Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

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

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

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.

  • Alan says:

    I expect a lot of GUF2 are used on paid travel instead so are unaffected.

  • youngtraveller says:

    Just bought 1000 points from Melia to keep my points alive and got 250 as a bonus, but couldn’t find anything that says that a promotion is ongoing.

  • AJA says:

    Having never attained Gold status and even more unlikely to ever earn a GUF1 or GUF2 this is one problem that I will not suffer. Silver linings and all that….

    That said, the likelihood of me ever experiencing First seems more remote than ever. I do hope BA do not restrict First redemptions to Golds as that would perversely discourage even more people from saving Avios.

    • Jack says:

      They could never do that how can you stop people flying first if they have earned the Avios for it would be a crazy marketing strategy

      • Rob says:

        Albeit the strategy used by Air France and SWISS.

        • Save East Coast Rewards says:

          What is currently the rules for redeeming in La Premiere on AF? Back in the first big devaluation after the AF-KLM merger (I think it was 2008) I decided to use up my miles on a trip to HKG before the devaluation kicked in. The La Premiere lounge in CDG was very new and the service was amazing – I’m glad I did that while it was still within reach.

          • Rob says:

            * Only FB Platinum and Ultimate can redeeem
            * Only 1 reward seat released per flight

          • Save East Coast Rewards says:

            A lot has changed since 2008, I booked seats for two back then. I was FB Platinum before I ditched AF-KLM, I remember seeing no real benefit over FB Gold at the time because I think back then anyone could redeem first class. The website really didn’t say much about FB Ultimate. Something about a travel concierge but whether that’s any use I don’t know.

        • Daniel says:

          You keep drawing the comparison between BA and AF/SWISS, but their first class products are incomparable – not by miles. – along with the target markets. Context matters, Rob.

          • Rob says:

            I was responding to the statement ‘no other carrier restricts F awards’, which is wrong.

            SWISS F isn’t that great these days – the new BA seat is actually a lot better. It’s arguably better than the LH seat too. SWISS doesn’t have an equivalent of the First Class Terminal either. I agree that AF F is a different kettle of fish although, having seen the seat the other week when we flew to Dubai, it doesn’t overwhelm on first glance – obviously everything surrounding it is excellent though.

  • Peter says:


    From my experience working tangentially on loyalty schemes in another industry, a lot of the issues you have identified are the laws of unintended consequences striking.

    Have you put your “stuffed” series to BA for comment?

    • Ben says:

      If these consequences are unintended, I’d expect a bunch of vacancies to appear in the BAEC team as a few P45s are handed out. This strikes me more as the start of something broader (and likely more negative).

      But maybe we read too much into this as HFP readers are typically more refined in their pursuit and expenditure of Avios. Maybe your average GUF holder doesn’t care?!

      (Amongst all the negative changes, the additional availability of the 241 remains a true benefit, greater than all the negative enhancements.)

      • PP says:

        You’d be amazed at how marketing departments make up any excuse to wriggle out from the unintended consequences of their actions. I’d far rather that they put the effort into avoiding the “cock-ups” in the first place than pretending that they were deliberate!

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      People from BA read HfP and they know how to contact Rob if they think he’s got anything wrong and want a correction.

      • cinereus says:

        That’s self evident but it’s also obvious that part of good journalism is inviting comment especially when the series of articles is like this.

    • jjoohhnn says:

      I agree with this. To me it smells like they wanted to bring in RFS for CW and did it, but did it as a standalone thing and didn’t take into account that it has knock on affects to some of the edge cases likes GUF’s (although granted that mixed class redemptions shouldn’t really be edge cases!).

      So whilst the changes have stuffed people, it is entirely because they didn’t tweak the rest of the system to work correctly with CW RFS. The question is now they have done it, will they leave these ‘bugs’ in place as they work in their favour, or actually try and sort them out.

      The loyalty game is notoriously about trying to sniff out loop holes to get outsized value. In this case, the outsized value has swung to BA on these!

  • Tracey says:

    Given that the sweet spot for me is the flat bed that comes with Bus, paying for WTP and using a GUF to get Bus class would be fine. Occasionally paying for Bus and using the GUF to upgrade to First would also be a winner.

  • Magarathea says:

    Rob, I wonder if you can shed some light on some figures that were in the original Part 2 RFS article please?
    A week before the RFS announcement, I booked return seats to Dubai using the pre-RFS 100k avios and £715 cash per person option with a new 2-4-1 voucher. In the RFS part 2 article, it listed the cash element for the 100k avios option as £853 before RFS and £850 after RFS. From this I saw an apparent increase in the cash element of £135 for return Dubai flights and like many others felt “stuffed” by BA for future bookings.

    However, looking at a dummy booking on now, it shows the cash element of the 100k avios reward flight at £716 comparable to what I paid a few weeks ago. Do you know if BA has changed this pricing or if the figure in the Part 2 article was incorrect? I think this would make a difference to your conclusion of it not being worthwhile to go for the max avios / min cash option, as the return on avios would be more than 1p/ avios.

    • Rob says:

      The figures were correct and all pulled up at the time.

      Are you sure you’re not doing something wrong? All RFS pricing should be ‘round’ numbers eg £850, £650.

      • Magarathea says:

        I have checked the following dummy booking again today as below. Don’t have a companion voucher at the moment but have done this for one person. I assume this will give the same numbers.

        London to Dubai reward return booking, Club world, 1 June out and 16 June back, all off-peak.

        Headline price – 160k avios and £350 as shown in the Part 2 article.

        One of the alternative options is 100k avios and £716.20. This is same as the number of avios pre-RFS.

        This is way less than the £850 cash price quoted in the Part 2 article. For a booking for two people using a 2-4-1 voucher the reduction in fees for opting for the 160k avios option, rather than the 100k avios option, would be £732.40 which for 60k extra avios would be 1.22p / avios. This sounds ok if you have a bundle of avios.

        • Rob says:

          I think this is a BA IT error.

          I can duplicate your numbers, I agree. However, I go to NYC instead I get what I expect:

          140000 Avios + £ 595.00
          110000 Avios + £ 850.00
          96000 Avios + £ 1,115.00
          68000 Avios + £ 1,320.00
          49000 Avios + £ 1,590.00

          …. which makes me think something is wrong with Dubai.

      • Mark says:

        We’re definitely not doing anything wrong here. I think it was me that initiated this particular conversation in the forums; It’s not only Dubai that comes up as £716.20+100K Avios, but when I looked the other day that was also applying to all the other Middle Eastern destinations that I tried in that band. All off-peak in CW.

        Conversely, all the US and Canadian destinations in that band are coming out as £850+100K Avios.

        The headline/new baseline price shows as £350+160K Avios for all those destinations.

        If that’s not how it was when the changes were initially implemented, I wonder if BA has acted on some feedback….

  • Roh T says:

    A bit of a Daily Mail-esqe dramatic headline grabber Rob, and quite misleading. A 20k Avios devaluation doesn’t make the GUF voucher ‘worthless’, it’s a 12.5% devaluation for those who would use Avios to upgrade – but as pointed out already a few times, I would hazard a guess that 90%+ of these GUF voucher holders would be upgrading cash tickets which aren’t affected. So the headline, and the story is quite off the mark in my opinion.

    • Sunil says:

      Just to be clear it isn’t a 20% reduction in value. You are getting zero value for the GUF and then paying 20% more avios than you would be paying had you booked first class without a GUF

    • Rob says:

      It’s a GUF2, the clue is in the name. For two people. So not something you’d use on a work trip cash ticket.

      Most people use them for personal Avios trips and in F, because they can (could).

    • VerdantBacon says:

      I feel 90% is a high figure to place on that. Having earned GUFs and Jokers for the first time this year, all of our vouchers have been used on Avios redemptions into long haul F. Combinations of vouchers including the 241 make the Avios cost extremely low.

      That being said, while I’ve used up all our vouchers for this TP earning period before all of these changes, 20,000 points would not have moved the needle much on the affordability of the redemptions. While I think it is ridiculous that this situation now exists, it likely wont change the way most book their GUFs, cash or avios. This is why companies will continue to get away with devaluations, they do them incrementally enough that people will just deal with it.

  • aviosnewbie says:

    Not a comment related to this topic, but where is today’s chat thread in the forums? Can only see until 21st Dec, but no thread for today?

    • Rob says:

      It’s there. However, we moved to a new cache system last night which means that – if you are in some obscure corner of the world – there may be delays in seeing certain site updates. You’d literally need to be at the North Pole or somewhere equally obscure for it to make a difference though. On the upside, the site will now load faster outside the UK.

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      It appeared as normal in the “recent topics” list around midnight and the first comment on it was after 8am so it would have just slid down the list.

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

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.