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

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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.

This article explains how to use Avios points to upgrade British Airways flights.

I run occasional articles on the vexing question of ‘What is an Avios worth?‘ – click that link for the latest version. It shows that using your Avios to upgrade a flight is often the most valuable use of them.

In particular, upgrades from World Traveller Plus to Club World are a great way to redeem for people who only earn a relatively small number of Avios per year.

You can’t say the same for upgrades from World Traveller.  As I show below, for the general public buying their own tickets, 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 there.  BA should not be advertising the ability to upgrade economy tickets as a benefit for the average Avios collector, because it isn’t.

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.

How to upgrade british airways flight with Avios

‘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, Euro Traveller to Club Europe)

Upgrades must be arranged in advance, not at the airport or onboard

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 rare exceptions for American or Iberia flights – 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 the cheapest non-refundable Economy tickets.  Booking classes Q, O and G cannot be upgraded.  This is the biggest downside of the scheme, and the one that hits the ‘casual’ leisure traveller the hardest.  British Airways has made some positive improvements here in the last couple of years, with more tickets types now qualifying, but the cheapest tickets can still not be upgraded.  In any event, World Traveller Plus – the next category up – is a small cabin so the opportunity to upgrade will always be limited.  You will also need to pay the higher rate of Air Passenger Duty if moving up to WTP.

You can upgrade virtually any World Traveller Plus or Club World ticket

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.  If ba.com throws up an error message when you try to do this, as it often will, you will need to call.   It is unlikely that package holiday tickets (except for BA Holidays) can be upgraded as these are usually issued as Bulk Tour or Inclusive Tour tickets which are excluded.

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:

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). Iberia is slowly introducing Premium Economy on long haul.

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 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.

(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. Doesn’t Iberia have premium economy on some flights these days?

  2. Newbies will want to be aware of this, and some oldies might need a reminder:
    https://www.headforpoints.com/2017/09/14/upgrade-using-avios-club-world/

  3. Sam Wardill says:

    Having seen and experienced the Qantas and Qatar upgrade using miles experience I think BAs is rubbish. I don’t see why they don’t offer last minute availability as standby upgrade offer to exec club members.

  4. It is certainly not a shame that discounted Economy tickets do not qualify. The number of award seats available are so few it would be a disaster to genuine frequent flyers if those seats could be grabbed by once a year holidaymakers who hoard their points for three years to get a one way upgrade! I imagine this is BA thinking as well as the AVIOS scheme is designed for frequent fliers.

    • Given that you earn more avios by paying for a flight on your credit card than actually flying it, let alone buying printer cartridges, avios definitely isn’t a scheme designed for frequent flyers any more.

      Whilst breeding loyalty Avios awarded for flying don’t bring in revenue unlike those awarding in exchange for CC spend or Tesco vouchers.

      • As a Gold I seem to recall earning about 30,000 Avios, when there was a promotion, for a return to the US in WTP. Which was a good return for the price of the ticket which I think was around the £1k mark.

        But yes, I have probably earned more Avios from credit cards and Tesco than I have from flying.

        Between Mrs W and I, we have 250k Virgin miles, none of which were earned by flying with them!

    • I think that’s a little harsh Harry…I do not travel for business and have a very modest income but saving my miles for the yearly treat is the only way I can “afford” to travel business class. The Executive Club is not exclusive to business travellers.

    • Genghis says:

      What’s the dividing line between a frequent flier and a Tesco tourist? I fly quite a bit with BA for work but pick up most of my avios from non-flying. What does that make me?

    • PE is so small that you would never get to do it anyway, so arguably restricting it to flex tickets is sensible.

    • Those discounted economy tickets are also bought by genuine frequent flyers on a limited income.

  5. When I look at book cash and avios upgrade it quotes £1.5k return. When I look at cash price for WT+ it is £800, why is it wanting extra £700 if all WT+ tix can be upgraded? Any ideas what would happen if I booked cashbthen tried to upgrade after paying just avios and diff in taxes?

    • See the link posted above by JamesB

      • Just to add to this, if anybody books for cash and then uses the manage my booking route to upgrade with avios you might find the option does not always work. I’ve had this happen twice so had to call to make the upgrade. On one call the CS agent was adament only the longhaul sectors could be upgraded, not my domestic connection sectors. This is wrong but I went ahead with upgrade anyway because it is easy to lose redemption availability on popular routes at T-355. I then called back 5 minutes later and another CS agent who knew the rules better upgraded the domestic sectors no problem at all. Probably also worth watching out for similar issues with the Lloyds voucher, it too entitles the holder to upgrades on both domestic and longhaul sectors.

        • the_real_a says:

          You have to upgrade the domestic sector as you no longer get the highest bag allowance through your PNR. You would be faced with paying excess baggage for your 2nd bag on a regular domestic.

  6. Manar Hussain says:

    My partner was told point blank that even though there was award availability in business she could not buy a PE ticket and upgrade as there is a limit to how many PE tickets could use award availability and that was fully used on her desired flight. He would love to help but couldn’t.

    I presume he was totally wrong, and would have been surprised if my patner had booked the PE ticket online and asked to be upgraded rather than ask the for both on the phone.

    This was on the silver line to a UK call centre.if that matters.

    • I always book normal WTP cash ticket online then I try UUA on manage my booking, if it does not work I then call and they upgrade without applying telephone fee. I do all of that within the 24h cooling off period so I have a safety net. Your partner was told nonsense. If a WTP seat is for sale it can be booked. If CW award availability is there it can almost certainly then be upgraded. I think some of these CS agents are sometimes fully aware of the rules but are just being a PITA.

  7. Trying to upgrade BA holidays booking from ECOM to CE using points. Been using this number 0344 493 0762 as I can’t a grade online but ever time I phone there is a 30 min plus waiting time.
    Is there a better number to phone. I’m only a blue member.
    Thanks.

    • If that’s the one it gives you when you try to upgrade then that’s the one to use. Assume you’re going to the right place in the menu – flights and hotels – existing booking? You need to speak to BA Holidays to do this.

      Usually phoning first thing (the BA Holidays lines open at 0730 IIRC) or early afternoon UK time is quickest.

  8. Chelseafi says:

    If you have booked cash WT and also used some Avios towards it to get cost down, can this then be upgraded?

    • rotundo says:

      Yes as long as it’s not in Q, O or G booking class – you can check this in Manage my booking.

  9. rotundo says:

    Does anyone have recent experience of calling BA to upgrade a ticket booked via a corporate travel agent? As Rob suggests I always get an error message from ba.com, and whenever I called BA in the past the answer was always “contact your travel agent for this” – which is a non-starter for me.

    One time I expressed dismay, the BA agent was very nice but said he couldn’t do it. 10 minutes he called me back, saying he checked with his supervisor and they got the upgrade through as a one-off. Great customer service but why is this so complicated?

    • Andreas says:

      So mine was not a Corp booking but I did manage to upgrade from WTP to CW over the phone this week as it wouldn’t let me online, I called the Spanish BA number, asked to speak in English and I was routed to the US call centre. No problems getting the seats upgraded with Avios although it does take a while for them to do it on the phone and reissue the ticket.

  10. We are a a family of 4 and I am looking to go for 2 x BA’s 2for1 via BA Amex. The issue is I can only go during school holidays. Depending on where we will go I will book one of the 2for1 in CW when availability opens. If I book the second 2for1 in WTP, can it then be upgraded using Avios if further availability in CW becomes available or do I cancel the WTP booking and rebook? If the latter, do I have to pay any fees to cancel?

    • There is no guaranteed WTP availability and whatever appears is likely to turn up during the year rather than at 355 days.

      The 2 things you discuss are basically the same process and you’d pay the £35 fee either way.

      Only certain options are book 2 CW on consecutive flights and move the other couple if seats open, or do 2 CW and 2 Eco and look to move the other two up later.

      • Thanks Rob. Re moving the 2 Eco, do you mean book upgradable tickets individually with cash and move them up with Avios if there’s availability or booking Eco with 2for1? Isn’t the latter a poor use of the 2for1 if no availability comes up?

        • No, I meant 2 Avios Eco tix just to get them on the plane so you can stop worrying. Yes it is terrible value but you will either a) rebook when 2 other better seats open or b) cancel and pay cash for 2 Eco tickets if you are stuck with that.

    • If you fancy Asia it is not very difficult to find 4xCW seats to BKK or even HKG. If they don’t release 4 at T-355 then check daily, I am sure more will become available.

    • Where do you want to go? The US cities with numerous flights per day, e.g. New York, Washington DC, Chicago etc usually have good availability in the school holidays. There are 4 CW seats available on some of these at T-355.

  11. Absoluy says:

    AA does have Premium Economy and sells it on quite a few (but far from all) international routes. They’re continuing to roll it out to more routes and aircraft.

    Does that mean you can upgrade AA premium economy to business with Avios? If so, what class do you need to upgrade from?

  12. Imbruce1 says:

    Hi,
    Can I upgrade Cathay Pacific flights?
    I have Avios in both BA & Avios plus points in AAdvantage

    Thanks

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