How To Upgrade Your British Airways Flights With Avios

While British Airways Executive Club is not the best value loyalty program in the world, Avios are easy to accumulate, especially if you live in the UK. I find myself earning them almost faster than I can use them, and there’s plenty to like about British Airways.

Of course I would love use them to book a first class redemption to somewhere exotic, however the Avios needed for long-haul premium class redemptions can be hundreds of thousands of Avios and combined with the frustrating UK APD and carrier surcharges, you may need to get creative to get the most out of your Avios.

If you do find yourself booked in a lower class of service on a British Airways flight, such as World Traveller (British Airways’ name for their economy product) or World Traveller Plus (their premium economy), it may be a smart use of Avios to consider an upgrade.

Who can upgrade?

If you have:

  • an eligible British Airways operated cash ticket (with a BA flight number),
  • sufficient Avios in your Executive Club account,
  • and there is award availability in the higher class,

you can upgrade.

But let’s break down each of those requirements.

1. Eligible flight

The cheapest deeply-discounted economy tickets unfortunately cannot be upgraded. This means fares in Q, O and G fare buckets are ineligible. To use an example for this article, I’ve selected the cheapest flight to New York on British Airways’ website on a particular date, which is a basic economy fare.

On the Flight Summary screen, if you click on ‘Flight details’ it will reveal the fare bucket in a pop-up window.

This fare is ‘selling class: Q‘ class/bucket which means it is ineligible for upgrading with Avios. While it’s frustrating to have this restriction, it is fairly common in the airline industry. If you are planning to purchase an upgradeable fare please triple check it is the right fare class/bucket first!

If your economy ticket has a selling class other than Q, O or G (i.e. it is selling class T, Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S or N) then it is an upgradeable selling class.

Fortunately virtually all World Traveller Plus and Club World cash fares are upgradeable.

You can only upgrade one class of service, so:

  • World Traveller to World Traveller Plus (or Euro Traveller to Club Europe for short-haul flights)
  • World Traveller Plus to Club World
  • Club World to First, where first class is offered

2. Sufficient Avios

This is where it gets a bit tricky and I must admit I was confused even researching and writing about this part.

Avios uses distance based award charts for everything, but rather than just having an upgrade chart to reference, the Avios required is the difference between the Avios needed for the cabin you wish to upgrade to, less the Avios required for the cabin you have already paid for.

The zones are distance based, as follows:

  • Zone 1:  1 – 650 miles
  • Zone 2:  651 – 1,150 miles
  • Zone 3:  1,151 – 2,000 miles
  • Zone 4:  2,001 – 3,000 miles
  • Zone 5:  3,001 – 4,000 miles
  • Zone 6:  4,001 – 5,500 miles
  • Zone 7:  5,501 – 6,500 miles
  • Zone 8:  6,501 – 7,000 miles
  • Zone 9:  7,000+ miles

Again, using the New York example above, had I booked an eligible fare in World Traveller Plus on BA179 knowing that there was a Club World redemption seat available on that flight (see point 3 below), then LHR-JFK is 3,451 miles, which falls into Zone 5.

September 15 is classed as an ‘off-peak’ day by British Airways. For some bizarre reason it is less Avios to upgrade this Zone on a peak day than a non-peak day (20,000 vs 24,000).

Zone // DistanceEcon. To Prem. Econ.
Off peak // Peak
Prem. Econ. To Business
Off peak // Peak
Business To First
Off peak // Peak
Zone 1
1-650 miles
1,750 // 2,2502,000 // 2,2507,750 // 9,000
Zone 2
651-1150 miles
3,000 // 3,7503,250 // 3,75012,750 // 15,000
Zone 3
1151-2000 miles
4,250 // 5,0004,250 // 5,00017,000 // 20,000
Zone 4
2001-3000 miles
10,000 // 12,50011,250 // 12,50011,250 // 12,500
Zone 5
3001-4000 miles
13,000 // 20,00024,000 // 20,00018,000 // 20,000
Zone 6
4001-5500 miles
16,250 // 25,00030,000 // 25,00022,500 // 25,000
Zone 7
5501-6500 miles
19,500 // 30,00036,000 // 30,00027,000 // 30,000
Zone 8
6501-7000 miles
22,750 // 35,00042,000 // 35,00031,500 // 35,000
Zone 9
7001+ miles
32,500 // 50,00060,000 // 50,00045,000 // 50,000

Therefore the Avios required to upgrade would be 50,000 Avios (Zone 5, Business off-peak) less 26,000 Avios (Zone 5, Premium Economy off-peak), so 24,000 Avios.

On the surface, this seems like excellent value.

However be aware that you will also have to pay any additional fees, taxes and carrier charges applicable to the higher fare class.

Now fortunately, or unfortunately, the expensive UK APD is high for all ‘premium’ flights, which includes premium economy, business and first class. So there will be no increase in UK APD if upgrading from World Traveller Plus to Club World.

However if you were upgrading from World Traveller to World Traveller Plus, the UK APD Tax would jump from £78:

to £156:

and this additional tax would be payable if upgrading.

You will only earn Avios and Tier Points for the fare class you have paid for, not upgraded to, which I think is a fair rule to have.

3. Award Availability

The next big restriction is that you can only upgrade if there is a standard award seat on that flight in the higher class available on your flight. While World Traveller Plus award seats are fairly common, Club World and First award seats are rare and often snapped up as soon as the schedule opens. There may be additional seats added at a later date but I would not assume there will be.

Using the New York example from above, I can see from ExpertFlyer that there are no award seats in any class available on that flight (BA177) on that day. Therefore at the time of writing, there is no ability to upgrade on this flight, regardless of what ticket you have booked.

You could also check BA.com for a standard award seat to determine upgrade availability.

If you had booked on the later BA179 flight that day, there is a Club World seat available, so using the one-class-upgrade rule, if you had booked a World Traveller Plus ticket, you could then use Avios to upgrade to Club World on this flight (only), as shown on the ExpertFlyer screen shot below.

If you had booked a flexible World Traveller Plus cash ticket on a different flight this day, and wanted to upgrade, you could check what the change fees (and any fare difference) may be to change to the BA179 flight, in order to upgrade.

Some airlines like Qantas allow anyone to enter an upgrade ‘lottery,’ where you can submit an upgrade request regardless of whether there is currently an award seat in the higher class of service of not, and upgrade requests are processed in order of status in the days leading up to the flight.

While this method would appear to potentially give you a better upgrade chance because there is no requirement for an award seat to be available (like BA does), I prefer the BA method, as there is actual certainty in knowing whether you can upgrade or not (even if the chances remain low).

Qantas has a similar restriction that the cheapest sale fares cannot be upgraded, so I would be extremely annoyed if I had bought a more expensive upgradeable Qantas economy ticket, submitted my upgrade, the upgrade had not cleared and I was stuck in economy knowing I’d paid more for my ticket than I needed to!

How to actually upgrade

If you’ve met all the requirements, and you are comfortable with the costs, then the process of upgrading is actually quite easy and I do need to commend British Airways for this. You can upgrade only one flight of a multi-sector journey if you wish, but you would most likely have to call British Airways in order to do this.

Note that you can only use Avios from your Executive Club account and not an Iberia Plus account for those of you who may have participated in the recent Iberia Plus promotion. You also need to upgrade in advance – don’t try and do it at check in.

But for simple itineraries, simply go to the Manage My Booking section of your Executive Club account, scroll down to ‘Your booking details’ and expand the actual flight details.

Here’s an upcoming flight in my Executive Club account:

Then select the Upgrade tab, and click on Upgrade with Avios:

I was hoping to walk you through the process of upgrading this flight online, however I get this error message despite booking the cash ticket on BA.com just a few days ago!

Now this was a fairly expensive economy short-haul cash ticket (long-story!), and I did check for Avios award availability before booking as it would have made sense to book an award seat for this flight, in Euro Traveller, or Club Europe. However, there was no award availability in any class on this flight when I booked.

Just to be sure, I’ll check ExpertFlyer again:

As expected, there is no business class award availability on the morning flight, which may be why there was no option to upgrade online.

If there was the option to upgrade online it’s a simple process – the website will check the availability, and then calculate the Avios and any additional fees, taxes and carrier charges required. It will then present the price to you (Avios + cash) and you can elect to proceed if you wish.

For short-haul flights you can upgrade from economy to business class because that is a one-class upgrade, because there is no premium economy on these flights. As this just slides into a Zone 1 off-peak, it would be 7,750 Avios (for a business redemption), less 4,000 Avios (being the economy redemption cost which is considered the cost I have already paid for my cash ticket), so 3,750 Avios. Even though Euro-business is pretty terrible, this isn’t a bad upgrade cost (if it was available!).

However, as this is a morning flight and I have BA status, this is not good value in my eyes for a breakfast meal.

So I doubt I will upgrade, even if an award seat becomes available.

Can you upgrade on other airlines using Avios?

Some yes, but naturally there are caveats. If you have booked a fully flexible ticket through British Airways only on American Airlines, or Iberia (Y or B selling class/bucket) you can upgrade one class. I have not done this myself, so imagine you would need to call British Airways to do this.

I’d love to hear in the comments below if anyone has done this themselves.

Bottom line

There are lots of rules and a few hoops to jump through, but generally, upgrades with Avios can be good value and a good use of a points currency that is often poor value.

Upgrades are particularly handy for those travelling for business on strict corporate travel policies, who may be forced to book (flexible) World Traveller or World Traveller Plus fares, but may have plenty of Avios from previous business travel and are keen for a more comfortable ride.

My favourite use of upgrades remains 4,000 – 4,500 Reward Fare Savers to Europe as they have proved great value several times, although a smart use of the British Airways Amex 2-4-1 Companion Voucher can also be a great use.

Have you used Avios to upgrade?

Comments

  1. BA is a sign of the lost pride of Britain, a sad reminder of better days gone by. I would never fly them, unless I got their F fares at J prices and even then it is pushing it. @The nice Paul – Qatar airways 😉

  2. @ Varun Susarla

    Actually, while I am clearly a Qsuites fan-boy, BA still gets pretty much all my business from LHR to North America, and most of it to South America (non-stop flights and hatred of US3 are the main reasons). The last rear-facing CW window seat in each cabin has both direct aisle access and the privacy I crave.

    Unlike most on OMAAT, I don’t mind those CW seats as seats.

    Though I was just checking Lucky’s reviews of KLM’s “new” business class – all seats in 2-2-2 configuration but, whereas with BA he never fails to give them a kicking for lack of direct aisle access (I agree with him), on KLM he seemed seduced by the quality of the food.

    Back to James. I gave up looking for upgrade possibilities some years ago; they were so infrequent as to be just a frustrating waste of time. I was getting more random free upgrades at check-in than I was able to score with Avios.

  3. Business to First can be a good value as well. When BA had the Oslo mistake J fares ($600 or so RT), I upgraded them to F on the 789 for 20k avios. Pretty good use of avios IMO.

  4. Thanks, James. It is refreshing to read a blogger who is not anti-BA. After years of flying the Concorde, my allegiance to BA is still strong and it is always a pleasure to use the JFK Concorde Lounge to bring back good memories. Frequent travelers to Asia know how valuable Avios points are.

  5. Can I do the same if it’s a BA ticketed flight but operated by Iberia? Last week Iberia told me that you cannot upgrade cheap premium economy tickets.

  6. @ Andres – yes you should be able to – change the FF number from BA to AA at check-in. You’ll only get the miles for the class/fare you paid cash for, not upgraded to, remember.

  7. Good article. thanks for posting. Have a BA fligt in WT+ and was wondering how much and what the steps are.

  8. I have to concour with the nice Paul. I flew LAX-LHR in club world on A380 in 59K and enjoy my seat more than flying first on the 787-9 coming back to SJC. The club world seat was slightly narrower but way more private and it was great for a red eye. I ate at the lounge and sleep much longer in a quieter plane.

  9. If you knew there was no award availability on the flight you booked, then why did you hope to be able to upgrade online and ‘walk us through’ the process? Isn’t the takeaway that no higher-class award availability = no chance of upgrading with Avios?

  10. I recently upgraded WT+ flights to CW on BA using Avios (Toronto to Kolkata via London). I upgraded the Toronto-London sector in one direction and the Mumbai-London sector in the other direction.

    The taxes went up quite a bit however. Reading this article it says the taxes should be fairly static between WT+ and CW. Can someone help out?

  11. @ GTCBT – I had only hoped to be able to show you all how to upgrade and that was only only BA Y cash flight I have booked.

    As per the article, if no award availability exists in a higher class then no way to upgrade.

  12. I upgraded my parents from WT+ to CW last year on a TATL flight. In two separate upgrades since J seats on the outbound leg became available several weeks before the inbound segment. The (repeat) interactions with the call center (in India?) were among the most painful experiences when it come to trying to spend money/points on something.
    Ultimately I was successful by interacting with the (very competent) German call center (in Bremen I think).

    Long story short: my parents loved it, but at the same time it was the first time ever that they flew J.

    I agree, BA F is AT MOST a good J product, it is definitely not the world’s best J as some like to claim.

  13. James, if I were to book a BA-operated flight but used my AA frequent flyer number, would I be able to upgrade using Avios from my BA account? Or would I have to have the same BA frequent flyer number on the ticket to upgrade with those points?

  14. I do this often for personal travel but work go through a travel agent and the flight invariably come back with an IT (package) or BT (bulk fare) status which can’t be upgraded. They even come back IT despite only being for flights, and the agents claims it’s not a package deal. We only find this out when we get issued the eticket….

  15. @Arnold

    BA service reps are notoriously unreliable. I have upgraded the same flight multiple times and have been a myriad of fee increases ranging from $64 (correct amount) to $250. I would do the math yourself and when they quote higher simply correct them and ask them to recalculate.

  16. @ Steve – you can use anyone’s Avios to upgrade a BA ticket provided its issued on BA stock. They can then credit to whichever program they like.

  17. Thanks James, great topic to write about for those of us based in the U.K. I personally think BA WT+ to Club World longhaul upgrades are the best value in the entire Avios program, since even discount premium economy tickets are eligible for uprgrade. If you use expert flyer and have some degree of flexibility, and plan a couple months ahead I find you can usually score them, particularly for the trunk routes (JFK chief among them).

    Having said that, business class award space FROM the US on BA for the next few months has been absolutely decimated, in what I can only assume is a side-effect of Iberia’s crazy promotion.

    I have always wondered if you could upgrade AA-operated tickets booked via BA so thanks for clarifying.

  18. I recently paid cash for a trip in BA PE using both AARP discount and the Chase cardoffer 10% discount. I then tried to upgrade it to CW using Avios but got an error message at the confirmation stage (post-payment). After calling BA, I was told that my tickets were not upgradable due to a discount code, but they didn’t reveal which one. So apparently, some discount codes might render your tickets un-upgradable.

    Has anyone ever experienced this?

    Anyhow I got a limited time cash offer $960 to upgrade the LAX-LHR leg (747), which is about half of the difference between currently available lowest PE and CW fares.

  19. James: I have booked RT tickets in CW on British Airways using Avios. Is there an opportunity to use Avios to upgrade to F? Can you explain how that process works?? Thanks.

  20. James,
    I have a BA itinerary MIA-LHR-FCO booked in I class. It was booked through a cruise line. Is this fare class eligible for UG to First? Is the calculation of Avios requires only for MIA-LHR or all the way to FCO? Thanks!

  21. Hi James,
    Fantastic article and very informative.
    Was wondering if you can advise me, I purchased a return ticket on ba.com LHR-JFK in WTP. The return flight is operated by American Airlines (although a BA issued ticket)

    Would that be upgradeable with Avios? And if yes, is it done the same way?

  22. I had a very interesting experience upgrading a B.A ticket bought through AA with an AA ticket number

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