Finally … upgrade discounted economy BA flights using Avios (but there’s a snag)

When British Airways ‘enhanced’ the Avios scheme last April, one of the carrots dangled at members was the expansion in 2016 of ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ to discounted economy flights.

Historically, you could only use Avios to upgrade flexible World Traveller or Euro Traveller economy tickets.  If you were spending your own money, it is very unlikely that you would be buying these.

There is now some good news:

With immediate effect, you can use Avios to upgrade cash bookings made in K, M, V, L, S and N class on British Airways operated flights.  This covers more economy fare classes than previously.

Here is the bad news:

It does not cover O, G and Q.  These are the cheapest economy ticket buckets.

You also need to remember that upgrades use the same reward availability as Avios redemption tickets.  If you cannot book an Avios redemption in the higher class, you won’t be able to upgrade your ticket either.

British Airways

What does this mean to me?

On ba.com, you can see your ‘ticket bucket’ by clicking on the flight number during the booking process.  It will say something like ‘Economy selling class: Q’.

Let’s take Amsterdam as an example.

Any Euro Traveller ticket which only earns 125 Avios each way is in O, G or Q ticket bucket.  You still cannot upgrade this ticket.

However, tickets which earn 250 Avios each way do now qualify.

Full fare tickets, earning 500 Avios each way, have always qualified for an upgrade and will continue to do so.

Annoyingly, ba.com does not have the functionality to sell you a ticket in the cheapest qualifying ticket bucket.  Some people would be willing to pay, say, an extra £50 for a seat in a higher ticket class in order to upgrade it.  Online, you are only offered the choice of ‘fully flexible’ or ‘inflexible’ so you would need to call and pay the telephone booking fee to get the ticket type you want.

This is, frankly, a bit poor.  In the past, the price cap between discounted economy and upgradable fully flexible tickets was substantial.  No-one would buy one purely to be able to upgrade.  That is not the case now – the price gap could be as little as £100 on a long-haul ticket – but it is very difficult to find out the cost of the ticket you would need to buy.

What does it cost to upgrade?

To quote from ba.com:

The Avios amount required for the upgrade is based on the Avios costs for reward flights in the cabins you are upgrading from and to and will depend on whether your flight is scheduled on a peak or off-peak date.

The formula is:

Avios for the cabin you wish to upgrade to Avios for the cabin you make your booking in = Avios required to upgrade one way

Here’s an example for a peak one-way upgrade from London to New York, upgrading from premium economy (World Traveller Plus) to business (Club World):

Club World: 60,000 Avios World Traveller Plus: 40,000 Avios = 20,000 Avios to upgrade

And anyway ….

On long-haul, World Traveller upgrades would only get you into World Traveller Plus.  This is a very small cabin and a very popular cabin, and it isn’t easy to find Avios reward space.  Even if your ticket does qualify for an upgrade, your chance of finding a seat will not be great.

World Traveller Plus also attracts the higher rate of Air Passenger Duty so there would be additional tax to pay.

All in all, I find it hard to decide whether I am in favour of this change of not:

Some people, who expected to be able to upgrade heavily discounted economy tickets from 2016, will be annoyed to find that they cannot

For the general public buying their own tickets far in advance, it is possible that they will never buy a ticket that is upgradable – let alone find that reward upgrade space is also there

Allowing more people upgrade using Avios means less Avios seats available for redemptions, as availability comes from the same pot

You can find our more about ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ on ba.com here.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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Comments

  1. Peaceful Waters says:

    It feels like they’ve gone back on their implied promise.

    • My understanding is that the ‘promise’ was to expand ability to upgrade using avios to more fare classes. I don’t think it was ever said it would be all tickets in economy. Besides which, this information was released last month and not many people have complained on FT which suggests that they haven’t, at least not at I have read.

      • To add to the above. The following was issued by BA on the day the planned changes were announced.

        By the end of the year, you will be able to upgrade using Avios from more World Traveller and Euro Traveller commercial booking classes than today. That means there will be more opportunities to upgrade than ever before and we will of course be back in touch with you later in the year to let you know exactly when this will become available.

        They have added more. They never said all.

      • I agree, it was never likely to be expanded to all classes but BA did raise expectations.

        • When? The extract quoted could barely be any clearer that it wouldn’t be every booking class. Did they make off the cuff remarks implying otherwise?

  2. Rob, to be fair to BA they have never charged me the telephone booking fee for anything I could not do online therefore I would imagine if you wanted to book a different fare bucket they would allow this without adding the fee. It would be stupid if they didn’t because the passenger could just walk away from a more lucrative ticket sale. What I cannot fathom is the popularity of WTP, particularly given what it costs whether revenue or redemption.

    There still seems to be no word on that other famous 2015 carrot – the promised spire elite benefits coming in 2016, I feel conned by this!

    • I don’t really know why people were expecting great things of Spire. A vague promise of benefits shouldn’t have been enough to encourage people to alter their stay habits in the expectation of getting said vague benefits. Therefore, had IHG really had something decent in mind, they would have said so.

      If I were you, I’d stick to Accor and Hilton, where benefits are real and the hotels are no worse and, in many cases, substantially better.

      • I wasn’t expecting Brian, just hoping (for free breakfast in particular). I used miles from Virgin to gain spire as these were of limitted value to me after the demise of little red so no great loss. I didn’t change my booking habits as a result. I used to favour IHG but in the past year have swung towards Accor and Hilton in Asia. Unless spire gets more rewarding than it is then IHG are unlikely to get that business back.

        • All I’ve had is a thin Spire “catalogue” of items for which you can redeem points. This is it. I’m not realistically expecting any more. I’ve not heard anyone else mention this.

    • I’ve just left the IC HK and got an upgraded room, two free drinks vouchers, late check out until 6pm, and free fruit in the room, all for being Spire Elite.

      • That’s what you might well have got for being Platinum. I’ve stayed at the IC Mark Hopkins in San Francisco twice, once as a Platinum, once as a Gold, both times using points. Both times, I got an upgrade to a corner room with a view, free drinks vouchers, late check-out and chocolates. The upgrade I got as a Gold member was better than the one I got as a Platinum.

        In other words, I don’t see any difference between what people are being offered as Spire and what people were being offered as Platinum (or sometimes Gold). As long as there are no STATED benefits, as with Hilton, Marriott or Accor, then it’s a bit pointless.

        • Agreed, only point for me was the 25k bonus and getting some value from Virgin miles at a time when a devaluation seemed likely.

      • I’m only Plat but in the CP Heathrow I got 2 free drink vouchers, 600 welcome points, upgrade to club room, lounge access, 2 buffet breakfasts and the £15 parking fee waived.

    • I use premium economy for holidays when I can not afford business class or get a redemption. I can not face being rammed down the back. BA WTP however is a very poor product and having used it a couple of times I now focus on virgin and air France premium economy, the latter let’s you use air France lounges for an additional fee.

      • I agree it’s better than being stuck in WT, I’m just surprised the price and tax is palatable. I’venever tried it but for daytime flights I believe I could live with it were the price right. Thanks fr tip on AF, may explore that in the future.

  3. Firstly BA.com really is not fit for purpose. Over the weekend flights bootable on AA.com, and most on line travel agents could not be booked on BA. Com.
    The call centre could not not rreplicate either trying to charge almost double what AA.com was charging.
    World traveller is not a product I would choose to buy from BA and certainly would never consider WT+. BAs premium products are pretty poor compared to the competition and it is a stretch of the imagination to think that economy could be a world beater.

    Agree the bigger issue is Spire Elite benefits.

    • What is spire elite?

    • I found a big issue with looking for redemption flights on BA a few days ago, for a direct search there was no availability. Then when using the availability calendar they would show up! Turns out there is/was a bug when using Safari, when using Chrome no problems at all.

    • I might have agreed with you until Monday but having just experied the worst business class trip in my life on Etihad from BKK-EDI that night I found myself longing for CW!

      • What happened on your flight?

        • BKK-AUH the food was inedible and level of service was poor, arrival was a bus gate. At AUH departure 7 was again a bus gate, they held a few of us business class passengers back at the gate until all of the economy class passengers were boarded, we were finally shepherded onto the bus and not all of us got a seat. No welcome drink or newspaper offered onboard. Declined dinner due to late hour. After dinner service virtually fisappeared excepting a hot towel midflight! No snacks or beverages were offered, and unlike my previous flight on this route no breakfast was offered prearrival. Toilets were clean on departure but rapidly became disgusting as they were not serviced by the crew.

  4. Do you get tier points / avios for the original booking or for the upgraded seat?

  5. OT:
    How do I book and earn avios on vueling?
    When I search on BA/Iberia they Dont offer direct flights MAN to BCN, only indirect BA flights.

    • I would be careful with getting Avios via Vueling, according to a recent experience it can only be done through IB Plus not through BA. I had flight booked through BA that was sold as an IB leg but operated by Vueling and was unable to collect any Avios or TP on BA EC.

      Their poor recommendation was that I get an IB Plus account… seriously. Also this was a Club fare and I was not allowed lounge access or use of other premium facilities, again unless I was an IB Plus (Emerald/Sapphire) BA at the same level was useless.

      • How is that a poor recommendation? You want Avios for a Vueling flight and they told you how to get them…

  6. Metatone says:

    I think general agreement is that the big snag is that WTP isn’t really worth the money or even the upgrade Avios except in very particular circumstances. And that class of seats is noticeably more worthwhile on some competitors.

    However, this does bring up the question – is this more useful in short-haul, where there isn’t some imposter class lurking between Euro Traveller and Club Europe? Although Club Europe seats don’t seem worth the bother, since I don’t have status at the moment the extra baggage and priority checkin can be useful sometimes.

    • As far as I’m concerned, the only real use will be short haul when my wifes bank books her into a mid-range price bracket as often happens with fairly short notice trips.

  7. Isn’t there a search option to ‘book with cash and upgrade with Avios’ so you can do the whole thing in one transaction? That might let you select the correct booking class.

    • That’s a very good point. I did a dummy booking to Nice and it works fine. A “lowest price” cash booking for the dates I chose works out at £225 (booking class N outbound / Q inbound). A “lowest price earning full tier points” cash booking is £696 (H outbound and inbound). When using “book with cash and upgrade with Avios”, it’s £275 (+ 8250 avios) – so it looks like it’s using the cheapest possible booking class. Thanks for the heads-up!

      • For Nice I think you would want to stick with a RFS wouldn’t you? (return @ 18000 Avios + £ 50.00)

        • Certainly at that price; it was really an experiment to check if “book with cash and upgrade with Avios” does the right thing, and that seems to be the case.

  8. Richmond says:

    Unfortunately it’s not possible to upgrade some booking online, I just checked my complicated route including other airline and I will have to call BA to upgrade a few segments in S class. There’s avios availability no problem.

  9. Is there a clear comparison somewhere between full redemptions and purchase and upgrade flights? Eg. Am I better to buy cheap WT flights and upgrade them rather than a full WTP redemption? I’m thinking about the value of an Avios here, so there might not be a one size fits all rule, as you may pay more cash with an upgrade route, but then you earn avios and tier points, etc.

    OT: are tier points earnt on redemption flights?

    • Things get complicated with the recent offers of using Avios as part-cash pay for the flights.

      The scale changes and sometimes it’s now better to utilise Avios that way.

  10. Richmond says:

    “OT: are tier points earnt on redemption flights?”

    No.

  11. That is not the case now – the price gap could be as little as £100 on a long-haul ticket – but it is very difficult to find out the cost of the ticket you would need to buy.

    Ita Matrix

    /f bc=n

    Amex travel will show the booking class on the screen – saves having to click on ba.con

  12. Ludicrous says:

    One way that I’ve found “book with cash, upgrade with Avios” to be useful is to book one way in Premium Economy and upgrade to Club World for 24,000 Avios and fly the other direction in Economy, the BA website allows you to do this, as long as the Economy leg isn’t on BA and on an airline that doesn’t offer the Premium Economy cabin.

    Found an example in May flying LHR-JFK on American in economy then returning on BA in Club (upgraded from PE) for £749 & 24,000 Avios, which I feel is good value, as it was almost £1000 if you did PE both ways and would cost £345 plus 50,000 for a normal reward flight, plus you’d need to get back (or nearly £800 one way with 25,000 Avios). One downside is that I’ve read that American are introducing PE on transatlantic flights soon.

    I’ve never understood the attraction of Premium Economy personally, I’ve never walked through the plane to Economy and thought “I wish I’d paid twice the money and could sit here”

    • Richmond says:

      WTP is better than WT but not necessary worth the price difference. I hope BA will upgrade me again, like it happened before.

      • Ludicrous says:

        Exactly, I’d rather use the money saved on a nicer hotel or travelling for longer. The Air New Zealand premium economy that was featured on here a short while ago could arguably be worth it, especially that on their flights it will be likely to be over 10 hours (I also have read that when American introduce it, theirs will be similar to US domestic first class) but doubling the price of a cash ticket on BA to the US East Coast doesn’t seem worth it to me.

        • Depends how tall you are – being over 6′ I’m just not doing Y for anything over 3 hours. Virgin Y+ is comfortable enough to get to the States/Caribbean which has the same pitch as WT+ which I have never used – just CW.

          • Sussex Bantam says:

            I have to agree. For long haul flights WT us horrible, WT+ is a significant step up. When travelling with a family it is worth the extra cost to put us all in WT+ – it is not worth the premium to put us all in CW !

          • Being 6-1 I fInd WT+ for both day and night flights is a lifesaver compared to WT. The level of comfort means I can stretch out and rest. Smaller quieter cabin is good too.

            Would I rather be in CW? Of course! Can I afford to be – not all the time! Will my work pay for it – No. Not even for flying to Tokyo for Execs

      • If you pay for WTP your chance of a Club World upgrade isn’t bad though ….

  13. I’ve long held that Premium Economy is the feared enemy of the upgrader. Once an airline implements P/E, there’s no upgrade route from economy to business. I am for this change, but only because additional options are a good thing.

    • Virgin allow you to upgrade from economy to upper class. Surely they can’t be the only airline to offer a 2 class upgrade?

  14. Does this work for to go from semi-cheap WT into CW on mid-haul?

    • The newer WT+ Seat on BA is a definite improvement on the older one, but the main reason using it for many people incl. myself is our workplace travel policy- no business class travel allowed and PE acceptable if over 5hrs flight time. Very unlikely I would pay out of my own money for BA’s WT+ unless price difference between WT is v. small or there is Avios availability in CW.

  15. Simon Schus says:

    Hi all,

    Does anybody know if there will be a Virgin redemption sale coming up in January. I feel like there has been one in January for the past two years that I’ve used. The last January one was here:
    http://www.headforpoints.com/2015/01/08/virgin-flying-club-reward-seat-sale-25-off/

    Simon :)

  16. My Flights keeps saving the day, as BA changes the aircrafts for the European short-haul a few days ahead to manage demand, say, from A320 to A321 (or back).

  17. headformiles says:

    Booked economy BRU – HKG on expedia, class N, how do you go about upgrading to WTP? if possible?

    The original seat is getting around 13k avios for return

    • Go into Manage My Booking on ba.com, you can try from there.

      • headformiles says:

        Sorry, it is not possible to change this booking on ba.com. Please contact your booking/travel agent.

        Expedia booking I suspect.

        • Did anyone have any success upgrading travel agent bookings on BA. I doubt my agent will be able to do it as its avios?

  18. kilburnflyer says:

    Anyone know about economy upgrade eligibility for BA Codeshares? eg: K class fare on BA4136 SYD-HKG, operated by Cathay Pacific. Supposed to be a good W product and prob worth the 16K Avios to upgrade (off-peak).

  19. I tried to upgrade from economy (N) to business using Avios yesterday and called the Silver line. I had bought the ticket for cash. The guy on the phone told me the change for Avios upgrades including N has been put back and he did not seem to have a start date for the change. Have I missed something ?