul redemptions.
As discussed, Virgin and Emirates only allow redemption of their companion Voucher in conjunction with a paid ticket. This means that you pay for one ticket and then redeem the voucher for the accompanying passenger but you also have to pay tax and fees for that passenger.
I’ve included a convenient comparison chart below so you can see at a glance the difference between the programmes. This shows the difference in potential price for two flights from the UK to Mumbai on 16th October returning 1st November.
The flight comparisons assume Manchester departure airports for Emirates and British Airways. Virgin Atlantic do not fly from Manchester so prices shown are from London to Mumbai. As you can see Emirates is the most expensive whilst British Airways comes out the best value, albeit 150,000 points are required to secure the flights.
|Virgin Atlantic White||Virgin Atlantic Black||Emirates Skywards Elite Credit Card||British Airways American Express Card||British Airways Premium Plus American Express Card|
|Issuer||MBNA||MBNA||MBNA||American Express||American Express|
|Bonus Miles||3,000 on first card purchase within 90 days of opening||18,500 on first card purchase within 90 days of opening||10,000 on first card purchase within 90 days of opening||9,000 AVIOS when you spend £1,000 in first 3 months||18,000 when you spend £3000 in first 3 months|
|Balance Transfers||0% on balance transfers for up to 6 months (handling fees apply)||0% on balance transfers for up to 6 months (handling fees apply)||0% on balance transfers for up to 6 months (handling fees apply)||No special terms apply||No special terms apply|
|Card Type||Card comes with both an AMEX and Visa card on the same account||Card comes with both an AMEX and Visa card on the same account||Card comes with both an AMEX and Visa card on the same account||American Express only||American Express Only|
|Accumulation||AMEX: 1 for £1 of everyday spend or 2 for £1 spent on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays. VISA: 1 for £2 of everyday spent or 1 for every £1 spent on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays||AMEX: 2 for £1 of everyday spend or 4 for £1 spent on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays. VISA: 1 for £1 of everyday spent or 2 for every £1 spent on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays||AMEX: 2 for £1 of everyday spend or 4 for £1 spent on Emirates flights and holidays. VISA: 1 for £1 of everyday spent or 2 for every £1 spent on Emirates flights and Holidays||1 AVIOS for £1 on all spend.||1.5 AVIOS for every £1 of spend and 3 AVIOS for spend on British Airways flights or holidays|
|Upgrades||Upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy when you spend £10,000 in a year (up to 2 per annum)||Upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy when you spend £5,000 in a year (up to 2 per annum)||Not applicable||Not applicable||Not applicable|
|Companion Reward Flight||When you spend £15,000 on your card in a year and you buy a full qualifying fare. Pay tax and charges. Only spend on AMEX qualifies||When you spend £7500 on your card in a year and you buy a full qualifying fare. Pay tax and charges. Only spend on AMEX qualifies||When you spend £15,000 on your card in a year and you buy a flex plus fare. Pay tax and charges.||When you spend £20,000 on your card in a year. Pay tax and charges.||When you spend £10,000 on your card in a year. Pay tax and charges.|
|Validity of companion voucher||12 months||12 months||12 months||12 months||24 months|
|London – Mumbai Sample Fare||Full fare is £2873.26. Plus £489.26 for taxes and fees for companion voucher holder. Total £3362.52||Full fare is £2873.26. Plus £489.26 for taxes and fees for companion voucher holder. Total £3362.52||£4113.90 for one flex plus flight including taxes. Plus £731.90 for taxes and fees for companion voucher holder. Total £4845.80||150,000 AVIOS plus £1205.82||150,000 AVIOS plus £1205.82|
|For Full T & C||Virgin Atlantic White||Virgin Atlantic Black||Emirates Skywards Elite||BA AMEX||BA Premium Plus|
Which companion ticket is the best value?
If you are happy to pay the cost for one seat and save your points, then the Virgin Atlantic vouchers represent the best value as they require much less outlay on credit cards to secure the companion tickets. This means that once you have spent £7,500 you could book business class flights using your voucher meaning you may only have to spend c £11,000 for the flights and the credit card spending.
Unfortunately things are never black and white (unless you sign up for the Virgin Atlantic credit cards that is!) and so there is no out and out winner. If you want the cheapest outlay when purchasing the flights, British Airways comes top.
Hopefully by using this comparison you can make an informed choice which best suits your needs. If you like this post, please share and feel free to come and like our Facebook page so you can keep up to date with the latest news.
Have your say?
Have you ever redeemed a companion voucher? What has been your experience?
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