What BA economy tickets can be upgraded using Avios?

This article is part of our unofficial ‘how to’ series that we have been running during August for the benefit of recently joined readers.

When British Airways ‘enhanced’ the Avios scheme in 2015, one of the carrots dangled at members to soften the blow of devaluation was the expansion 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.

In January 2016, we had some good news.

You could now 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 was the bad news:

It did not cover O, G and Q fare classes.  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 have been upgradable for the last 20 months.

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

ba.com, once you are logged in, has the ‘Book with money, upgrade with Avios’ booking option which allows the system to show the cheapest ticket in a suitable ticket bucket.

If your ticket has been booked by a travel agent, including a corporate travel agent, it can still be upgraded.   This is rarely possibly via ‘Manage My Booking’ on ba.com – it will usually throw up an error message just before the payment page – but can done be done via the call centre.

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 economy (World Traveller) to premium economy (World Traveller Plus):

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

And anyway ….

On long-haul, World Traveller upgrades would only get you into World Traveller Plus because you can only upgrade by one cabin (unlike Virgin Atlantic which allows multi-cabin upgrades).  World Traveller Plus 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.

At the end of day, for the general public buying their own tickets far in advance, it is possible – due to the fare bucket – that they will never buy a ticket that is upgradable, let alone find that reward upgrade space is also there.

It does work for a small number of people, mainly those on expensive corporate tickets which are flexible / refundable, but BA should not really be advertising the ability to upgrade economy tickets as a benefit for the average Avios collector, because it isn’t.

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.)

How to do a hotel mattress run - and what can go wrong
Bits: American drops Manchester-New York, Emirates launches 50% off economy reward sale
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.


  1. Anyone care to comment on upgrading tickets bought by a travel agent? I’ve had numerous different explanations about whether these can be upgraded. BA says the agent needs to ‘release’ or ‘publish’ the fare before they can upgrade it… I’ve no idea what this means. Even YBM economy fares can’t be upgraded via MMB if bought through a TA.

    • Until 24 hours before departure, the TA ‘controls’ the booking and BA has little ability to change it. However, it can be upgraded by phone in theory – how this gets around the ‘release’ issue I don’t know.

      • FIRSTclstraveller says:

        Tried to upgrade a WTP ticket booked through a travel agent and was refused by BA claiming it wasn’t a ‘published’ fare. Very frustrating. Apparently there is no way (for the public – and travel agent as well allegedly) to work out if it’s ‘published’ or not?!

        • If the public can book it, it is ‘published’. Your TA has (probably) ripped you off by charging you the same price showing on ba.com but actually buying you a far cheaper ticket not available to the general public, pocketing the difference.

  2. Jimmyjimmy says:

    On that topic, when searching on Skyscanner I often see lower fares from online TA such as Netflighs, Mytrip etc compared to booking direct with airline.
    Does anyone have experience with these? I assume you still get tier points and Avios (or whatever programme) and status is honoured.

    • Alex Mcphee says:

      I’ve always preferred booking direct. BA used to have a price promise that I have used successfully in the past though (they matched an Omega Flight store fare that I had found using Skyscanner)

    • Yes you do. However, if you take plenty of screenshots etc and then purchase through BA you can claim the difference from them retrospectively…but please read the rules on BA price promise on their website..

    • Yes, you still get the points – it is the opposite of what happens if you book hotels via third party sites.

  3. Edinrob says:

    I have an interesting scenario – booked a cheap BA holiday to Orlando from Edinburgh with the compensation from the disruption back in May.

    The outbound and longhaul invound flights booked into O class hence can’t be upgraded, however the final domestic flight (LHR to EDI has booked into V class, hence my understanding is that this can be upgraded to club Europe (to gain a few extra tier points).

    There is still availability to do this but when I called BA they advised that whilst it is V class the ticket is ‘married’ and therefore in order to do the upgrade with Avios I need to pay a change fee to make the ticket one that can be upgraded – this doesn’t quite seem right and goes against what is on their website and in your article.

    I was only expecting to pay c. £26 extra in tax (for 2 people) and 4500 Avios each.

    Any views?

  4. Matthew says:

    Sorry for an early morning OT – I’ve got quite a substantial sum to be putting through a credit card very soon but only via a visa/Mastercard rather than an Amex. Any suggestions which card I should get/use for this spend? I currently have the lloyds avios cards and Tesco clubcard credit card but happy to consider a new non Amex one. Thanks 🙂

  5. Mum’s booked in T class currently for LGW-MCO & FLL-LGW. Is that an upgradeable fare class?

  6. On a related topic, my wife has on a couple of occasions booked the lowest cost economy HBO fare but accepted an OLCI offer to pay (not use Avios) to upgrade to CE. Tier points and Avios post OK to her account but she has endless hassle at the airport if she wants to check in a bag. I believe I’m right in saying that travelling in CE means you can check in a bag free of charge, full stop. For some reason there is always trouble at the airport though.

    • It should say in the MMB section what the baggage allowance is. It’s worth printing it off and taking it to the airport.

  7. Neil Macdonald says:

    I have achieved BA Gold twice by flying a huge amount in the last four years, always in WT+. I have never once been able to upgrade to Club. On many flights, there are clearly plenty of empty seats in Club, yet BA absolutely refuse to allow any Avios upgrade to these seats. Compare and contrast with other airlines. My US based colleague almost always is able to upgrade on United.

    The BA Avios system is a smoke and mirrors con. There’s virtually zero redemption available, and when you can get WT longhaul seats the taxes mean you pay almost the same as a standard economy ticket.

    I committed heavily to BA thinking status and points meant I would be able to upgrade, however it’s unicorm marketing, those opportunities simply don’t exist.

    (I am leaving out the fact that I can open up seats due to my Gold status. The redemption is DOUBLE, as I accumulate via WT+ I simply don’t have enough Avios).

    • So what’s the solution? I’m committed to BA with about 2 million Avios, but you make some good points here – is there another worthwhile UK-based airline with a global network that BA customers should switch to? Virgin is too transatlantic for my travel, so I’m unsure whether there are any real alternatives to BA other than splitting miles across lots of different airlines.

      • Virgin has just announced a partnership with Air France / KLM which will let you redeem on those two airlines from late 2018 / 2019. This is a game changer, unless the rates are stupid.

    • Don’t redeem for long-haul economy. However, short-haul economy is good value – you’ll get 1p per Avios most of the time. Short-haul Club, long-haul WTP, CW and First are also decent value – just avoid economy long-haul redemptions!

      The idea you can’t get the seats is nonsense, you just need to be flexible. We did an Asia tour at Easter for example. Couldn’t get seats to Tokyo so flew to Hong Kong, did a few days there then did a JAL redemption to Tokyo. Couldn’t get back so did a JAL to Beijing, saw a friend of my wifes then flew home from there.

      Alternatively, wait until BA announces new routes, or new flights on existing routes – which we always cover on here – and you’ll see Avios seats literally every day opened up. You can jump in and take your pick.

      • I’ve just booked CW seats out to Washington DC for next August (I.e. peak season) for 3 of us. Taxes from MAN-LON-WAS we’re £1129, or around the price of one CW seat. I think that’s a bargain!

        • The “free” (avios-wise”) connecting flight is in CE which is added value of 27000 avios.

    • The US FF programmes have a different emphasis though – upgrades are a core part of them (although judging by the US blogs they’re getting more difficult to obtain), whereas with the European ones the focus tends to be more on lounge access. I’ve upgraded WTP to CW before, but always did it at time of booking rather than trying to do so later – not as good value as it used to be though.

      • Basically in the US it is seen as immoral if premium seats are left empty. Elsewhere having unsold seats in the cabin is seen as OK and beneficial to those who paid to be there.

        • Indeed, I loved it when I had the entirety of SQ Suites Class to myself on a SIN-AKL redemption! 😛

  8. OT booked the ‘drop and ride’ option for Terminal 5 on Good to Go Parking. Can someone please confirm if this is the same car park as T5 Long stay (agent says it is) but the directions on email send me to sanctuary road near animal reception centre! Thanks

    • Used this service recently and it was excellent. You do not drop the car at a Heathrow car park, instead you drop it off opposite the animal reception center. I assume that they then move it to which ever official heathrow car park that has space.

      When we dropped off the car they got a minibus ready straight away so we had our own private transfer. It was the same on the way back. So although it might take a little longer than dropping it off at the terminal, the cheaper price makes it excellent value.

  9. Be careful with S class – it is definitely possible, and I’ve done it before, but numerous agents have told me I can’t and I’ve often had to call back to do it.

  10. Beatrix says:

    Wonder why this website not promoting so much on cheap flights – business or economy as it used to?
    We booked some extremely cheap
    business class before with HFP and find the heads up extremely useful.
    Has there been a change of strategy and marketing with HFP recently?

    • We did the £400 World Traveller Plus deals to Dubai over the weekend. The Virgin sale had a big push the other day. In general we leave economy sales alone and we leave “not really available to buy, just put on the market to generate headlines” sales alone, where it seems the airline has literally put up 50 tickets at a certain price.

      We have substantially increased our coverage of business class fare deals over the last couple of years, because it is stupid paying £500 taxes for a Club World Avios redemption if you can buy a cash seat for £1500.

      If you see a sale you think we’ve missed, send over a link and we’ll take a look. The current Etihad sale, for example, is not hugely interesting when you actually look at the prices.

      • For myself, I find that being able to fly club class for £500 ( taxes) using avios is worthwhile. I earn a very average wage so “saving” £1000 each is the only way I can afford to travel this way.

        • +1, see my comment above re next August!

        • Roberto says:

          I agree, and if there is two of you then that doubled your “saving” by buying an award over a cash fare.. Miles are easier to come by than wages and I wont be spending my way to gold. For me as a semi-permanent silver I get the best of both with OW in that I get all the lounge/seating perks but don’t have to spend money to chase TP’s. I fly First and (LH) Club generally on awards 2 or 3 times a year and SH maybe 20 times ( mostly on BA or Iberia ).

          I would rather burn a 241 and spend a grand than spend three grand to earn avios and more TP that I dont really need.

          Also as a silver if I see a great deal on another carrier I feel free to take it as I know (a) I already have silver, (b) I am not missing out on the TP (as I wont get to gold) and (c) I dont feel obligated to stick with OW now I have reached silver.

          And lastly I view an award ticket as a ” fully flexible” ticket and you cant buy them in club for £1500 either.

        • johnny_c-l says:

          Yes I feel similarly to this LB.

          I’ve recently booked CW longhaul for £500 but consider this reasonable value even though I could get a cash ticket for < £1,500. In reality I wouldn't want to spend that much cash on this trip, so view the Avios as having got me CW for the same price as WT (regardless of pence per mile valuation).

    • Plenty of other OW J sales posted here, esp lucrative if you are prepared to go EX EU on QR. If we happen to know about a QR J sale before Rob, we send it over. Or l have even posted it here as soon as l got it. We have cancelled our 241 a couple of times to KUL, as we managed to get QR J from CPH or AMS for under £900. In fact our next QR sale tkt is from HEL to HKT in NOV for £960 pp. def worth buying at that price. This will also give us almost Silver, with our 4 BA sectors flown. HEL is not the prettiest place, but we love the evening city visit, cold, but tolerable.
      So, no change in policy, just other possibly non relevant, non OW airline sales ATM.
      OTOH an F 241 redemption to Asia if fab value with only the fees to pay. If only we could get to OZ!

  11. Sorry for been a little OT. I have to fly to JNB next week and am trying to keep the price down as I need the space of WT+ but the wallet of WT. For info I have a knee injury that I am waiting to see a specialist about
    So, Can I ask if the ‘Flight and Car Hire’ method still works if you ‘forget’ to collect your car at the the other end?? The discount is fairly good, but I just want to check that you do not have to collect the car (unofficially)

  12. Chelseafi says:

    O/T. I want to transfer MP to SPG for 1st time but I keep getting error message when I add my current SPG account details, I then registered for SPG on the Amex MP transfer page and got email confirming all set up ready for my points transfer but it is giving me a new/different SPG account no, I don’t want to transfer to SPG if I don’t know the new account details it has set up?? Am I doing something obvious. The problem is Id rather not call as I’m managing my OH account and he would need to call. I also want to get it done and cancel the card ASAP. Any advice thanks

    • Genghis says:

      Put (I think and I misquoted the other day) four zeros before your existing SPG number and the accounts should link. I wouldn’t bother with a new one. Too much hassle.

      • Chelseafi says:

        It now won’t let me try to add my existing account states – This activity is currently unavailable, we apologise for any inconvenience caused. But if I click Hilton for example it comes up with form to complete – annoying

      • Chelseafi says:

        Thank you as always correct 4 zeros, I’ve added ready for my account but it won’t let me add to OH account now I’ve opened new one, I’ll just have to go with 2 accounts for OH and hopefully merge

  13. Chris Cannon says:

    Which instead of what surely Rob

  14. Does anyone know if I can upgrade a Economy or premium economy flight booked via BA holidays/?