Does the BA Visa companion pass have any value?

Yesterday, I wrote about upgrading with British Airways Avios as a cheaper way to fly Club World.  Ultimately, the fuel surcharge jump from World Traveler Plus to Club World offset most of the savings, but it still wound up being a reasonable plan for the traveler who absolutely desires to fly BA Club World.

Nonetheless, the BA fuel surcharge structure set me to thinking:  If fuel surcharges between business and first class are the same, could the BA companion pass finally have a sensible use?

One of the features of the Chase-issued, British Airways Visa is that it earns a companion ticket after $30k of spending in a single calendar year.  There are a number of restrictions to it (to paraphrase):

  • The companion ticket is only applicable on award tickets.
  • The award tickets must be issued by BA and operated entirely by BA.
  • The main cardholder must be a traveler on the itinerary in its entirety.
  • Taxes and fees for the companion are still due.

The last restriction is a bit onerous, but it’s worth looking at some sample bookings for next Saturday, October 13th, New York to London one-way in three-cabin first class.  (Despite advertising claims to the contrary, United’s BusinessFirst is not three-cabin first class.)

American shows some availability on both AA and BA metal.

The taxes and fees for the AA-operated flight are $2.50.

Flying BA adds $345.20 in fees to this award.

In comparison, the same flight booked via British Airways costs 60k Avios (instead of 62.5k AAdvantage miles), but has slightly taxes and fees of $437.70:

This gives us three options to London for two in first class:

  • AA booked and AA operated: 125k AAdvantage miles and $5.00
  • AA booked and BA operated: 125k AAdvantage miles and $695.40
  • BA booked with the companion ticket: 60k Avios and $875.40.

While I’m not thrilled by the taxes and fees on BA-operated awards, paying $180 to trade 60k Avios for 125k AAdvantage miles feels reasonable (if the travel would have happened on BA anyways).  The deal is a bit less sweet when comparing between AA booked/operated and BA booked/operated itineraries.  Assuming a generous value of 1 Avios to 1 AAdvantage mile, buying 65k AA miles for $870.40 might be a reasonable deal (1.33cpm) if I didn’t already have 393k of them already and wasn’t earning more at a comparable rate by flying.

Whether due to a massive amount of capacity or steep fuel surcharges, BA at least tends to have premium cabin availability when American (on its own metal) or even the entirety of Star Alliance does not.  For this particular date, United has no premium cabin availability on its nonstops from Newark and mid-October is hardly a peak travel season.  If flying BA makes or breaks the trip, the companion ticket is useful; if BA can be avoided, I might lean towards experiencing the first world problem of flying American Airlines three-cabin first class.

For the time being, I suspect that I’ll continue to book cheap revenue tickets and upgrade for simple trips to Europe.  For a mere $6 beyond the cost of the BA companion ticket-based itinerary, I was able to fly myself and a friend to Europe and back last month in AA business class for most of the journey.  It’s not quite BA First, but the savings will mean I’ll survive, particularly after the new lie-flat business class starts flying next month.

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