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Indeed, second perhaps to the Hilton free night, I would confidently say it’s one of the best “easy wins” in the travel and points world. It certainly makes it onto our frequently-referenced Top 10 Insider Travel Tips.
Yes Avios availability is often terrible, taxes/fees are extortionate and the BA premium product is probably inferior to the Etihads, Qatars etc. However, if you can find a good use for the Companion Voucher (and you really should be able to, with a bit of effort and patience) it effectively enables you to double your Avios stash in one (fairly) simple booking.
If you’ve worked hard, like many of us have, to create something of an Avios mountain, the Companion Voucher can therefore lead to a huge saving – two long haul Business Class returns for £1000 or so in taxes/fees and only needing to spend the Avios required for one of them is entirely realistic.
Even if you only use it for a more modest intra-Europe redemption, with taxes capped at £50 return in Business Class via the Reward Flight Saver, it can be a nice little redemption.
And let’s not forget, it’s regularly criticised, but the Avios frequent flyer option really isn’t that bad.
What is the BA Amex Companion Voucher, exactly?
The BA Amex Companion Voucher entitles you to one “free” redemption flight when you pay for one with Avios – you will however need to pay the taxes and fees in cash on both flights.
Put simply, the Companion Voucher enables you to redeem your Avios stash in any class, and then get an identical second reward ticket without spending a single additional Avios.
As noted above, when used wisely, this can save you a massive amount of Avios and secure a pair of top value redemption flights with British Airways. I set out a couple of working examples of this, below.
How do you get the BA Amex Companion Voucher?
First of all, you’ll need the BA American Express credit card, or the BA Premium Plus credit card. Spend £10,000 on the Premium Plus card (£20,000 on the standard card) in a year, and you’ll get the reward flight Companion voucher.
Note that the Companion Voucher on the standard BA Amex card is valid for one year, while the voucher on the Premium Plus card is valid for two years. Use our tip above, and you’ll get the two year voucher, but without paying the full Premium Plus fees.
Availability is often bad – but it can be found
Remember that the availability when booking using your Companion Voucher is no better or worse than the availability when making any standard Avios redemption on BA flights from the UK.
However, you are limited to spending the Companion Voucher on BA flights from the UK. That already creates issues for many people who love the flexibility (and value) of spending their Avios on non-BA flights (e.g. Iberia or Air Berlin), often from non-UK airports.
I suppose that touches on one of the key distinctions, for me, between the lovers/haters of the Companion Voucher.
The lovers will generally be those after an easy life, happy to fly good old BA from London and often not quite sure of the alternatives (e.g. spending Avios via Iberia Plus on a premium cabin flight leaving from Madrid just isn’t something that occurs or appeals to them). The haters tend to be (in my experience, at least), the more seasoned travel hackers – willing to make more complex Avios bookings via exotic airports, or even hooked on ultra-cheap cash flights from continental Europe.
However, to say that availability for Avios/Companion Voucher bookings is “non-existent”, as many critics do, is ridiculous. You just need to be fast or flexible. As a rule, British Airways provides two long haul Business Class flights on every flight, which are available to book at midnight 355 days before departure. Even outside of midnight bookings 355 days in advance, you will find availability if you use the booking tools available to you.
I personally use the Avios.com Explorer Map to find availability, before then booking the flight back on the BA Executive Club website.
A working example
My wife and I want to go to Thailand in August. As you can see, availability in Business Class (searched for on the Avios.com Explorer Map) is pretty damn good:
Indeed, we can book 2 x Business Class returns to Bangkok with Avios, for suitable dates in August (and there were quite a few dates available, as you can see from the picture above):
The price is £1118 in taxes (so £559 each), plus 180,000 Avios. Not 360,000 Avios, as one of the tickets requires no Avios, courtesy of the Companion Voucher.
Here’s that flight actually confirmed on the BA Executive Club site, using the Companion Voucher:
To be clear, that’s two people in Business Class, return, to the popular destination of Thailand at peak holiday season using Avios! Yes, it may require some patience and flexibility (and you’re almost certainly best-advised to book ASAP bearing in mind the 355 day window mentioned above, not the month before), but this goes to show that premium availability can be found. You really should not be stuck with a voucher you cannot use.
This is not a lone, rogue example, either. You could fly from London to Tokyo in FIRST CLASS on similar dates for 240k Avios plus £539 a head:
Finally, returning to my “intra-Europe” example above, using the Reward Flight Saver, two people could fly from London to Moscow return at peak times for 40,000 Avios plus £100:
But how do I get all those Avios?!
Well that’s another matter altogether. Read InsideFlyer regularly!
The fact that you will also – by necessity – hold a BA Amex card, earning you Avios on every day spend, will also help you immensely in building that Avios stockpile.
So, I think that settles it – I am clearly right and Craig is wrong. Let’s wait for his response… 🙂