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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.


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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.

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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

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The Platinum Card from American Express

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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.

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.

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American Express Business Gold

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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.

  • VinZ says:

    I’d be more curious about why you think BA wants to block F class avios redemptions? Just because there aren’t many seats?

    Hope not – that’s all I try to do whenever I can. Or I will until I get to try their new biz product I guess…

    • memesweeper says:

      Blocking F entirely, or reserving for elites, is an industry trend. BA is a follower, not a leader. No reason to think this won’t happen.

    • S says:

      The events of the past few weeks, plus this new rumour have spurred me on to burn my last 241 on an F redemption whether I’m getting max value per point or not. I was in two minds about wiping out my Avios pot, but being that a CW return is now an unaffordable amount more and we have no idea what the next scheme ‘improvement’ is going to be, I’m cashing out for a while.

  • Russell G says:

    This does smell a lot like the smoke from an incoming fire of removing F avios redemptions. However, I’d have thought if they were going to do that, they would have made the change at the same time as the RFS changes. It’s possible that the F redemption removal was part of these changes and got pulled from the changes last minute (fingers crossed) leaving these quirks. The largest thing I took from this article is that by remarking that “One possible explanation is that First Class Avios redemptions are about to be blocked”, this shows that Rob/HfP don’t currently have official knowledge of any such change that is being NDA’d / Embargoed by BA. Lets hope it stays this way!

    • meta says:

      One thing that might be stopping them at this stage is the BAPP Amex 241 voucher T&C which specifically mention any class. They’d have to change those and notify holders in advance.

      • Russell G says:

        Oh yeah, good point, they would have to give 3 months notice under those T+Cs. Maybe legal pulled the First redemption changes at the last minute then.

        • Mark says:

          But would they? It’s clearly subject to availability. If there is no F redemption availability at all (and it’s extremely restricted anyway), I doubt that breaches the T&C.

          Possibly more problematic if F redemptions were there but limited to high status holders, but a plan to do that would completely misalign with a deliberate decision to impact the GUF2 vouchers in this way.

          Regardless of the plan or whether the BA management team understood it in advance, the current bizarre situation is clearly a direct consequence of the move to RFS pricing for CW and not for F.

      • JDB says:

        I can’t think Amex would be too pleased as it would seriously devalue the voucher. Might please Barclays though.

      • JDB says:

        I think they might have difficulty in applying the change to vouchers already earned on the basis of existing terms.

        • meta says:

          The only thing they could do is pretend there is F availability, but word would get out soon and many would complain to Amex/cancel cards.

  • LittleNick says:

    Would be very disappointing if they restricted F redemptions/upgrades to certain elites, I for one would have much less use of avios on BA. Would try and use them elsewhere in OW. Why not just make an extra seat(s) available for Golds/elites as opposed to taking away from Blues if a cash seat is available?

  • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

    As to blocking F redemptions I can’t remember if it was Alex or Willlie when he was in charge (more likely Williw) said they wanted to reduce the number of non paying pax in F (so redemptions and staff travel) in favour of those paying cash.

    It should be remembered that BA never guaranteed any F redemptions at any time or on any route and given the reduction in the number of F seats their availability will be reduced anyway.

    BA will,cover themselves by just making them available close to flight dates and on less popular flights rather than just not releasing any

  • Kevin says:

    BA can block First Class redemptions all day long as far as I care. Club Suite is good enough. Has anyone actually got a sit down interview with someone senior from BA or IAG and challenged them on these changes?

    • Rob H not Rob says:


    • JDB says:

      The Club Suite seat is ‘good enough’ but the service, food and wine (and on A350 insufficient Club loos) are all atrocious which is what makes F an attractive proposition.

      • Anna says:

        I agree, and where there’s no F cabin or availability I’m now mostly choosing PE for avios & cash savings as I now get lounge access, seat selection and luggage allowance through Silver status. On an overnight I can sleep as well/poorly in PE as CW!

      • philco says:

        Also if you are not an elite F comes with seat selection whereas J does not. Perhaps less important when the fleet is all Club Suites and there aren’t really any “bad” seats but J in old Club World has plenty of “bad” seats (by the standards of J).

    • Harry T says:

      Club suite is quite cramped and all the doors break. The soft product in long haul club is also atrocious at present, whereas it is average to good in First.

  • aceman says:

    honestly this sort of rubbish was a huge reason I didnt jump on that avios subscription thing immediately. There just had to be something coming. I’m dropping from Gold to Silver in a month, and think I’ll move my flying over to VS for 2023.

    • Keith Purdom says:

      thats exactly where my wife and i are in our thinking and we can avoid a connection at LHR in our case too

  • Mark says:

    Interesting the number of people who assume conspiracy over cock-up, even with BA’s track record…. 🙂

  • Joe says:

    Yeah surely this is just a cock-up. Did you ask British Airways? What did they have to say?

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