Travel to London in First Class with British Airways for (almost) FREE

Barb and Avery at Westminister

With Avery in front of Westminster Abbey

Sometime back I signed up for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card. I was enticed by the generous 100,000 bonus Avios and the thoughts of a free first class getaway to London. At the time there was no minimum spend, and the $95 annual fee seemed more than reasonable. In addition, my husband also applied for the credit card and for the cost of two packs of gum, we locked in a total of 200,000 Avios. Pretty sweet and pretty easy, or so we thought.

We made this card top of wallet with plans of flying first class directly out of Baltimore (BWI) to London. When we signed up for the credit card, 100,000 Avios were enough for a first class round trip flight across the pond so we immediately started planning. What we quickly found out was that finding a first class seat from BWI became almost impossible- even a year in advance.

Additionally, the amount of Avios points necessary to fly became a changing target- always on the steady increase. In order to keep up and to keep my vacation dream alive I continued to use the British Airways Visa Signature® Card.

After several months of digging and spending I became frustrated. I gave up looking for free flights and my enthusiasm for the Changing of the Guard and Tower Bridge diminished. I went back to focusing on the other cards in my wallet that had achievable rewards, and that made me feel that my spending didn’t go without notice.

Fast forward to this past spring. My bill for the $95 annual fee arrived, and it seemed incredibly dumb to pay it. In the time that had passed, Avios had gone through big changes. British Airways removed 4,500 Avios award flights in North America, their transfer ratio with American Express Membership Rewards had been decreased, and an overall significant devaluation of the program had occurred.

I had to move quickly before my portfolio of points was worth nothing. So I reset my sights on using my points, and started digging around again. This time with impunity – because this point savvy gal doesn’t allow points to expire, nor does she like when a program has gotten the best of her. I cancelled my credit card, chose the week that I wanted to travel, and focused on a 5-night stay in London.

Avery on boat site seeing cruise tower of London

Sightseeing in London from the Thames on a City Cruises boat from the open upper deck.

Getting there

For international travel British Airways is a member of the oneworld airline alliance. You can transfer points to any oneworld airline, as well as a few other partner airlines. Having a vat of American Airlines AAdvantage® miles opened up my flight options, and reaching beyond Baltimore to DC and Philadelphia made the number of “freebie” seats available with a bit more flexibility.

I found first class seating from Dulles Airport through American Airlines. So without further delay – I immediately booked my outgoing flight with my AAdvantage miles. With a bit of hope and creativity I was able to find flights coming back from London to Philadelphia on British Airways for 85,000 Avios in first class. The fees are steep. There’s no question about it. At roughly $900 per round trip ticket many people would give up hope again unless you apply a little perspective. All in all I still ended up ahead. My costs were still less than a round trip coach fare in August, and my first class seats would have cost over $8,000 total if I had paid cash. Plus, they were complete with access to airport lounges, free luggage and most of all, a bed.

Tea at the wolseley

Champagne Afternoon Tea at The Wolseley in Mayfair London.

The First Class Experience

 From the moment that we arrived at Dulles to our touch down in Philadelphia almost a week later, our airline and airport experience was nothing short of impeccable. The friendly staff in every lounge, the gratis glasses of champagne, and swag made the months of “Avios Angst” worth it. At the top of the list were the overnight accommodations, complete with warm cookies and milk, and comfy pjs. These were only out shadowed by our time in the Concorde Lounge at Heathrow. Access is only available to first class British Airways travelers, and it feels as though there is a one to one ratio of staff to customers at any given time. Unlike most transatlantic experiences that are barely tolerable, ours was more than enjoyable. So much so, that it made it hard to disembark to our final destinations either way.

So if you can find a way to take advantage of a first class transatlantic flight using miles or at significantly reduced fare I say go for it even if you have to pay the fees. Don’t wait as long as I did. Don’t over think it. Just find a way to make it happen. You’ll thank me when you’re well fed and well rested when you get off the plane.

The skinny on the British Airways Visa Signature® Card.

British Airways uses a rewards currency called Avios. You’ll earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, and there are additional bonuses in your first year of membership. You’ll earn 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases. It is a slow earn for everyday expenses with this card but you’ll get the most value if you use it for British Airways purchases.

Compared to other airline credit cards, you’ll only pay $95 a year for the annual fee. The 50,000 sign up bonus is worth $750 in travel plus there is an additional bonus for big spenders. You’ll earn an additional 25,000 Avios when you spend at least $15,000 in your first year. That’s an additional $375 in travel.

Should you consider the British Airways Visa Signature® Card? If you frequently fly airlines that are part of oneworld alliance, especially British Airways than this card should probably be in your wallet.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

british-airways-wbutton

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.
  • In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad.
  • Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe & beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home.

Bonus
50,000 Avios

Balance Transfer Fee
N/A

Regular APR
16.24%-23.24% variable

Annual Fee
$95

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