Editorial Review

British Airways Visa Review: Big Bonus, Terrible Surcharges

This card is ideal for two kinds of people: Those who are staunchly loyal to the airline and those who enjoy the challenge of strategic redemption.

Claire TsosieNovember 25, 2019

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Our Take

4.0

NerdWallet rating 

The Bottom Line: Make sure you understand the airline's loyalty program before pulling the trigger on this card, because reward flights can come loaded down with surcharges costing you hundreds of dollars.

Chase British Airways Credit Card

on Chase's website

Annual Fee

$95

Regular APR

17.49% - 24.49% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Annual Fee
$95
Annual Fee
$95
Intro APR
N/A

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons
  • Has annual fee

  • Most valuable for those who fly British Airways or oneworld partners

  • High airline surcharges

Alternate Pick: Points you can transfer

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Greater flexibility with rewards

Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. You can transfer points to multiple airline or hotel programs (including British Airways) at a 1:1 rate or redeem them for travel through Chase for 1.25 cents a point. Enjoy a great sign-up bonus, too. Annual fee: $95.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$95

Annual Fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

17.49% - 24.49% Variable APR

Regular APR

17.49% - 24.74% Variable APR

Regular APR

15.49% - 27.49% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

0% APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

Full Review

As an airline credit card, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card underwhelms — despite its generous sign-up bonus.

In part, that's because its associated loyalty program levies large surcharges on certain award tickets, dramatically devaluing its rewards in some cases. However, the co-branded credit card offers statement credits to help offset those famously high surcharges on award flights.

The card might still be a good choice for two types of people: loyal British Airways customers who can meet the high spending thresholds required to unlock more benefits, and those who are undeterred by the program's limitations and enjoy puzzling over creative, strategic redemptions.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card: Basics

British Airways uses rewards points known as Avios, a currency it shares with several other airlines. (Avios is both singular and plural.)

  • Card type: Airline.

  • Annual fee: $95

  • Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 on your purchases within your first year of account opening.

  • Rewards:

    • 3 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and LEVEL.

    • 2 Avios for every dollar spent on hotel accommodations

    • 1 Avios per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

  • Travel Together Ticket: Make $30,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year, and you'll earn a Travel Together Ticket, which you have two years to redeem. The Travel Together Ticket covers the fare of one other person (but not taxes, fees or carrier charges) for the same flight and cabin — even first class — when you book a reward flight on British Airways originating in and returning to the U.S.

Avios can be redeemed for travel on airlines in the Oneworld alliance and other partner airlines and are worth an average of 1 cent apiece, according to NerdWallet's valuations. You can generally find these partner flights through the British Airways website when booking with Avios; when British Airways doesn't offer service for a certain route, flights from partner airlines will show up in the results. In some cases, you may have to call British Airways to book these partner flights.

While the card packs a high-flying sign-up bonus, its actual ongoing value depends on how much you spend each year. Our calculator can help you determine if the rewards you get will be worth the annual fee:

NERD NOTE: The British Airways Visa Signature® Card doesn't advertise free checked bags, a common perk on airline credit cards. But often, you can check one bag for free when flying on British Airways, regardless of whether you're a cardholder. Visit the airline's website to review your baggage allowances.

Why you might want the British Airways Visa Signature® Card

the sign-up bonus is potentially huge

The undeniable highlight of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is its large sign-up bonus. The offer is even more generous for cardholders who can reach certain spending thresholds. Chase phrases it like this: "Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 on your purchases within your first year of account opening."

If you hit the highest spending threshold, that bonus could be worth $1,000, easily wiping out the card's annual fee of $95.

You plan to put more than $30,000 a year on the card

With this card, you can earn one Travel Together Ticket each calendar year you spend more than $30,000 on your card. A Travel Together Ticket could be incredibly valuable — maybe even worth thousands — when redeemed for an otherwise costly ticket, such as a first-class international fare. You'll still have to pay taxes and other fees on it, though, and you'll have to redeem the ticket within two years. This feature might not exactly be a deal-sealer for someone who's already shelling out more than $30,000 in card purchases each year, but it's a nice perk.

IT HAS NO foreign transaction fees

Like any travel credit card worth its salt, this card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made outside the United States. That could add up to some solid savings for frequent travelers.

Surcharges: bad news and good news

the airline tacks on big surcharges

Here's something you really want to pay attention to if you're new to this airline's loyalty program: British Airways adds notoriously high carrier surcharges to certain award tickets, which can increase your costs by hundreds of dollars when redeeming Avios for travel. The exact cost of these charges varies by route and fare class. Say you booked a round-trip flight from San Francisco International Airport to London's Heathrow Airport on British Airways. For an economy ticket costing 50,000 Avios, you’d also pay about $576 in “taxes, fees and carrier charges,” as of this writing.

That means when you're getting ready to book what you think is going to be a nearly free trip with Avios — surprise! — you might have to pay hundreds of dollars in fees, depending on the route. (In some cases, the charges could even make a reward flight more expensive than simply paying cash for the same ticket, which means your rewards would have negative value.) And these fees persist despite flyers' displeasure with them.

Sure, British Airways technically discloses charges before you finalize redemptions. But the tacked-on costs are still frustrating, enraging and tedious, especially when you've spent months accumulating enough Avios for a certain route only to find that you'll have to also pay a small fortune in cash to redeem them.

THE card offers statement credits TO PARTIALLY OFFSET surcharges

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card can help with those surcharges. Cardholders are eligible for up to $600 in statement credits each year to pay for flight taxes and fees when booking tickets on British Airways using Avios. The credit varies depending on what type of fare you book, and you can use this statement credit benefit up to three times per year.

  • Business or first class: $200 statement credit per use.

  • Economy or premium economy: $100 statement credit per use.

The credits make taxes and surcharges a little easier to accept, but they won't always cover the entire bill for your award flights. And note: credits apply only to transatlantic itineraries departing the U.S. on British Airways aircraft, and you must pay the surcharges with the British Airways Visa Signature® Card.

Why you might want to go with another card

Domestic FLIGHT Options are limited

For international travel, redemption options abound on this card: British Airways is a member of the Oneworld airline alliance, and you can redeem points with other Oneworld airlines, as well as with a few additional partner airlines. But for domestic trips, you’re limited to American Airlines and Alaska Airlines. And when redeeming for Alaska Airlines, you have to book over the phone rather than online. Looking for more options within the U.S.? The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card could be a stronger choice.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can trade in points at a 1:1 value for Avios through the British Airways Executive Club, for the times you really want to redeem with British Airways. But you'll also have the option of transferring your points to several other hotels and airlines. Because transfer partners include members of all three major airline alliances — SkyTeam, Star Alliance and Oneworld — as well as U.S.-based airlines, like Southwest, JetBlue and United Airlines, this card offers an abundance of redemption opportunities. The card charges an annual fee of $95.

You want rewards that don't expire

Avios expire if you don't collect, spend, share or purchase any for 36 consecutive months. That could be a rude surprise later, especially for those who want to earn the sign-up bonus and run.

Plenty of cards offer rewards that don't expire. Consider the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which gets you miles that remain active as long as your account is open. With these miles, which can be redeemed either through statement credits against travel purchases or through Capital One’s rewards program, you can book any seat you want on any airline. That flexibility means you might find it a lot easier to use often.

Starting in December 2018, this card began offering transfer partners, including some in the Oneworld alliance, such as the loyalty programs associated with Finnair, Qantas and Qatar Airways. You can transfer miles at a rate of 2 Venture miles to 1.5 frequent flyer miles. The card charges an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95.

You Don't Spend Much in the bonus categories

Like most airline credit cards, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card comes with an annual fee. That's not a problem if you can earn more than enough in rewards to make up for the cost. But because the card offers bonus rewards only on purchases made with British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and LEVEL, along with spending directly with hotels — not hotels booked with a third-party travel agency — and 1 Avios for every dollar you spend on other purchases.

Should you get the British Airways Visa Signature® Card?

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card is an OK card, but the loyalty program associated with it can be a real drag. Unless you're a big spender who's fiercely loyal to British Airways or someone who delights in finding inventive workarounds, the airline's punishing carrier charges — even offset by statement credits for award flights — make this a lackluster offer.

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