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 types.
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.
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 cannot upgrade this ticket.
However, tickets which earn 250 Avios each way are upgradable, as are full fare tickets, earning 500 Avios each way.
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.
BA Holidays flights can be upgraded. However, package tour flights (technically know as IT fares) cannot.
What does it cost to upgrade?
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
Note that all bookings must be done in advance of travel. You cannot upgrade with Avios on board or at check-in.
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 British Airways should not really be advertising the ability to upgrade economy tickets as a benefit for the average Avios collector, because it isn’t.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (January 2021)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
There are two official British Airways American Express cards:
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points, such as:
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.
If you have a small business, we especially recommend Capital On Cap’s Visa card which comes with a generous bonus worth 10,500 Avios:
(Want to earn more Avios? Click here to visit our home page for our latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios this month from offers and promotions.)