British Airways Visa Review: Big Bonus, Terrible Surcharges

This card comes with a big sign-up bonus and bonus rewards on British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and LEVEL and hotel purchases. The annual fee is $95.

Claire TsosieOctober 7, 2020

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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

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

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: Flexible rewards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Many more options, including transfers to BA

This card earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. Points can be redeemed for 1.25 cents apiece for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to more than a dozen airline and hotel programs, including British Airways.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$95

Annual Fee

$95

Annual Fee

$550

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

16.99% - 23.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

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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. While the card offers statement credits to help offset those famously high surcharges, they're not big enough to cover them completely. These factors make the card more complicated and less appealing than other airline cards.

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.

  • Up to $600 in statement credit toward taxes, fees and charges on award flights: You'll get up to $200 per award booking toward taxes, fees and charges when redeeming Avios for a reward flight on British Airways, on up to three bookings a year and $600 in credits.

The value of Avios vary based on redemption, but generally, they're worth roughly 1 cent apiece.

Nerd tip: 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. 

Benefits of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Potentially huge sign-up bonus

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."

Travel together Ticket

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.

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 U.S. 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 would also pay about $373 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.

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 generally won't cover the entire bill for your award flights. Consider the earlier example of a 50,000 Avios trip with $373 in taxes, fees and carrier charges. Even with the $100 credit, you'd still have to pony up $273 for the trip.

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.

Drawbacks of the British Airways Visa Signature® 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.

rewards Can 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.

This card also comes with several 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.

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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