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.
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.
Let’s start with the basics of the card.
Free BA AMEX card
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.
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?
It all sounds pretty awesome right? Noooo……wrong. Here’s why!
Black card benefits
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!
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.
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|
|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.
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.