British Airways Visa Signature® Review: A Big Bonus for Big Spenders

Elizabeth is a writer specializing in credit cards, student loans, debt repayment, and small business. Her work has also appeared on MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, and Business Insider.

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The British Airways Visa Signature® offers a generous sign-up bonus that can be redeemed with any Oneworld carriers, which includes American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, and more. Extra perks on the card are minimal, and if you don’t redeem your Avios miles wisely, you could end up paying hefty surcharge fees. However, if you know how to maximize your miles, this is a high value offer, and it’s worth taking advantage of.

What I like

Sign-up bonus of 50,000-100,000 miles -- As long as you spend $3,000 in the first three months, you’ll be awarded 50,000 bonus miles. On top of that, you have the chance to earn another 25,000 bonus miles if you spend $10,000 in the first year. If you hit $20,000 in spending within the first year, you’ll get another 25,000 bonus miles, for a total of 100,000 Avios.

Earn 3 Avios per $1 on British Airways purchases -- Purchases on British Airways, OpenSkies, and Iberia will earn you 3 Avios per $1 spent. Regular purchases earn 1 point for every $1 spent.

Redeem miles with any Oneworld carrier -- Avios can be used on any airline within the Oneworld network, not just British Airways. This includes American Airlines, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus, Alaska Airlines, Japan Airlines, LATAM Airlines, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, and more.

Travel Together Ticket -- If you can spend $30,000 on your British Airways Visa Signature® in a single calendar year, then you’ll get one Travel Together Ticket. This is a companion voucher that allows you to take a companion on one round-trip award flight with British Airways. The flight must originate and terminate in the U.S., but it can be an international flight.

No foreign transaction fees -- For folks who travel frequently, having a credit card with no foreign transaction fees can save a lot of money

Why you can trust me

For the past five years, I’ve been using travel credit cards to collect airline miles and hotel points -- I’ve accumulated over one million total. Thanks to rewards programs, I fly to Costa Rica multiple times per year, paying only taxes and fees. I’ve also used my points to fly to France, Thailand, and Spain and stay in five star hotels all over the world. As a personal finance writer, it’s my job to pour over credit card terms and conditions so I can help you find the best offers.

What could be improved

Annual fee -- This card does come with an annual fee of $95, and it’s not waived for the first year.

No annual benefit -- Considering the British Airways Visa Signature® comes with a significant annual fee of $95, this offer would be far more appealing if it came with an annual benefit to incentivize cardholders to keep their card. While they do offer the Travel Together Ticket, it requires $30,000 in annual spending, which isn’t feasible for most people, especially when you could put that spending on another card that offers a higher rewards rate.

No free checked bag -- This is one of very few airlines that doesn’t offer a first checked bag free perk on their airline credit card.

Minimum spending requirement -- In order to get the full 100,000 Avios sign-up bonus, you’d need to spend $20,000 in a calendar year. This is difficult for many, and for those who do spend that much each year, there may be other credit cards that offer a greater return.

High fees and surcharges -- Booking British Airways flights with Avios can incur massive fees and surcharges, especially if you’re flying long-haul. Some business class award flights end up costing over $1,000. However, many redemption options with partner airlines don’t incur such steep fees.

Suggested credit score

Folks with a FICO score of 700 or above will have the highest chance of approval. If your score is in the high 600s, you will still have a decent chance of being approved. A FICO score of 650 or below will make it very difficult to receive approval, although there are reports of people with scores in the low 600s getting this card.

What are Avios worth?

The value of British Airways Avios varies widely depending on how you redeem them, with some redemptions yielding a per point value as low as $0.005 and others yielding a value of well over $0.02 per point. On average, Avios are worth $0.015 each.

How to maximize your Avios earnings

Using your British Airways Visa Signature® card for purchases is the most obvious way to start collecting Avios. But there are a number of other tricks that will increase your earnings rate.

Get the sign-up bonus -- This is the best way to maximize your Avios earnings. Make sure that you’re able to spend $3,000 in three months at the time of applying for this card because the 50,000 mile sign-up bonus is one of its most attractive features.

Spend $20,000 in your first year -- To double your sign-up bonus, put $20,000 in spending on your British Airways Visa Signature® within the first year. This will net you a total of 120,000 Avios because you’ll get 100,000 from the sign-up bonus and another 20,000 from your spending.

Transfer points from other programs -- You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points to British Airways’ Avios program at a 1:1 ratio. American Express Membership Rewards will often offer promotional transfer bonuses of up to 40% for transferring your points to British Airways, and SPG gives you a 5,000 Avios bonus every time you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to Avios.

Use the British Airways shopping portal -- British Airways has their own shopping portal (both a U.K. and U.S. version) that allows you to earn extra Avios when you shop through them. Many retailers offer up to 7 or 8 Avios per $1 spent, and sometimes the portal runs limited time promotions that double the Avios you earn.

Don’t let your Avios expire -- Unfortunately, British Airways Avios do expire after 36 months of inactivity on your account. All you have to do to reset your activity is earn or spend any amount of Avios, so it’s as easy as using your British Airways Visa Signature® card for any purchase.

How to maximize your Avios redemptions

While redeeming Avios can be a little trickier than most other airline miles, once you figure out how to use the British Airways redemption system to your advantage, you can find some very high value redemption options.

Book short-haul flights -- Unlike most airline rewards programs, Avios work on a distance-based redemption system. Their award chart has a set price for flights according to how many miles you’re flying. This means that you can get a great value by booking short-haul flights that typically aren’t worth booking with points on other airlines.

Use Avios on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines flights -- Because Avios redemptions are based on distance, using them for short-haul flights on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines can yield a good value. Here are some great examples.

  • Flights to Hawaii from the west coast
  • Flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America from the southeast
  • Flights to Vancouver from the west coast or Montreal from the east coast
  • Flights to Ireland from the northeast

All of the flights above are offered by American Airlines. However, they’re actually cheaper to book using Avios than they are using American Airlines miles.

Take advantage of Oneworld carriers and partners -- There are a few worthwhile redemptions on British Airways, but more often than not, Avios are best used on other airlines. This is because British Airways tends to charge outrageous surcharge fees on award redemptions, often totalling hundreds of dollars and sometimes even over $1,000.

Luckily, you can choose from any Oneworld carrier, an alliance which includes 13 member airlines, as well as one of their three partner airlines when redeeming Avios.

  • Oneworld member airlines: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines
  • British Airways partners: Alaska Airlines, Aer Lingus, Meridiana

If you’re booking with a partner airline, such as Alaska Airlines, you will often have to call to redeem Avios as those airlines don’t always show up automatically on the British Airways award redemption system.

Avoid premium class redemptions -- Avios generally don’t offer great value when it comes to premium redemptions such as first class and business class tickets. These flights tend to cost a lot in both points and surcharges, although there are a few exceptions when booked with other carriers such as Japan Airlines. Generally, though, Avios are best used for economy class redemptions.

Use for short inter-continent and inter-country flights while abroad -- Because of their extensive partner network and distance-based rewards system, short-haul flights within other continents are often a steal. One of the best ways to use Avios is on a multi-city trip: book an international flight with another airline, and then once you’re in your destination, travel around using Avios.

Here are some examples of great inter-continent and inter-country redemptions.

  • Flights from Madrid, Spain to Casablanca, Morocco for 4,500 Avios
  • Flights from Lima to Cusco, Peru for 4,500 Avios
  • Flights from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Thailand for 7,500 Avios
  • Flights from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile for 7,500 Avios
  • Flights from Osaka to Tokyo, Japan for 4,500 Avios
  • Flights from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia for 4,500 Avios

When you’re traveling around continents that don’t have many low-cost carriers, such as South America, Avios can prove invaluable.

Fly during off-peak season -- Award flights booked with Avios during off-peak season are significantly cheaper than those booked during peak season. Luckily, off-peak season is nearly eight months out of the year, so you have plenty of options. On a long-haul flight, booking off-peak season could save you as many as 17,500 Avios per flight.

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