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 EU, anyone 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.
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:
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):
…. and then using a GUF voucher (New York in First, peak date):
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 Mastercard
25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 Read our full review
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.