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Why you should turn down the new British Airways ‘at the airport’ Avios flight upgrades

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During June, British Airways is trialling something new at Heathrow.  During midweek office hours, passengers on cash tickets may be offered the chance to upgrade their seat using Avios.  The offer will come via the BA app once the customer is identified as being in the airport.

Don’t do it.

This is how it seems to be working.  For a long time, BA has let you upgrade at the airport for cash if a flight was quiet and there are no catering issues.  You just need to ask at check-in.

The only thing that appears to be different now is that BA is converting the cash cost into Avios, using a poor exchange rate close to 0.5p per Avios, and quoting you that instead.

British Airways upgrade at the airport

Even if you wanted to upgrade, you should pay cash instead of using Avios.  You are basically getting around 0.5p per Avios, which is very poor.  This is the same rate that you get if you choose to use Avios instead of cash to pay for seat selection.

Here is an example from a HfP reader who was travelling to Abu Dhabi in Club World yesterday and asked about upgrading to First:

The standard difference in Avios pricing, one way, from Club World to First is 18,000 – 20,000 Avios depending on whether it is a peak or off-peak date

Our reader was on a 2-4-1 British Airways American Express voucher, however, so if he had upgraded in advance – if Avios seats had opened up – he and his partner would only have paid 9,000 – 10,000 Avios each

Instead, he was quoted 65,000 Avios for the one-way upgrade, per person

The only caveat I would add is that, had the reader called Executive Club to upgrade into Avios seats, he would have had to pay a £35 change fee and any difference in taxes on top.  This still doesn’t cover the value gap between 65,000 Avios and 18,000 Avios.

Allegedly, the BA employee at the upgrade desk told him that only two people had accepted the upgrade offer over the past two days.

I am guessing that 65,000 Avios is based on a one-way cash upgrade cost of between £325-£400 per person, each way, translated into Avios at a poor rate.

There is one other data point from Flyertalk at a similar level.  The poster, flying to Chicago, was quoted 60,000 Avios for a one-way World Traveller to World Traveller Plus upgrade, or 120,000 Avios for a one-way World Traveller to Club World upgrade.  What is amusing here is that the standard cost of a one-way First Class Avios seat to Chicago is only 68,000 Avios off peak.

Just say no, kids.

This HfP article tells you all you need to know about upgrading British Airways flights with Avios BEFORE arriving at the airport.

how to earn avios from credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (June 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:

British Airways American Express card

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

BA Premium Plus American Express card BAPP

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points, such as:

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

We also recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card:

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.

(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.)

Comments (197)

  • Harry T says:

    To help me hit the 3000£ spend to get the bonus on my new Virgin card, I’m looking to find a way to use it on my weekend trip to Amsterdam later this month whilst avoiding heavy FX fees. Please could someone suggest the best way to spend on the Virgin abroad?

    I already have a Curve card (free plan) that I could use. Or do people think I would be better topping up a Revolut card (would have to order one)?

    • Waddle says:

      Revolut is probably your best option because you can pre-convert your Euros during the week and use it during your weekend whereas Curve may impose a surcharge for FX over the weekend. I would suggest you order Revolut. Top up your account and convert it when the rate is good during the week and lock in your Euros before the weekend.

  • DaveL says:

    OT – Amex Plat travel discounts. Anyone know when these deals might be back (£200 off £600 etc.)? Is it random or do they appear at a similar time each year? I feel like the appeared around July/August last year but can’t be sure. Thanks

    • AmexNoMore says:

      I believe it was around October time and February time when the offers appear

  • Murray says:

    OT – just recieved my Amex Platinum after upgrading from the Green card for 20,000 MR. Although I did not get an invite email, it allowed me to upgrade and told me I would get the MR bonus. However, on activiating my card, no bonus offer seems to be on my account home page, as it has been before with the Gold card. Any idea if it takes a while to show up or am I basically stuffed? A bit annoying really as my order page confirmed I would get the points.

    • Harry T says:

      I never had a counter on my amex account but still received the upgrade bonus after spending 1000£

      • Murray says:

        Thanks Harry – did you receive an invite to upgrade or just do it yourself like me?

        • Harry T says:

          Got referred for the Green Card by a friend. I didn’t get an invite to upgrade; I just applied myself using the upgrade.

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