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Travel rewards credit cards take different forms. Some offer hotel-specific rewards, discounts, freebies, and benefits. Others accumulate points that can be used to fund or offset general travel purchases. And still others offer specific airline rewards that reduce or eliminate airfare costs.
The British Airways Visa Signature® Card, which comes with a $95 annual fee, belongs to the third group. It’s an airline rewards card that accumulates an unlimited 3 Avios points – British Airways Executive Club loyalty program points – for every $1 you spend on airfare purchases with British Airways, Open Skies (a transatlantic carrier wholly owned and operated by British Airways), and members of the oneworld airline alliance, which includes Iberia, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas, among others. All other purchases earn 1 point per $1 spent, also with no spending caps or restrictions. This card also has an insanely generous sign-up bonus.
If you are approved for the British Airways Visa Signature Card, you’re automatically enrolled in British Airways’ Executive Club loyalty program, which confers progressively more generous benefits as you achieve higher tiers. Avios points are redeemable for airfare with British Airways and its partners, including American Airlines and other oneworld members.
- Sign-Up Bonus: This card has a three-part sign-up bonus. First, you earn 50,000 bonus Avios when you spend at least $3,000 in purchases within 3 months. Second, you earn 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend at least $10,000 in the first year. Third, you earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend at least $20,000 in the first year. All told, the bonus is worth up to 100,000 Avios, good for a dozen short-haul flights within the U.S. and Europe, or at least two transatlantic flights between North America and Europe.
- Airline Rewards & Redemption: All British Airways purchases earn an unlimited 3 Avios per $1 spent. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1 Avios per $1 spent. Accumulated Avios can be redeemed for reward travel with British Airways and oneworld partner airlines, subject to a minimum redemption of 7,500 Avios. If you don’t have enough Avios for a full flight, you can combine Avios and cash. When you redeem for airfare, you’re still responsible for paying certain taxes and fees – starting at $5 to $6 per ticket for short-haul domestic flights – out-of-pocket. The value of Avios varies based on the cost of the flights for which they’re redeemed, but reliably ranges up to $0.015 apiece – and can be much higher on long-haul flights in higher fare classes.
- Executive Club Membership: When you’re approved for the British Airways Visa Signature Card, you automatically earn membership in British Airways’ Executive Club. You start at Blue, the lowest tier, and enjoy relatively modest benefits such as priority standby, saved seat preferences (for instance, aisle seat over window), and priority access to members-only deals (such as hotel and resort discounts). To move up the Executive Club ranks, you need to accumulate Tier Points, which build separately from Avios points. Tier Point earnings vary based on fare class and flight distance: An economy American Airlines fare from New York to San Francisco earns 20 to 70 Tier Points, depending on the subclass, while first class earns 210 Tier Points. You need 300 Tier Points to move up to the next Executive Club class (Bronze), whose benefits include 25% faster Avios points earnings and priority boarding (pre-general boarding).
- Travel Together Ticket Bonus: If you spend at least $30,000 in any calendar year, you get a Travel Together bonus ticket that remains valid for two years. The Travel Together ticket entitles you to redeem your accumulated Avios points at regular rates on any flight and receive a ticket on the same flight for one companion at no additional charge. This effectively doubles the value of your redemption.
- Important Fees: The annual fee is $95, but there is no foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5% and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
- Credit Required: This card requires good to excellent credit.
- Amazing Sign-Up Bonus. This card has a huge sign-up bonus worth up to 100,000 Avios points – good for at least two transatlantic flights between the U.S. and Europe, or a dozen short-haul one-way flights. Most other airlines rewards cards’ sign-up bonuses aren’t as attractive – for instance, Gold Delta SkyMiles offers 30,000 points (worth up to three short-haul one-way flights) for $1,000 spent in 3 months.
- British Airways Purchases Earn Rewards Rapidly. When you purchase British Airways and partner airfare with your British Airways Visa Signature Card, you earn an unlimited 3 Avios points per $1 spent. That’s a higher rate than many other airline rewards credit cards, including the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express (unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on airfare) and United MileagePlus Explorer Card (unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on airfare).
- Travel Together Ticket Is Great for Big Spenders Who Like to Travel in Pairs. This card’s Travel Together Ticket bonus is a great deal for big spenders (at least $30,000 in purchases in any calendar year) who like to travel in pairs. It effectively doubles the value of award travel redemptions with a free companion ticket on any award flight. The only catch: you need to redeem it within two years or it’s no longer valid.
- Reasonable Redemption Minimums. You can redeem accumulated Avios points in increments as low as 7,500 points. Coupled with the rapid accumulation rate for airfare purchases, British Airways Visa Signature gets frequent travelers to free flights faster than most other airline rewards cards. Gold Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus redemptions both start around 10,000 points under normal circumstances.
- Points Can Be Valuable at Redemption. Although Avios point values vary based on the monetary cost of the flights for which they’re redeemed, they can be quite valuable. For instance, flights from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles to Denver both require 7,500 Avios points to redeem. Corresponding flights from most other major airlines require at least 10,000 loyalty points to redeem. Assuming roughly equal airfares for each route and airline, Avios points earned with British Airways Visa Signature are at least 25% more valuable than points earned through Delta Gold SkyMiles, United MileagePlus Explorer, or Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select.
- No Intro APR. British Airways Visa Signature doesn’t have an introductory APR to sweeten the deal. BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card, which offers airline rewards and general travel rewards, comes with a 12-month 0% purchase APR period.
- Has an Annual Fee. Although many comparable airline rewards credit cards also charge annual fees, some don’t. If you want to avoid this card’s $95 annual levy, look at the Expedia+ Card from Citi or Capital One Venture Rewards Card.
- Can’t Redeem Points for Non-Airfare Purchases. You’re not allowed to redeem accumulated Avios points for airline incidentals, such as baggage fees or in-flight meals. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express and the Expedia+ Voyager card both allow you to redeem for hotel stays and other non-airfare purchases.
- No In-Flight Discounts. British Airways Visa Signature doesn’t include any in-flight discounts or other financial perks, aside from the modest, non-monetary benefits of Executive Club Blue membership (such as priority standby). By contrast, United MileagePlus Explorer always gives you a free checked bag on United flights, regardless of how you pay. Gold Delta SkyMiles gives you 20% off all in-flight purchases.
- No Airport Lounge Access or Membership Credits. British Airways Visa Signature doesn’t get you any closer to an airport lounge membership, or even to one-time airport lounge access. If you want to access British Airways or partner lounges during your trips, you need to pay full price. By contrast, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature, which has a lower annual fee than British Airways’ card, comes with a $50 credit toward Alaska Airlines Board Room lounge membership.
Airline rewards credit cards such as the British Airways Visa Signature® Card are great for frequent travelers who prefer to fly with one particular airline, or have easy access to that airline through a local airport hub. If you do travel often but don’t live near a British Airways or partner hub (or don’t enjoy flying with British Airways for whatever reason), you’re not likely to find this card to be very valuable. Furthermore, the British Airways Visa Signature Card isn’t ideal for light spenders or infrequent travelers who can’t justify the annual fee. Travelers looking for credit cards that offer travel discounts and financial perks right off the bat, or redemption bonuses and rebates, are apt to be disappointed too.
That doesn’t mean you need to avoid all airline rewards cards, of course. Even if it’s not served by British Airways or its partners, your local airport could be a hub for other carriers that offer rewards credit cards. Just about every major airline is on the rewards credit card bandwagon these days, so there’s sure to be a useful piece of traveler-friendly plastic with your name on it.