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How I Saved £6,698 On CHEAP BUSINESS CLASS FLIGHTS Using Companion Vouchers
We were very fortunate to go on a dream holiday recently to St. Lucia and for the very first time in our lives, we flew business class 🥂.
It was an incredible experience flying business class with British Airways 😀.
But business class is a very expensive trip for most people and it was for us as well.
What was unique about our flight was that we saved a whopping £6,698 for a family of four, travelling about nine hours to St Lucia.
We did it using what's known as Companion Vouchers, collected on planned expenses on this American Express card.
So today, I want to unpack how on earth we saved that much money and end up paying what was a fraction of what a business class flight might cost ordinarily.
So much so that what we paid was way less than what we might have paid in economy.
Today's post was requested by Andy in the comments on our YouTube channel.
He asked for a breakdown particularly for how he might go about living a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget:
Collect Avios Points On Planned Expenses Only
Please note that everything I'm going to talk about today when it comes to expenses and spending money should only apply to you when it comes to planned expenses.
So please do not get a credit card if you have no plans on paying it off in full, which is what we did, and what we continue to do in our lives every single month.
This post is not meant to show you “how to spend money in order to save money”
Nope! That's not what we do here 😀.
This post is meant to help you get the most out of planned expenses.
If you know you're going to spend a certain amount of money, then there might be ways in which you can use that planned expenditure to do things such as getting yourself upgraded to business class when you go on your holidays.
Finally, although I am going to be talking about American Express and British Airways, this post is not in any way, shape, or form sponsored by any of these companies.
I'm mainly talking about them today just for illustration purposes because I have a personal experience of using those various companies.
Here is a mini video of me and my incredible wife, Mary, having drinks on Business Class for the first time ever 😊:
What Is A Companion Voucher?
A Companion Voucher is one of the most valuable benefits or rewards for using a UK credit card.
You essentially get one completely free ticket of the same class (e.g. business class) when you buy another ticket using Avios points.
All you have to pay is the taxes.
For our trip, instead of paying £8,898 for business class seats for a family of 4, we paid £1,785, which was for our taxes for that particular flight to the Caribbean.
On top of that, we topped up our Avios points by paying an additional £415 because we were slightly short on the total avios points that we needed.
So a total of £2,200 for a family of 4 for a flight of just under 9 hours to the Caribbean.
This saved us a total of £6,698 compared to what we should have paid or what the other people pay who fly business class regularly.
To do this, we needed 2 companion vouchers, which got us 4 tickets in total (i.e. 2 free business class tickets).
In addition, we needed about 200,000 Avios points.
Next let's talk about what Avios points are and how you earn those.
What are Avios Points?
Avios points are loyalty rewards that you get from everyday purchases or holiday bookings.
You can then convert those Avios points into flight bookings, hotel bookings, car rentals, or even online shopping.
We are going to focus specifically on how you use the Avios points that you might get a reward to book flights.
How Do You Earn Avios points?
There are several ways that you can go about doing this process.
1) The first one is that you can get signup bonuses.
2) The second is that you can get obvious points by referring a friend if you have one of the British Airways American Express cards, which I'm going to cover in the next point.
3) You can earn obvious points is by spending on your British Airways American Express card.
There are two types of cards that I should bring to your attention.
Two Types of Points Cards
The blue card is a free card (i.e. you don't pay an annual fee to use it to collect Avios Points).
You can earn 1 Avios point for every £1 you spend on this card.
The second card is a British American Express Premium Plus card and for this card.
You earn 1.5 Avios points for every £1 you spend.
For this, you pay an annual fee, which at the moment is £250 per year.
It used to be £195 per year to get this card and the benefits associated with it (more on this below).
4) Put everyday shopping through your card, British Airways have an E-shop online platform where you can go and do your everyday shopping:
So let's say you normally have weekly purchases that you might make ordinarily, you might go to the retailer's website to make those purchases.
But British Airways have made certain partnerships with various companies, so you make your purchases from their platform.
You still end up on your chosen retailers website, you don't pay any extra, but you get more Avios points for every £1 you spend.
Looking at some examples above, If you shop at Marks and Spencers, by shopping via the British Airways site, you would earn 3 Avios points for every £1.
If you shop at Dunelm, you would earn about 4 Avios points for every £1 that you spend.
And the list continues depending on what retailers you typically visit to do your shopping.
This is what Business Class main course looks like on British Airways. The 3 course menu is very generous:
Where Can You Travel With Avios Points?
So let's say that you've been collecting Avios Points, where can you go with them?
Pretty much everywhere is the answer.
According to the American Express website, they state that you need an estimated 40,000 Avios points to have a return flight from London to New York:
15,000 Avios according to them will give you a one return flight to Rome, or other similar European destinations.
They also estimate that you need about 9,000 Avios points to go from London to Berlin, or other similar European destinations.
What's interesting about this is that as I mentioned earlier, you can earn points by referrals.
The offers that they make typically changes over time, but you can earn anything between 9,000 Avios points and anything up to 42,000 Avios points.
If someone refers you and you signed up and got yourself a British Airways American Express card, either the free one or the one that you pay for on an annual basis, you would get a referral bonus given to you.
You could then use those bonus points towards flights to various destinations depending on where you might want to travel.
How Do You Earn a Companion Voucher?
The way you earn a companion voucher depends on your annual spend.
On the free blue care, the current rules are that you need to spend £12,000 per year for you to get the companion voucher.
On the Premium Plus card with an annual fee of currently £250, you need to spend £10,000 in a year.
Benefits of the American Express Credit Cards
Look above to check out what the various benefits are depending on which of these two cards you choose to go for.
I can already hear you saying, £10,000 a year?? or £12,000 a year??
That is a lot of money to spend in a year and I completely agree with you.
But this is where being a bit savvy with this whole thing comes in.
This is why we explore this as a way to try and reduce our travel costs by exploring ways of making savings for our holidays.
The way we build up this limit of £10,000 and £12,000 in a year in our personal lives is by have these two cards below:
This grey grey premium plus card is Mary's and the blue one is mine (although last week I upgraded to the premium plus card).
We aim for two companion vouchers in a year, then we commit those two companion vouchers towards a nice long haul holiday like this one to St. Lucia:
Make Large Purchases On Points Card
Obviously, in the last 18 months, we haven't all been travelling due to what's been going on around the world.
But as more people start to get back to travelling, this might become something that you might want to consider yourself.
We aim to reach the annual spend on these cards by asking friends and family if they have any large purchases.
So I speak to my dad, mum or my sisters to see if they have large purchases that they have planned for.
That's the key, it has to be a planned expense and they've got the money to incur that expense.
Then we can put through the expense on the annual payment card and earn 1.5 Avios points for every £1 that's put through per year until we reached a limit of £10,000 and get a companion voucher.
When Mary reaches her limit and gets her companion voucher, she can get an extra ticket and take me along to a holiday and vice versa.
Or we can combine them and use them with our two children.
That's because we can have two companion vouchers and get 2 free tickets, giving us a total of 4 tickets that we then use for a long haul trip in Business Class as a family.
A member of our community Omo Tee left a comment on a video we created about our travels and said this:
Fantastic to see that he does the same thing.
I can't stress this enough:
Only make planned purchases and please, please please pay off your credit card in full.
Interest rates on these cards are extremely high and you don't ever want to pay it.
Simply set up a direct debit if you're gonna explore this at all.
And make sure your cards are always paid off in full for this to be worth your while, every single month.
How Do You Use The Companion Voucher To Book Flights?
Let's do a walkthrough of what it looks like.
For you to use your companion voucher you need a British Airways Executive Club account.
This is a free account that you can open for your and your family.
Once you sign up, you get an 8-digit username, which you need to give to American Express.
The reason you're doing that is for them to then link your British Airways AMEX card (and your companion voucher when you get one) to your British Airways executive account.
Step By Step Guide To Use Companion Voucher
So that way, when you log into British Airways to try and make your flight bookings, you can then see your companion voucher.
Above is an example of me logging into mine to kind of show you guys what I'm talking about here.
You can see on that screenshot that it says the word “Redeem” in blue for you to go ahead and redeem that companion voucher and book a flight.
When you click on that it takes you to a whole new screen for you to go ahead and book your flight using Avios and your companion voucher.
Once you do that, you can then select your destinations:
And if you're someone who might want to upgrade to business class 🥂, this is good for you to select business class as the class that you want to use and then click get flights.
In that example I've chosen a destination to Barbados you can see up on the next screen, it then gives you the available options.
Specially Reserved Seats For Companion Voucher Holders
These are special seats for people who use these companion vouchers and people typically booked them up to a year in advance to make sure that they get the specific seats for the dates that they are looking for.
And once you do that, then click Continue you can see up on the next screen it then gives you what your flights will look like for this example of a couple travelling to Barbados.
You can see at the bottom of that next screenshot below, it says that that couple we need a total of 137,500 Avios points and they need about £1,075.54 of taxes that they need to pay so
In this case, the couple would have used the one companion voucher for one person taking the other person free and then they need to pay the related taxes.
Can You Use More Than One Companion Voucher At The Same Time?
And the answer is yes.
I mentioned this earlier you can combine them if you're a couple.
You can go ahead and get yourself two annual paid cards, two free cards, or one of each like Mary and I are doing in our own lives.
You can combine them and book a family trip if you are a couple or if you are a family with some kids.
But note that there are recent changes that affect this.
Are There Any Recent Changes To Be Aware Of?
So as of 1 September 2021, there were material changes to be aware of.
The first being the price change for the annual premium plus card, the price went up from £195 to £250.
There are changes to the free card too.
Pre 1 September 2021, if you earned a companion voucher using the Free AMEX card, you would have been able to upgrade from economy to business class.
In my opinion, due to pandemics and everything that's happened in the world recently, the conditions changed.
So due to these recent changes, if you are using the free card and earn a companion voucher you can no longer upgrade to business class.
You can only use it to fly economy, using the companion voucher to take your friend, your spouse or whoever you wish to take with you.
Post 1 September 2021, in order to upgrade to business class you would need to have the £250 AMEX Premium Plus Card.
It would seem to me that they are trying to get as many people as possible to move from the free blue card to the annual payment card.
Another piece of news worth mentioning is that the free blue card used to have a £20,000 annual required spend but now has a £12,000 limit.
This is a good thing for customers.
Should You Try And Get A Companion Voucher?
Being completely frank with you, it depends if you are interested in upgrading to business class.
My understanding is that most people who do these things and collect points and so on, and do it because they want to upgrade and get a different experience 😀.
They want that champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget.
That certainly is the number one reason why we do it as a family.
We not only want to save money, but we want to experience a different type of flight experience.
So in my personal opinion, paying £250 to get that lifetime experience and also save money is absolutely worth it for us.
But I want to put out a warning:
Do NOT get a credit card if you are not good at managing your personal finances.
The only reason this works for us being 100% transparent is that we are absolutely militant about making sure that any balances incurred are absolutely paid off every month without fail.
Which Of The 2 Cards Should You Get?
If you're going to do it at all, please get a card that speaks your personal circumstances.
So if you do not have the budget for an annual fee on a card, please don't get a card with an annual fee.
Do what suits your personal budget.
But in my personal opinion, the annual paid premium plus card makes a lot of sense because you get to keep that companion voucher for longer (24 months compared to 12 months) on the free blue card.
Now that I've experienced business class travel, I'm willing to spend £250 a year to continue enjoying that business class experience with my family for a long flight and to have a nice holiday.
But you have to make that decision for yourself as to what matters the most for you 😀.
Sleep on business class was more comfortable than I ever imagined:
What to Read Next about Cheap Business Class and Economy Travel>>
- How To Travel Cheap On A Budget While On A Low Income
- Is Keeping Up With The Joneses Destroying Your Future?
- 5 Reasons Why Self-Care Is A Necessity Not A Luxury
- How We Live Well On A £50 Budget (Family of 4)
- 50+ Ways To Save Over £10,000 Per Year
- 5 Ways To Motivate Yourself To Budget Consistently
- 10 Reasons Why People Spend More Than They Earn
Watch a Video Version of this blog post to travel Cheap on Business Class >>
Have you done these hacks before? Have you had an upgrade as a result of collecting points? What's your experience? Jump in the comments and let me know guys 😀.
Do please share this post if you found it useful, and remember, in all things be thankful and Seek Joy.