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How to Bag the Best FREE Airline Companion Ticket in the UK

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.

Combining my AVIOS rewards balance with a British Airways free companion airline ticket awarded by American Express allows me to book business class flights for two for less than economy seats.

British Airways plane
Source: Pixabay

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.

British Airways AMEX cards

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.

Pros Cons
  1. Can use AVIOS and the companion pass together
  2. Lowest actual outlay to pay for business class flights using these cards
  3. The most substantial savings when two travel together in business.
  4. High sign up bonus on the Premium Plus card of 18,000 currently.
  5. The only companion pass to have 24 months validity (Premium Plus only)
  1. American Express only
  2. £195 fee on the Premium Plus card
  3. Cannot use in conjunction with a paying customer
  4. Lower accumulation rate than for Virgin Atlantic Black credit card and Emirates Skywards Elite credit card (2 points per £1 on AMEX)

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.

Virgin Atlantic airline companion voucher 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.

Pros Cons
  1. Both AMEX and Visa combined on one account.
  2. Highest sign up bonus of 18,500 for applications for the Black card
  3. Joint highest accumulation of points with the Emirates Skywards Elite card.
  4. Upgrade vouchers also can be earned in addition to the companion voucher but only allow upgrades from economy to premium economy
  1. £140 fee on the Black card
  2. To use, must buy a full qualifying fare in the same cabin and pay taxes and fees on the ticket against which the companion voucher is being redeemed.
  3. Upgrades cannot be used to upgrade to Upper Class
Emirates flight
Source: Pixabay

Emirates Skywards Elite Credit Card

Emirates Skywards companion voucherBoth 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.
Pros Cons
  1. Both AMEX and Visa combined on one account
  2. Joint highest accumulation of points on purchases with the Virgin Atlantic Black credit card.
  1. £150 fee
  2. To use, must buy a full flex fare in the same cabin and pay taxes and fees on the ticket against which the companion voucher is being redeemed.
  3. Low sign up bonus of 10,000 points.

Redemptions

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
Annual Fee Nil £140 £150 Nil £195
APR 22.9% 22.9% 17.9% 22.9% 22.9%
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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Use a companion ticket to fly business for less than economy
Source: Pixabay

About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of TravelTheGlobe4Less. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 80 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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39 comments

  1. I’m an American and have used my British Air companion vouchers three times. Its a great award, even though the taxes are high. My card is through Chase Bank. I’ve used the companion voucher once for economy class, once for first class and I have a trip coming up that is utilizing business class. All flights have been Portland, OR to London and return. I use cheap airlines for short hauls once I arrive in England.

    • Good plan. I’m really hoping to use one of mine next year to head out to Seattle or Vancouver. The taxes are high but we have no other options in the UK which allow us to earn so many points. I so envy some of the US offers

  2. If you re flexible, try to track down the Dreamliner or the A380, which British Airways are operating on some great routes.

  3. Wow! That seems very reasonable to get the companion pass. Looks like a great option for anyone in the UK.

  4. Wow, these are really good deals. Too bad , I am not in the UK. I hope they extend similar deals here.

  5. Great article and very useful tips! As I am not from the UK, I can only hope this is extended to other countries. Or I could just move there 😀

  6. Those companion tickets sound the way to go. Thank you for this extremely comprehensive guide on how best to work your way to securing one.

  7. The companion pass sounds like a great option for maximizing those reward levels. And to fly in business for less than the price of economy is something that I’ve always dreamed of. I’m off to rack up those Avois points right away!

  8. This could be a big money saver! I think it’s really useful. I hate paying airline fees. They usually feel excessive.

  9. This is so informative and useful to know the pros and cons. I didn’t know about this companion ticket… Now i know 🙂

  10. This is great I am starting to investigate your links and cards now – I had never heard of the companion ticket before so thank you for sharing. We are a family of 5 so anything helps!

  11. Lots of information on here. Never heard of the companion ticket so useful to know

  12. Cool! A lot of travel aficionados will be glad to read about this and in such detail no less! Good job for delving into this.

  13. Can you use Companion Tickets for 2 one ways i.e. London – Singapore, Johannesburg – London?

    • I believe that would count as two separate journeys and therefore you would need two vouchers. Stopovers are possible within limits but unfortunately I cannot access the BA T & C site (as it is down) to check!

  14. Thanks for finally talking about >British Airways
    Companion Voucher – flexible friend or foe? <Loved it!

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