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The signup offer for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card has just gotten better.
The card still offers 50,000 bonus points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
What’s new is that the annual fee is now $0 the first year, $95 thereafter (instead of the $95 applying in year one). So that’s great!
- It’s a lot of points
- And with a low spending requirement to get them.
- Which can be put to great use
- Without having to pay an annual fee in the year you earn the bonus
The card earns 1.25 points per dollar on all spending (2.5 points per dollar on British Airways spend, and cardholders get a 10% discount on purchased British Airways tickets).
If you spend $30,000 on the card in a year you earn a Travel Together award ticket — your companion’s award ticket on British Airways or OpenSkies flights costs 0 points (you pay taxes and fees).
There are no foreign transaction fees with this card, and with their distance-based award system short-distance non-stop flights start at just 4500 points each way including on their partners American Airways, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines
What If You’ve Had This Card in the Past?
As I explained earlier in the month, Chase has gotten a lot more generous welcoming back past cardmembers to their card products.
This bonus offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new card member bonus for this product in the past 24 months.
The Short-Distance Non-Stop Solution
I consider short-distance domestic flights to be the best use of Avios. 50,000 points is literally 11 flights between Washington DC and New York LaGuardia on the US Airways shuttle, or any number of other flights on American, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines that are under 650 miles.
These short flights are often expensive – my one-way shuttle flights or DC-Chicago flights can run up near $400. I never expect to get more than 2 cents a point domestically, and I frequently get 7 cents per point when redeeming Avios. And there are no last minute booking fees.
Here’s the award chart showing price per flight based on its distance:
Note that business class is double the price of economy, and first class is triple.
The Companion Award ‘Travel Together’ Ticket Doubles the Value of Your Points!
If you spend $30,000 in a calendar year on the card you earn a companion award ticket which allows you to book two passengers on an award ticket for the mileageprice of one award. You still pay taxes and fees for both passengers. And two award seats must be available in the ticketed cabin for both passengers as well.
The basic rules for the travel together ticket are:
- Each calendar year that you spend $30,000 on your British Airways Visa Signature Card, you earn a Travel Together Ticket valid for two years. Travel must begin by the expiration date of the certificate.
- Since the vouchers are valid for two years, if you earn one in each calendar year it is possible to have two vouchers in your account at the same time. You can use both on the same itinerary so that four passengers can travel for the mileage cost of two awards (plus taxes and fees).
- You can earn only one companion award ticket per British Airways Visa primary account. Spending $60,000 on the card does not earn two.
- All travel must originate in or return to the US.
- The person who earns the voucher (the visa cardholder) must be one of the passengers on the award ticket.
- Only flights on British Airways aircraft may be used on the award.
- Regular award space must be available for all passengers.
Since the companion ticket works for British Airways flights to and from the US only, you need to fly British Airways metal, that means routing via London.
I find that these vouchers are best used for travel to and from Europe as travel beyond can get costly in miles.
This travel together ticket can be one of the most strategic plays in the frequent flyer universe.
For instance, a couple can sign up for two of these cards and have 105,000 points after meeting minimum spend requirements. They link their accounts into a household to share the miles. They spend $30,000 on one card, $2000 on the other and they now have 140,000 points and a travel together ticket.
That 140,000 points is enough for both passengers to travel roundtrip first class from the East Coast, and nearly enough from the West. In a sense, those miles can be spent twice.
Again, you pay taxes and fees on both tickets — I view it as being like buying a deeply discounted non-mileage earning coach ticket and getting a triple upgrade to first class.
And it’s the only way I know for two people to travel in premium cabins to Europe off of only two credit card signups, though it does take spending $30,000 on the card to earn a travel together certificate in order to do it.
British Airways premium cabin availability can be really good out of some gateways like Washington Dulles and New York JFK, Chicago and Philadelphia. Like with any award ticket, flexibility helps a lot.
Double Your Bonus With British Airways Family Accounts
British Airways offers family accounts — you can set up your account with family members so you can pool your miles towards a single award.
This means you and a spouse, for instance, could each get the card. After meeting the minimum spend for to earn the bonus, you’d have earned a total of 105,000 for the two cards. Even though the miles are in two different accounts, you can spend them on one award ticket as though they were in a single account if you link the accounts together.
Creating a family account — which can be undone — means you can only redeem awards for people that are linked in the family account.
And you can have up to 7 people in a family account, at the extreme if 7 people linked through a family account each got the card and earned the bonus that would be 367,500 miles to spend as though they were all in one account.
The Elephant in the Room: Fuel Surcharges
There aren’t any fuel surcharges if you redeem your points for US domestic flights, or between the US and South America.
But like most frequent flyer programs based outside North America, British Airways adds fuel surcharges onto the cost of an award ticket — whatever that charge would have been on a similar purchased ticket.
Here’s how to keep the cost down (or even eliminate fuel surcharges entirely) when redeeming awards through British Airways:
- Fly US domestic economy. It’s what I do most with my Avios, just 4500 points each way on flights 650 miles or less.
- US – South America flights have no fuel surcharges. Australia domestic is a great deal here, too. Japanese domestic flights can literally have $0 in taxes and fees.
- The fees are cheap for many destinations in Asia. And remember that business class (not US domestic first class) is just double the cost of economy. On short routes that can be a really good value, especially when it comes with free baggage and lounge access.
- Open an Iberia Avios account as well. Transfer your British Airways points over to Iberia (one-to-one into an account that’s been open three months and has had some points activity). The fees are de minimis when using Iberia points to fly Iberia. Here’s how. And note that Iberia business class award availability is generally excellent.
- British Airways partner Aer Lingus (Bsoton and New York to Dublin and Shannon — and beyond) has really low charges.
- airberlin, a oneworld partner, does not add fuel surcharges onto their fares.
- Remember to check whether two one-way awards are cheaper than a roundtrip.
- You can fuel dump an award ticket, adding a segment to make the itinerary extend to a destination beyond where you are going that charges lower fees. But with the British Airways program it will cost you additional miles to do it (since BA charges separately for each flight segment except for UK domestic flights).
Other Ways to Get British Airways Avios
You can transfer points at ‘full value’ from three programs:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: The Chase Ink Plus Business Credit Card offers 50,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months. The Sapphire Preferred Card is offering 40,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months plus 5000 points for adding a (no fee) authorized user to the account and making a purchase. These points can be transferred instantly.
- American Express Membership Rewards: The Amex Everyday Preferred is probably the strongest Membership Rewards points-earning card, with a minimum earning of 1.5 points per dollar if you use the card 30 times in a month. In the past Membership Rewards has offered transfer bonuses to BA, and the points transfer instantly.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints: Points don’t transfer instantly, but there’s the built-in bonus of 5000 points when you transfer 20,000. The The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has been in my wallet since 2001.
Finding Award Space and Booking Your Award
The easiest place to search for availability of all (3) partner airlines for those short haul domestic non-stop flights is the American Airlines (AA.com) website. That site isn’t great for most of its partners, but it does cover American, US Airways, and Alaska.
Of course you have to make your booking directly with British Airways. You can search American and US Airways inventory directly on the BA site, but their site won’t search for or book Alaska Airlines flights, you’ll have to call to book Alaska Airlines flights.
For most other awards in the oneworld alliance the British Airways website is quite good for searching space and making initial bookings.
Making changes to awards though has to be done over the phone, by a special department, and then tickets get queued for re-issue and if travel is in the future it can take a week or more for the re-issue to happen. Book one-way awards, cancel them online (it’s cheaper, forfeit the taxes on a domestic award instead of paying a fee), and rebook instead of changing.
British Airways Visa Signature® Card
Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.