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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 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 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.


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.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (March 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.

SPECIAL OFFER: Successfully apply for either of the Barclaycard Avios credit cards by 2nd April 2023 and you will be entered into a free draw to win ONE MILLION AVIOS! Full details are on the application forms here (free) and here (paid). This competition is exclusive to Head for Points readers. T&C apply.

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:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios 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

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

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.

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

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.

Until 30th March 2023, the sign up bonus on American Express Business Platinum is increased to 120,000 Membership Rewards points – click here. The bonus on American Express Business Gold is increased to 60,000 Membership Rewards points – click here. T&C apply, see the application forms for details.

American Express Business Platinum

Crazy 120,000 points bonus (to 30th March) and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

60,000 points sign-up bonus (to 30th March) 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.

  • riku says:

    The vouchers have not been trashed for those using them to upgrade cash bookings. As you point out in the article the people who qualify for these vouchers will be doing a lot of paid travel (to earn so many tier points) and they can use the voucher to upgrade one of their many paid for bookings. That would seem “the best use of the Gold Upgrade Voucher” because you’re getting something for nothing, probably the best value is to buy a WTP ticket and travel in business class thanks to the voucher.

    • Richard F says:

      Agree with this. I rarely use avios redemptions for long haul anymore anyway nowadays, and even more rarely with a GUF to F. Usually an ex-eu or sale fare.

    • Andrew J says:

      Indeed this is really the intention of these vouchers – your company has a business class policy but you don’t want the misery of CW so you upgrade to F with your voucher.

    • Qrfan says:

      “something for nothing” not even close. I redeemed ours a few weeks ago and the difference in surcharges to use the voucher was 50% of the fare difference I would have paid in cash. You save some money with these vouchers, but it’s not even close to a free upgrade, or something for nothing.

  • Sam says:

    So on avios redemption the value of the the voucher is diminished by this. I’m guessing the value on a cash ticket is still as it was before the changed, or are you seeing anything there?

  • David Cohen says:

    Hopefully in the future, now that the footprint for First class is considerably smaller than it was, they will actually be able to make it a true premium product, with ground services to match, and restrict redemptions to Gold card holders and above. That would align them with Air France and Swiss who do the same.

    • S says:

      Sounds wonderful for the vast majority of us here who aren’t gold.

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      Why do BA need to align themselves with AF and LX?

      As to your comment on BA making F truly premium I had to check it wasn’t 1st April. BA have shown little inclination on that front for quite some time.

    • Paul says:

      That’s the funniest comment I have read about BA in some time. The idea they could ever produce a premium experience on a BA aircraft, let alone want to, is naive at best.

      If the “stuffed” series teaching us anything it is that BA don’t care a jot, and don’t have too. They are making money hand over fist, thanks to their position at Heathrow, the huge post covid demand for travel and massive cuts in global capacity. They don’t need to be the best, they simply need to operate.

      My own experience this year is dire. Not one flight I have taken on BA has been on time! Service has been almost universally non existent. My bags on 3 occasions took longer to deliver than my flight took. I have a gold card with almost 2000 tier points earned since July and never once has it been recognised.

      BA have a mountain to climb to even begin thinking about being a league 1 carrier let alone being one. If you want to improve First you have to improve everything. That’s how they did it in the 1980’s/1990’s but right now they neither have the vision, leadership or quality of staff to achieve those heights again.

    • Andrew J says:

      Totally agree David – I said this the other day and was shouted down with insults. It just makes sense – status affords you extra benefits, that’s the point of status (First Wing for example) and this policy would mean attaining Gold more worthwhile.

    • Jack says:

      They should not restrict who can redeem I don’t know of other airlines who do so. As long as you’ve earned the points for it why should it matter whether your gold or not you’ve earned it so can enjoy it . BA will not ever be the premium airline it used to be or compare to other airlines it’s a much bigger one than most

      • Rob says:

        Air France (who just tightened the rules even more), SWISS.

        BA is the ONLY Euro airline which makes F awards freely available to all. Lufty restricts to Miles&More members unless you book last minute.

    • VerdantBacon says:

      BA would first need to create a true premium F product instead of something their J product should have been. It doesn’t seem like this plan is in the works, but I’d be very happy to be proven wrong. Most of our premium BA travel is in F due to J being such poor value compared to other airlines, would really like to see BA F feel like First Class.

  • Joe C says:

    Paying for Club and using the GUF to upgrade to First has no change – and if you donor through a TA then you usually get the First TP and Avios too. So still useful there

  • David says:

    I don’t see this as being ‘stuffed’. I guess it’s a matter of opinion and dependent on own circumstances. First World Problems comes to mind, just accept changes and move on. Far more important things to get worked up about in life and this isn’t one of them, in my opinion.

    • Rhys says:

      At the end of the day everything we write about is a first world problem, obviously. If you thought otherwise then you may have come to the wrong place!

      I’m sure if BA charged you an extra 20,000 Avios for a ‘free’ upgrade you’d be pretty annoyed too!

      • Mikeact says:

        ‘At the end of the day everything we write about is a first world problem, obviously. If you thought otherwise then you may have come to the wrong place!’

        I must remember future !

  • Dev says:

    So the value is still in using the GUF on a paid CW ticket upgraded into A class First?

    Otherwise consider it as “pay 20,000 Avios premium” to unlock First Class.

    (It does seem that F class rewards are about to get blocked – maybe for all or certain tiers and below. The fact you have to pay 20,000 more for the voucher than not indicates to me that Ba are about to “hide” F Class redemptions and this way no-one knows what they cost. Pure speculation on my behalf!)

  • Malcolm says:

    The more I read and hear about BA the more I despair. Speaking to a client yesterday about a short trip to LA – delayed flights, lost luggage, hours waits to sort lost luggage, broken business class seats etc etc. it just sounds like a total mess.

  • Tony says:

    BA/Avios….they make life so difficult and expensive…lots of others want my money…sod em! The “work experience kids” are stuffing us this time.

    • Jack says:

      No they aren’t not at all if you earned the voucher you spend enough money travelling for this change to not make much difference

      • Tom says:

        I think you miss the point, BAEC is a way to lock in customers through offering them a package of benefits that makes those customers make irrational decisions.

        I am GGL, but frankly only really fly BA longhaul in F since Club World is deeply uncompetitive (yes, I am spoiled). Every step BA makes that reduces my ability to access F without first making Club World better makes it more likely I’ll decide enough is enough and start trying other carriers to the US (I already don’t fly BA to Asia, which is most of my travel). I think this is not an unusual way of thinking amongst many of BA’s more profitable customers.

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

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