Avios Redemption University – Lesson 3 – How to Upgrade With Avios

The “Avios Redemption University” series is a good starting point for beginners, although I hope everyone will learn something from them.  Click here to see the other articles.

I run occasional articles on the vexing question of ‘What is an Avios worth?‘ – click that link for the latest, post devaluation, version.  It showed that using your Avios to upgrade a flight is often the most valuable use of them. It is also a great way to redeem for people who only earn a relatively small number of Avios per year.

Technically, the process of using Avios to upgrade is now called – fairly logically! – ‘Upgrade Using Avios’. However, many people still call it ‘Miles for Upgrade’ or MFU, since that was the name BA used until November 2011. Both refer to the same process. Here is the official ba.com page explaining how it works.

British Airways A319

‘Upgrade Using Avios’ allows you to upgrade a CASH-bought British Airways ticket to the next class of service. There are a number of rules to get your head around, but in summary:

You can only upgrade by one class (World Traveller to World Traveller Plus, WTP to Club World, Club World to First, Eurotraveller to Club Europe)

You can upgrade either at the time you buy your ticket (log-in to British Airways Executive Club and select ‘Book with cash, upgrade with Avios’ under ‘Payment type’ in the booking engine) or later, via ‘Manage My Booking’ on ba.com

You can only upgrade via British Airways Executive Club, so if your Avios points sit at avios.com or iberia.com you will need to transfer them to BAEC first via ‘Combine My Avios’

You can only upgrade British Airways flights (with some exceptions for American or Iberia flight – see below)

You can only upgrade if there is Avios reward availability in the higher class. This means that your ability to upgrade may vary from day to day depending on whether Avios reward seats are opened up on your flight.

You cannot upgrade cheap, non-refundable Economy tickets. This is the biggest downside of the scheme, and the one that hits the ‘casual’ leisure traveller the hardest.  British Airways has promised to make some changes to this rule in early 2016 but it is not clear if you will be able to upgrade the cheapest World Traveller tickets.  In any event, World Traveller Plus – the next category up – is a small cabin so the opportunity to upgrade will always be limited.

You can upgrade almost any World Traveller Plus or Club World ticket (occasionally some WTP ‘sale’ seats cannot be upgraded but they are clearly marked. You also cannot upgrade a ticket which has already been upgraded, either with cash or miles).

On a multi-flight ticket, you can upgrade legs one at a time as availability comes up. You do not need to upgrade every flight on your itinerary at once.

You can choose to just upgrade one leg of a ticket. You may, for example, be happy in World Traveller Plus on a day flight but prefer to upgrade to Club World if the return is overnight.

You earn Avios and tier points for the class you originally booked. Sometimes, for technical issues, your flight will post with 0 Avios, but a quick call to BA Executive Club will get this fixed.

You can upgrade a ticket issued by a travel agent. This is great news for anyone who wants to upgrade their work trips or a package holiday ticket. (For IT reasons, your travel agent must have issued your tickets in the same country as your BA account is based – so if your corporate agent is based in India or the US, you could be in trouble.)  Note that if you upgrade a travel agency ticket, your travel agent can no longer change it. If your work plans change, don’t bother ringing your secretary to move your flights – you will need to call BA.

How do you process an upgrade?

It is a simple process.  Go to ba.com, enter ‘Manage My Booking’ and select the relevant flight.  At the bottom of the page will be an option entitled ‘Upgrade Using Avios’.

The key point to remember is you can only upgrade a flight if there is reward seat availability in the higher class.  If there are no Club World redemption seats available, for example, you will not be able to upgrade a World Traveller Plus ticket.

Do keep checking back, however, as reward availability moves around from day to day.  You are especially likely to find seats opening up in the last few days before departure.

So, what does an upgrade cost?

The cost of upgrading from World Traveller Plus to Club World using Avios increased sharply in April 2015.  This was very unfortunate as this was the most popular upgrade.

A return upgrade will cost you the difference between the Avios needed for a return flight in the upgraded cabin compared to the cabin in which you are already booked.

This is the current Avios redemption pricing chart:

Redemption chart 2

To San Francisco (Zone 6), for example, a World Traveller ticket on an off peak day is 32,500 Avios; World Traveller Plus is 65,000 Avios; Club World is 125,000 Avios and First Class is 170,000 Avios.

A return off-peak upgrade would therefore cost:

  • 32,500 Avios from World Traveller to World Traveller Plus
  • 60,000 Avios from WTP to Club World
  • 45,000 Avios from Club World to First

Here is the major irony in the new pricing scheme.  Upgrading to Club World on off-peak days costs MORE than upgrading on peak days! 

Let’s look at the same exercise again using Peak pricing.  A return upgrade would cost:

  • 50,000 Avios from World Traveller to World Traveller Plus
  • 50,000 Avios from WTP to Club World
  • 50,000 Avios from Club World to First

There will be some additional taxes to pay when you upgrade – the fuel surcharge is slightly higher for Club World compared to World Traveller Plus – but these are not substantial.  You will also be asked to pay an additional sum if taxes have gone up between the day you originally booked and the day you do the upgrade.

Whilst not as good a deal as they were, there is still value to be had here.  Let’s imagine that the typical price gap between World Traveller Plus and Club World is £1,000.  This means that you would be getting between 1.66p and 2p per Avios point of value using the San Francisco example.  This is a far better return than you get from an ‘all Avios’ redemption.

And, of course, you will earn back a large percentage of the Avios points you spend on the upgrade when you take the flight, because your underlying flight still qualifies for Avios and tier points!

Can I upgrade flights on other airlines using Avios?

Yes.  You can upgrade American Airlines and Iberia flights using Avios IF you booked the ticket via British Airways.  For economy flights, you need to be holding a fully flexible economy ticket (Y or B class).  Remember that neither AA or Iberia has a premium economy cabin so you will be upgrading directly into Business Class.

Iberia does not have First Class so you cannot upgrade from Business.  American Airlines has international First Class on a limited number of routes but you MUST be holding a fully flexible (J, C or D class) ticket.

Conclusion

As you can see, MFU / Upgrade Using Avios offers good value for your points – it is just a shame that discounted Economy tickets do not (yet) qualify. It is also a very efficient way to redeem your Avios if you only collect, say, 50,000 per year.

PS.  It is also possible to use American Airlines miles to upgrade British Airways flights, under certain circumstances.  This article explains how to do that.

British Airways launches new service to Lima!
Bits: Tesco grocery code, hotels.com sale, Delta reward sale, £10 Bentalls / Amex deal
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Comments

  1. “Only collect 50k avios per year” – this might be an idea for a future article, but would it be worth looking at different collection/redemption strategies (inc best credit cards etc) for people who are likely to collect varying amounts over a year?

    Although I’ve been collecting points in the background for a few years I’m only just starting to take it “seriously” and made our first redemption a couple of months ago. Realistically I wouldn’t expect to earn more than 30-40k/year at the moment dependent on sign up bonuses… our strategy will be very different to someone that might earn 200k/year

    • One Amex Gold application per year for you and your husband is 51,000 Avios! I refer you for 22,000 points, you refer your partner for 9,000 points, partner gets 22,000 for signing up. Cancel both cards after a while to restart the clock on getting the bonuses again 6 months later. Repeat with BA or SPG Amex ….

      • MattChaps says:

        Quick question on that Rob. I have the gold, about to refer the wife… If I cancel mine, presumably I need to transfer the MR out first? Or is there a way to keep them somewhere before deciding which scheme to redeem on?

    • If you only earn 30-40K per year, i’d use them for European RFS at first, not everyone can spend enough to get too many signup bonuses.

      If you can afford £3000 per year for two ex-EU round trips these will get 15-20K avios each (post-deval) and they will get you to silver which will also boost your earnings a bit after year 1.

      • JQ, am a bit confused here. Once we obtain silver now next month, when our TP year ends next sept, do we retain silver then for one more year, ie like the gold soft landing, retain silver for the next year? Or do we go back to 0 again? I hoped we retained it for a further year ? Help anyone?

        • When you attain a new tier in BAEC you retain that for the remainder of that TP year and then also for the whole of the following year. The TPs don’t reset until the end of each year so if you accrue more you can move up to the next level. When you get Silver or Gold you’ll then get a soft landing(s) the year(s) following your full year of whatever status you acheived.

          • Thank you…I guessed that, but thought my silver would drop to bronze, now I understand from this, that I get to stay with silver for the second year? Our first time on silver BA as had the marco polo and status match before. Just checking before we commit the miles and TPs to BA next month.

          • Yes, so basically if your year ends on 30 Sept, it would really be better to earn the TPs after that. If you earned 600 TPs in October 2015 then stopped flying BA, your silver would last until September 2017 then bronze until Sep 2018.

            If you earn 600 TPs in Sep 2015 your silver would only last until Sep 2016

          • Tnx JQ and Alan, our TP year ended this month, we fly end of sept so perfect timing, great to have that clarified, as my MP card ends in sept so it takes the pressure off to status match.

          • Fantastic, enjoy the new status!

  2. The value judgment must incorporate the cost of the original revenue flight otherwise it is meaningless excepr for those who must fly BA , or for whatever reason will only do so. Therein is the problem: BA is generally comparatively more expensive across all classes than most of their longhaul competitors. In particular WTP fares are ridiculous, often costing more than J class on many competitors. Therefore, it is usually better just to save the avios for another day, pay cash and bank avios and TPs with a partner, or some other reward currency with another airline. Despite all that UUA can still work if you can pick up a peach of a fare in WTP or CW during a sale. For example I got a rtn KUL-GLA for £904 all 8n WTP-CW UUA prwdaluation in a sale last winter for next month.

  3. avidsaver says:

    Hi Rob
    Great to have updates to the Avios University series – thank you. With regard to the San Fransisco (zone 6) example I think the World Traveller Off Peak price should read 32500 not 33000 making the upgrade to World Traveller Plus 32500 not 32000. Apologies if I’m wrong.

  4. Recently booked YYZ-LHR and back in CW using a Lloyds upgrade voucher. I tried to UuA on the BA site but it said that it’s not possible – any idea why? Not a huge deal, happy enough in CW, but it’d be nice to try BA F!

  5. Matt. Think because it’s an avios upgrade ticket only. The fare can only be nought with avios, and the higher grade seat need only be available when you book. So worth a call to avios. They may not allow you a second upgrade, as they may class it like that. This is fairly new, and people are only using them recently. So any feedback from you would be useful. F is a great experience so worth trying to aim for it, if you can.

  6. cheekychappie says:

    BA could change the rules to allow a ‘double upgrade’ eg from economy to business.

    Or even a ‘triple upgrade’ to first.

    Obviously for an appropriately higher cost in Avios.

    Fixed.

    • Genius! Let’s start a campaign in our survey emails they frequently send us. I tend to ignore them but the odd time will complete one. Wonder if they even bother to read them. But perhaps if enough people start requesting a double upgrade, they might concede. After all they had huge full page ads the week before last in the TIMES encouraging folks to use up their avios! This would be a perfect way to use them.

      • cheekychappie says:

        heh heh!

        Surely they & we all want the same thing, ie motivated loyal custom for great rewards.

        They’re using often dead space/ empty seats that have no value unless filled, hence the attraction to them & the value to us.

        The ‘only 1 class of seat upgrade’ rule seems a bit pointless, they need us to use up our Avios, they can fill unused seats worth/ costing nothing except a tiny bit of aviation fuel & service/ trolley dolly cost; we’d love it & become more positive about BA.

        Yet denying a double/ triple upgrade stops both sides ending up with a win: win :)

        • We need to get Raffles on board with this as great things arise out of small ideas! Who knows, they want those avios used up, somehow! And it is only using a bit of fuel and food, hey, what’s to lose? Rob, what you think?

          • cheekychappie says:

            Since Avios points sit on the B/S, they have a very real value.

            The budget airlines have a much better model in terms of load factoring.

            Rubbish accounting @ BA?

            Every empty Avios seat, in every class, is an opportunity foregone, a cost absorbed, a profit declined – yes, a real decision by Mgt to say no to our money.

          • If I ran BAEC, I would make Avios availability equal to I / R class – ie if you can buy a cheap non-refundable Club World seat then you can get an Avios seat. If you look at the maths, it makes sense. BA is selling LA out of Dublin for £1,100 in CW whilst an Avios redemption is £550 tax plus 150,000 Avios on a peak day. That MUST, on an accounting basis, be equivalent to the same thing even if the cash that comes in is less.

          • BA must definitely have Saver and “Extra” award pricing, as it works for many other airlines (AA, Alaska, Singapore). 2 seats per flight availability must apply to Saver level.

            Those with extra Avios will book “Extra” pricing and will not take all seats away from a leisure traveller/one redemption per 1-2 years whom as of now, BA successfully dumped. People who accumulated Avios balances into 300-400k have vested interest to watch for redemptions from T+355 regularly.

            But wait, with these ridiculous numbers of Avios required for CW today, redemptions at “Extra” level will run into BIG numbers. If peak redemption to SFO is 150,000 Avios in CW, the proposed “Extra” level could be 230-250,000.
            Avios-rich people would still bite the bullet (better than nothing).

            “Every empty Avios seat, in every class, is an opportunity foregone, a cost absorbed, a profit declined.”

            They should have this scribed in gold, on the building.

  7. Regarding the upgrade of tickets issued by a travel agent, I’d like to share an unfortunate experience. A couple of years ago, I had a Y or B work flight I wanted to upgrade to WTP. I monitored ba.com for a week before departure and finally rewards availability opened up. So I happily clicked “Upgrade using Avios”, only to be told that there was no credit card associated with the booking, so it couldn’t charge the extra taxes! I called the BA service center which was extremely busy at that point, and by the time I got through all the redemption seats were gone :-(

    It may be that these days, ba.com will ask for credit card details instead of blocking the upgrade. But better safe than sorry: my advice would be, phone BA as soon as you have your ticket and check that the booking has your credit card details.

  8. The best value I found with this is booking a WTP upgrade one way from London to New York. Booking the non upgrade leg with Iberia or American which don’t have the premium economy option lets you choose to travel in standard economy and save a lot of money. For around £700 return with one way in club I personally think this is the best way to experience long hall business if you don’t have millions of points

  9. “On a multi-flight ticket, you can upgrade legs one at a time as availability comes.”

    From experience, note that if you’re ticketed on BA15 LHR-SIN-SYD or BA16 SYD-SIN-LHR, flying through on the continuing service, then availability must be there for both legs. If just one of the two legs is available for upgrade you will not be able to grab it. If you’re breaking the journey, either with a night stop or switching between BA11/12, then it would be possible.

  10. For someone who, when booking a cash ticket, would usually only pay for basic economy due to cost, but would be prepared to try WTP with a view to using Avios to upgrade, how to mitigate the risk of committing to WTP only to find there is no availability to upgrade to CW ? Is there any way of checking upgrade availibility before purchase?

    • Yes, you can find upgrade availability if you key in a dummy purchase UUA ticket at WTP, then if CW is available, it will show as your automatic ticket option. I often do this for my OH biz trips. You can play around with dates, it gives you CW availability for the whole month anyway.

  11. Is there any way around the rule baring upgrades on class O (deep discount economy) tickets? Will they do it “day of?” Has anyone had any luck?

  12. Can you Upgrade a BA issued ticket from Business Class (I) to First (A) class using Avios on American Airlines Transcontinental flights JFK-LAX?

  13. Sammy Michaels says:

    Avios and BA are the worst when it comes to frequent traveler loyalty. I can never find available seats using Avios points– unlike United or Emirates which will always release available seats, BA won’t make an effort even for Emerald (Gold) members. And they arbitrarily cancel your flights and make you pursue them for years before providing compensation. And they will wrongfully deny your Avios points and Tier points and gleefully acknowledge their error– but not make an effort to correct it. No wonder they rank at the bottom of airline and frequent traveler program rankings, and we read press articles about how filthy their planes are. Shame.