With taxes and charges rising, is it worth using companion vouchers, upgrades and Avios?

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In the last couple of months, British Airways along with many other airlines have raised the taxes and charges on their redemptions. In many cases, this has risen by over £200. So if you have a British Airways American Express card or even one of the new Barclaycard Avios cards, is it actually worth bothering?

Here are some examples of the rises:

Las Vegas

  • Previous taxes and charges £671
  • New February 22 taxes and charges £788
  • New March 2022 taxes and charges £842

This is a similar price for most US destinations. 

Dubai

  • Previous taxes and charges £542
  • February 22 taxes and charges £605
  • New March 22 taxes and charges £707

Maldives

  • Previous taxes and charges £616
  • February 22 taxes and charges £728
  • New March 22 taxes and charges £833

As usual, I take a different approach to other bloggers as I don’t believe there is a one size fits all answer. A lot depends on what is important to you and how you like to travel. For example, it’s no good me pointing out that you could fly as cheaply on an ex-EU flight if you’ve got two young kids and would rather chew your own arm off than spend more time going through airports and changing planes! So we will have a look at various scenarios to see what works best for you.

 

British Airways Amex companion vouchers

Now a lot of people, myself included are beginning to question the wisdom of companion vouchers where the taxes and charges can be around £850pp for long haul business or first class. However, a lot depends on how you travel and how you plan to use them.

 

When they can be worthwhile

  • For First class – there are not many ex-EU deals on First at the moment so when you compare with average fares of £4000+ it’s still much cheaper to use a voucher. However as an aside I notice some deals to New York for around £2300 in First from Dublin which is not bad at all. 
  • If you like to keep things very flexible. Although we still have “BA book with confidence“, it’s not the same as being able to completely cancel something and get a refund. So if you are someone whose plans change a lot, it’s probably still worthwhile.
  • You mainly use them for shorthaul. These can be great value during times like school holidays when you book in advance as I have seen cash fares for Club Europe at well over £700 even months out. So £50 in taxes and charges is a good deal. BA is likely to increase charges for short-haul too but it is still going to be reasonable value.
  • You don’t care about status with BA and just want to fly as cheaply as easily as possible direct from Heathrow and Gatwick in business or first.
  • You don’t mind starting your journey outside the UK to save some money. If you are someone who doesn’t live near Heathrow anyway, you can get the costs down to around £500pp for Club or First if you start outside the UK. For example, Amsterdam to New York is £500.95 versus ~£840 from the UK. It will cost a few more Avios though and this can only be done using the new Companion vouchers issued from September 2021. 
  • You want to fly to a destination where charges are still reasonable. As you can see from the above examples some destinations are still a more reasonable price so it’s worth a little reseach into rpices before you decide on your destination. 

However, you do need to bear in mind that you are also paying a £250 a year fee if you have the Amex Premium BA card. It does come with a higher earning rate than the free BA Amex but only 1.5 Avios per £1 versus 1 per £1. Plus the 3 Avios per £1 on ba.com. Obviously, the free card only gives a companion voucher that can be redeemed in economy, which is usually a poor use of Avios but can be worth it during peak periods or to give flexibility cheaply. 

 

When it may be not worth bothering with the BA companion vouchers

  • You are trying to maintain oneworld/BA status and/or don’t mind starting flights outside the UK to save money. Often you can find flights for around £1100 to the US from Dublin for example, so you’d be better off just paying cash and earning the tier points. Finnair and Qatar also do some great deals from £1000 to Asia on a regular basis. 
  • You are trying to maintain oneworld/BA status and don’t want to start outside the UK. Upgrading from World Traveller Plus is a good option (although not as good as before in terms of value). You will earn 90 tier points on an average one-way long haul flight in premium economy and a decent number of Avios, which will offset the amount of Avios you have to spend. Yes, you still have to pay the difference in taxes and charges but at least you get some Avios and tier points which you don’t with a voucher. 

So if you decide you don’t think the vouchers are useful, then you may want to think about whether to downgrade to the free BA Amex card and save the £250 fee if you don’t mind a lower-earning rate. If you are going to do this it is also worth considering an Amex that earns Membership Rewards as you can transfer those into Avios as well as several other airlines and hotels which gives you a lot more flexibility. 

You may also wish to consider redeeming on other oneworld airlines if you are not using vouchers as it’s usually much cheaper in terms of taxes and charges and sometimes, Avios too. You can read more here. 

 

Upgrade vouchers

The new Barclaycard Avios credit card has an Upgrade voucher when you meet the minimum spend which entitles you to upgrade an Avios redemption booking by one cabin. However, you will still have to pay the extra taxes and charges for the new cabin so really it is the same situation as the BA Amex cards, so the rules above apply for the Barclaycard too.

If you travel solo this is obviously a better option than the companion vouchers. 

 

Is it worth still collecting Avios and on which card?

Avios bonus

Personally I will still be collecting Avios and will use them on other airlines, for BA short-haul and first-class companion vouchers, and for upgrades. I find the flexibility of Avios flights very useful. Another consideration is the improved rates for Qatar redemptions and the ability to redeem through Qatar Airways and upgrade Qatar flights. 

Here is a summary of the options. It’s also worth bearing in mind the cashback offers you receive on the Amex cards as I find I get my money’s worth out of the card fee using those. Usually, there are frequent hotel offers worth around £75-100 off a spend as well as other offers on everything from taxis to flowers.

The Barclaycard Avios also comes with the advantage of being a Mastercard which can be a lot easier to use in some countries than Amex. 

 

Card typeTypeAnnual FeeAvios earnedOther perks
     
BA AmexPersonalFree1 per £1Companion voucher (economy only) after spending £12,000 a year
BA Amex Premium PlusPersonal£2501.5 per £1Companion voucher after spending £10,000 and 3 Avios per £1 on ba.com
Barclaycard AviosPersonalFree1 per £1Upgrade voucher after spending £20,000 a year
Barclaycard Avios PlusPersonal£2401.5 per £1Upgrade voucher after spending £10,000 a year
Capital on TapSmall business£991 per £1FX free spending abroad
Amex Gold Preferred CardPersonalFree for first year then £1401 per £1*2 lounge visits plus up to £10 Deliveroo credit per month
Amex PlatinumPersonal£5751 per £1*

Airport Lounge Access
Worldwide Travel Insurance
Harvey Nichols Credit up to £100
Hotel Benefits

*Can be transferred into Avios or a number of other airlines and hotel schemes

Are you going to keep your cards the same after the recent price rises? Let us know in the comments below.

TLFL does not feature all offers, credit cards etc and readers should do their own due diligence. Any credit cards featured are discussed solely in terms of the travel benefits to the reader and should not be construed as financial advice.

 

22 Comments on "With taxes and charges rising, is it worth using companion vouchers, upgrades and Avios?"

  1. I’m certainly taking a more critical view of whether Avios are worthwile now.
    As a family of 3, we often end up using a 2-4-1 voucher but paying cash for the third ticket, which obviously loses flexibility. Lack of BA status means costs of seat selection too.
    For an upcoming Singapore trip, we cancelled this arrangement because the cost of the Avios & charges, 1 revenue seat and nearly £600 to select seats came to approx £5,000. Instead, we got 3 Club tickets in a BA Holidays sale for £5000 by tacking on 1 night in a hotel, which will secure Silver for the 3 of us.
    Agree with TLFL – there are other many options depending on your circumstances. Avios not always the best one.

  2. Perhaps the 241 dream is over after all and time to enjoy the other airline products which can be much better.

  3. David Jenkins | 4 April 2022 at 8:07 am |

    Recent trip to Seychelles with Qatar means BA won’t even be in the running for eastwards trips in future.

  4. BA continue their race to the bottom with the latest round of tax increases which is really essentially the same as a relative Avios devaluation by making the whole package less desirable as you have to splash out more cash along with the Avios for the same flight. On board, the lack of “long haul” professionalism is largely gone with the gruff expressions of resent taking their place ie the Mixed Fleet / Mixed Attitude crews. IFE remains atrocious but gets worse – it’s depressing to even look at a particular genre of music available!! The food – well – cram it on to one tray, cover it in plastic and give little to no choice, wash it down with Sainsburys £5 after 25% off wine that has no ambition for Cellar in the Sky awards and you have what BA “management” call a business class product!!
    Sorry guys – you are way out. Im actually now not even wanting to particularly use my 7 figure Avios Collection on your (“free”) flights……….not with those (BA) taxes! Qatar Airlines take Avios and the understand the meaning of luxury air travel. They have a great route network and a brilliant hub at Hamad airport, Doha.
    The only thing I will miss about BA is the F check in and the Concorde Room, but I can get these by paying a value fare ex EU……so, Im now decided how I will spend my future Avios, AFTER I have used up my 3 two for one vouchers!!!

  5. First time using a companion voucher (post-Sept 2021 BA Amex rules apply) and struggled to find much availability to LAS/LAX this year. Lots of availability for DFW though… Club return from LHR was showing as nearly £1700 in taxes. Have now booked DUB->LHR->DFW in Club and DFW->LHR in First for just over £600. Took a collective 3 hours on the phone to the Exec Club but we got there in the end. Not ideal and we need to factor in positioning flights to LAS, but a good deal and we’re very happy.

  6. Stirring stuff from Nigel. Agree Qatar are still a class airline unlike BA. Seriously wondering whether to bother to renew gold this year even at the reduced target. Use up Avios on BA Europe flights and then fly Qatar, Etihad, Singapore, Swiss, Lufthansa etc long haul business or first.

  7. My only use for Avios is RFS within UK and Ireland, booked at last minute. And applying the cabin upgrade voucher to Canary Islands during peak school holidays. I’d never pay to fly BA business long haul, when so many better alternatives exist.

  8. I agree with all the above comments. The ONLY reason to fly BA is if you are redeeming Avios points and you want the space that Club or First provide. Better service by far was had before the pandemic on Quatar, lovely cabin crew, fantastic service and absolutely great food and Air France (from Paris to JNB). The crew were great, professional, friendly and the food and wine were also very good. BA used to be good, but not any more.

  9. Need also to bear in mind that the 2-4-1 voucher on the free BA Amex is for Economy flights only.
    Taxes and surcharges have now exceeded what I am willing to pay so I’ve just let a 2-4-1 expire without any misgivings which I would never have considered doing over the past 10 years. Ordinarily I’d pick out a random longhaul city and travel there because I had a 2-4-1. Not now.

  10. At the end of last year I booked DW and I two club world returns to Phoenix Skyharbor for a break in February, using one of our 2for1 vouchers. We have never had a particular interest in visiting Phoenix, AZ, but I’d read Michele’s blogs on the place and thought it would make a good winter break destination. I wasn’t comfortable with the £1400 in taxes and carrier charges I’d paid and questioned whether it was a worthwhile spend and we decided to cancel and get a refund. My Gold status will lapse down to Silver at the end of this year and I’m not that concerned – the First lounge at T5 has been nothing to write home about recently and I don’t have the motivation to do tier point runs to crappy destinations. BA isn’t the same since it retired its 747s and CW on 777s is too much of a lottery. I’m liberating my dormant avgeek and will be paying cash for business class seats on aircraft I want to fly in, operated by top-rated airlines. We’ve done one trip with Etihad, have another booked with them for May/June and we’ll be sampling First on Swiss in October. We’re tempted to book in business with Austrian to BKK ex-CDG for August. It looks like I’ll be converting Avios to Nectar points and spending them on petrol and groceries at Sainsbury’s. I’ve downgraded our BAPP to the free card and will probably cancel when the remaining Avios have transferred, using my HSBC Mastercard for earning points. We’re using a 2-1 voucher with Avios to go to Doha in WTP over Easter, which could be our last trip with BA for some time.

  11. We use our Companion Voucher for annual flights to Santiago, Chile to visit family.
    For January/March 2023 the taxes/charges came to about £1,520. It is very rare to get Business Class return for less than £2,000 each during the Chile summer, so it is a good deal still.

  12. I think 2for1s are still very useful for one way flights which are usually very very expensive vs returns. And of course the new version of the voucher allows non UK departures. We do a lot of cruises where we join the ship or disembark outside Europe. So I currently have one way UK to Singapore and HK to UK booked with BA in Club which would have cost a fortune as cash tickets and of course can be cancelled right up to 24 hours before departure. I do agree that the onboard product is pretty awful.

    • I wasn’t aware that’s it is now possible to use a 2-4-1 one way ex UK. Thank you for the insight.
      We will continue to use our companion vouchers for a while, I find them good value. Just booked London – Santiago – Buenos Aries to London for around £1400 tax . The revenue flights would be £5k for the same dates.I am not interested in status any more.

  13. Oh, and as a ps, I forgot to mention that when we took our last one way 2for1 LHR – MIA ten days ago, a full flight in Club and First in an old 777, two out of four toilets in Club and one out of two toilets in First were out of order before we even took off, yet the Captain decided to proceed with that aircraft. So we had to go up the aisle, through the galley, down the other aisle, and stand in line with the other 54 Club “customers “ to use the toilet. On a nine hour flight ! BA has really gone downhill.

  14. Nick Bennett | 5 April 2022 at 6:35 am |

    Without trawling through T&Cs does anyone know if you pay card fees in advance or arrears? I am seriously considering leaving Amex, or downgrading, but paid my annual fee in January so guessing that covers me till December time? Or if I leave in December will my final bill have the fee from this year included?

  15. Lee Everitt | 5 April 2022 at 9:47 am |

    Living regionally in the UK the 2-4-1 has now much less value for me. Getting to LHR/LGW is just as difficult as DUB/AMS/CDG or even ARN/GOT. I also do find the ability to redeem Virgin miles on KLM/Air France now invaluable if you live outside London. Especially in Markets BA has long neglected. Real case for me this Christmas, I have a Barclays Upgrade voucher which I will use for 2 x 1 way to LHR-NYC. I will then redeem my Virgin miles back via AMS or CDG. If availability pops up, hopefully 50k Virgin points and 6(!) USD of taxes on Delta. If not it is not terribly more expensive on KLM/AF direct. – Oh and at least I’ll travel with an Airline that still remembers what Business Class is!

    • Good example of why it’s worth considering Virgin as an alternative scheme for collecting miles.

  16. We had to cancel a Mumbai 2-4-1 booking in February and on rechecking the extra taxes are approximately £350. I am not interested in status. And I would not pay cash for a CW or First ticket from LHR, I have 3 vouchers to use one already booked for Singapore in June luckily before the tax rises. I think we can still get value from the other 2 as we are flexible with Destinations & Dates for any time of the year and don’t have a problem starting ex EU. But still worth a look at other carriers just to see if there’s additional savings.

  17. Late comment, but the answer is a yes for couples who travel to certain destinations.

    We just did our honeymoon to Maldives, have booked business Xmas fares to India. For these ones the companion fare saved us probably £10k across the two. Yes its a lot on the taxes and fees, but to travel in R class for peak periods it is extortionate, and that’s where the new Prem Plus voucher is incredible!

    If you just do the occasional flight to NYC, and don’t mind positioning in Madrid or Dublin, then paying cash fares is easily better.

    • Thanks for your perspective. Yes a lot depends on the destination and with the new vouchers availability is definitely better.

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