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Stuffed #5: How Gold Upgrade Vouchers became worthless for British Airways First Class

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Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the losers from the changes to long haul Avios pricing launched two weeks ago.

It’s a long list – all Avios members outside the UK, US and EUanyone with an ‘old style’ American Express 2-4-1 voucher or a Barclays Upgrade Voucher who can’t afford to pay the higher level of Avios required and anyone who took advantage of the various low tax loopholes.

Today I want to look at how British Airways has killed off the best use of the Gold Upgrade Voucher. This is a little bizarre as stuffing your best customers is not usually a recommended marketing strategy.

How Gold Upgrade Vouchers became worthless for First Class

What is a Gold Upgrade Voucher?

Despite its name, a Gold Upgrade Voucher does NOT come automatically with a British Airways Executive Club Gold card.

A standard Gold card is triggered at 1,500 British Airways Executive Club tier points (1,125 until the end of 2022).

If you earn 2,500 British Airways Executive Club tier points in your membership year, you receive a ‘Gold Upgrade For Two’ voucher, known as a GUF2 in the trade.

If you earn 3,500 tier points, you receive an additional two ‘Gold Upgrade For One’ vouchers (GUF1).

When you reach the appropriate thresholds the vouchers will automatically appear on your Executive Club homepage on the British Airways website like this:

How Gold Upgrade Vouchers became worthless for First Class

The GUF voucher lets you upgrade a British Airways cash or Avios ticket by one class (more details on ba.com here).

The secret sauce here is that you do NOT need Avios availability in the higher cabin to process the upgrade. You only need cash tickets to be made available in the cheapest ticket buckets:

  • ‘T’ in World Traveller Plus, if you want to upgrade from Economy / World Traveller
  • ‘I’ in Club World, if you want to upgrade from World Traveller Plus
  • ‘A’ in First Class, if you want to upgrade from Club World

(Note that ba.com still says that “Upgrades are subject to reward availability in the higher cabin” – this has not been true for a couple of years.)

A large number of GUF vouchers are used to travel in First Class. Unsurprisingly, people who earn 2,500+ tier points per year (equivalent to a cash trip in Club World return every six weeks) are not doing much long-haul travel in Economy or World Traveller Plus. They wouldn’t be able to earn so many tier points if they were.

How has First Class pricing for GUF vouchers on Avios tickets changed?

First Class is NOT part of the changes to Avios pricing, which have brought Reward Flight Saver to premium cabins on long haul. The old system remains.

This means you have the following ‘base’ pricing now to New York, for example:

  • First Class – 160,000 Avios + £853 on a peak date
  • Club / Business – 180,000 Avios + £350 (Reward Flight Saver), or 120,000 Avios + £850 if you prefer the old pricing (albeit anyone with a Barclays or ‘old style’ Amex 2-4-1 voucher cannot access the ‘old’ pricing)

When you use your Gold Upgrade Voucher for First Class on an Avios ticket, it takes the ‘base’ Avios requirement for Club World along with the taxes required for First.

This means you end up with this:

  • First Class if booked without a GUF2 voucher: 160,000 Avios + £853
  • First Class if booked with a GUF2 voucher: 180,000 Avios + £853

With screenshots – not using a GUF voucher (New York in First, peak date):

How Gold Upgrade Vouchers became worthless for First Class

…. and then using a GUF voucher (New York in First, peak date):

How Gold Upgrade Vouchers became worthless for First Class

It’s crazy. You are now paying 20,000 more Avios to use your hard-earned Gold Upgrade Voucher in First Class vs not using the voucher.

You also have the same issues that I highlighted in this article if you do a mixed class redemption with your GUF2 voucher. A First / Club mixed class redemption is now more expensive than a First / First redemption!

Let’s look at the value of that ‘free’ GUF upgrade

Let’s ignore, for now, the fact that using a GUF voucher in our example costs you 20,000 more Avios than NOT using it!

If you simply compare the two pricing levels:

  • First Class (NYC, peak date, using a GUF) at 180,000 Avios + £853
  • Club World (NYC, peak date) at 160,000 Avios + £350

…. then your ‘free’ upgrade also costs you an extra £503 in cash per person vs Club World, so £1,006 for a couple.

There are two caveats

There are two caveats to this of course:

  • you get access to ‘A’ class First availability, so it is possible that you could get a First Class seat using your GUF voucher when you couldn’t get a standard Avios seat – but you will require (in our New York example) 20,000 additional Avios for the privilege
  • if you use your voucher to fly in Club World or World Traveller Plus, you make a saving over the old rates– it is the same maths as I used in my Barclays Upgrade Voucher article here. Anyone who has earned a GUF voucher is unlikely to be short of Avios so the hike in base pricing is less of an issue – although people who have the sort of jobs which earn them a GUF are unlikely to be short of cash either so they don’t necessarily care about the taxes and charges saving.

Conclusion

It’s not entirely clear what British Airways was thinking of here. You have to assume either:

  • no-one bothered to think about how the changes impact Gold Upgrade Vouchers on Avios bookings, which would be a bit odd, or
  • a deliberate decision was taken to trash the value of the vouchers on Avios bookings in pursuit of broader changes

What is odd is that the majority of the issues highlighted in this series of ‘Stuffed’ articles could have been avoided if Reward Flight Saver had been extended to First Class redemptions.

With the number of First Class routes continuing to fall, and most of those routes only having an eight seat cabin with little scope for mass Avios availability, it seems weird to cause so much trouble for so many people for so little gain – BA could have put RFS on First Class and solved a lot of these issues.

One possible explanation is that First Class Avios redemptions are about to be blocked – although this still wouldn’t change the position for GUF holders, since these can be used without the need for Avios availability.


HFP-Barclaycard-Avios-Card

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (February 2023)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 21st February 2023, the sign-up bonus on the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card is increased to 35,000 Avios from 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

35,000 Avios (ONLY to 21st February) and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review

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

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

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

The Platinum Card from American Express

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Run your own business?

We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

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You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year 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.

Comments (95)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Hostler says:

    Surely access to A class in a world with smaller F cabins and therefore less Redemption availability is a huge perk of the GUF2 voucher, extra Avios but miles more availability still gives it lots of value.

  • Josh Critchley says:

    Less Tesco air miles prols in F. What’s the struggle with that? The clue is the name: First. It’ll be far more premium then.

    • Tim says:

      without bums on seats (regardless of where they shop), the cabin will be entirely pointless. Real estate at 32,000ft is expensive and so if they can’t fill the space, some other use will be made of it.

      • Josh says:

        BA can make out like the Frenchies and go to 4 seats. That’ll keep riffraff back in club and rather improve the premium nature of it for the real paying customers and ruling classes.

    • Harry T says:

      Probably have to get some decent food and service before they can make it premium.

    • LondonCalling says:

      What an odious man you are. Horrible. Try to be kind to others, it really will make you a better person as you go through your life.

      • Josh says:

        Being right does not mean always popular. Anything that makes F for proper customers again is a good thing. As Jacob would say, it won’t be popular with those not meant to be there

        • Rob says:

          If you’re paying full price, you’re not flying BA F. You’ll find most are staff who are contractually obliged to dress smartly on staff travel.

          • Alex says:

            Not quite true .. there are plenty of routes where you need to pay for First: BGI, MLE, SEZ (where I once waitlisted for *paid* A class seat for a month and couldn’t clear as a GGL)

            On the wider point – I think you kind of hit the point in your post: those who are earning 3k+ Tier Points a year aren’t often using avios (except a GGL joker), and are mostly flying paid business: so the GUFs are generally used to bump paid business tickets to first (at least speaking for me and everyone I know who is GGL too)

      • marks7389 says:

        What made me laugh was the idea that Club World is full of “riff raff”. Goodness knows what he thinks of people who travel in economy! 🙂

    • Tom says:

      I know this is part trolling but the real problem is not Tesco, it’s US credit cards. BA has gone all in on the US credit card market in a way other European airlines haven’t and has now backed themselves into a corner. There are lots of people in the US with loads of Avios or credit card miles they can convert instantly who want to redeem for BA F.

  • Not Long Now... says:

    I’m as much for conspiracy theory as the next lunatic, but equally, I’m quite up for unplanned consequences, or whoever took the decision not really understanding their product. Personally, it won’t make any difference to me, but just wondering why they wouldn’t just release any unsold F inventory say a week before the flight. Surely a bum in a first seat burning a few thousand Avios and a few hundred quid is better than an empty seat? I suppose there’s the hope of upselling from the back and bumping someone up to make room, but presumably need a very good assessment of actual cost bases to do ‘the math’. Anyway, BA aren’t exactly going broke anytime soon, so I guess it doesn’t really matter what the collective HFP body feels. Purely subjectively, from the many comments I read on here, there seem to be an awful lot of people “giving up on Avios” and the like, yet continuing to be wildly upset by any and every change to the system.
    Hands up who actually has given up?

    (Imagine my little hand hovering in the air here… BAAX cancelled, all auto converts cancelled, will continue to fly BA if I find cheap (presumably ex-EU) fares, or if no viable alternative)

    • John says:

      > why they wouldn’t just release any unsold F inventory say a week before the flight

      Because then nobody would buy F until a week before

    • Mikeact says:

      As I’ve said before, I have a list of ‘never again BA’ and now starting a new one ‘ditching Avios’, which I find surprising for decent RFS European breaks.

  • Tafflyer says:

    BA don’t fill F with revenue Pax because it’s generally not worth the money. Special offers sometime reduce the cost but then the high fees on redemption costs almost amount to the same income for BA. Straight redemptions into F as opposed to CW plus GUF have increased in attractiveness.

    • Dev says:

      What would be the premium your prepared to pay over J for the current iteration of F?

      For me, £350 (NY/Wast Coast/Mumbai) to £600 (Far East/South America).

      • Rob says:

        In my (private) ‘what value did I get for my Avios?’ calcs I put it in at £500 over whatever I’d pay for J on that route.

        In reality of course it is different. I would happily pay £500 return via Manage My Booking on a solo trip but would I pay £2k to upgrade the family?

  • Rog says:

    Read this with interest as I have BA upgrades (Amex old and new) plus a GUF2 from this year to redeem in 22/23.

    Some interesting suggestions about the ‘type of people’ who have these but I would add another angle which is not about fixation on Avios but about perceived value.

    Please correct me if totally mistaken in my theory but Avios rewards might not well be available in F at all (they are more rare, especially 2) and therefore having the ability to upgrade from CW to fly F without Avios availability is huge.

    I am fortunate enough to be able to pay cash to fly F relatively regularly plus have been able to take advantage of BA Holidays double T points offer for business.

    Therefore, I want to travel F and on times and dates I want but generally can’t because of availability to use Avios. A ‘penalty’ of 20,000 plus a chunk of cash to be able to fly F is therefore potentially fine by me – not great and makes me grumpy but not a deal breaker.

    The value is in the cash difference between CW and F which can be £1.5k + per ticket long haul and therefore I would see it as saving £2k in my strange man maths.

    The calculation I would do is – what is delta between cash CW and F and is that then ‘worth’ £1,000 and 20,000 Avios. The answer is invariably yes I would hypothesise. Additionally, the amount of Avios you have and how you got them is a big consideration also. If you are fortunate enough to be in multiple millions then 20K is minor whereas having a pot of 100K is different story.

    It’s not ideal at all but as the article suggests the priorities and calculations might be more nuanced.

  • Globetrotter says:

    A bit of an old thread but wondered if you had any feedback to this Rob? Just tried to do a long haul Avios redemption in A class using GUF2 and old Amex 241, and BA were charging high non-RFS taxes and c.50k more Avios for offpeak return (!). Completely put me off trying to earn another GUF2.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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