We’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks looking at the recent Avios changes, driven by the extension of Reward Flight Saver pricing to long haul premium cabin redemptions.
If you have a large Avios balance and a low bank balance then these changes are positive. For everyone else, including these people, these people, these people, these people and these people, it isn’t.
One aspect we didn’t look at was how the changes impact ‘Upgrade Using Avios’. This is when you use Avios to upgrade a cash ticket on British Airways.
How does ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ work?
Let’s run over how ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ works on long haul flights.
‘Upgrade Using Avios’ let you use Avios to upgrade a CASH ticket on British Airways by ONE class.
You cannot upgrade from the cheapest Economy ticket types (O, G and Q). This means that, unless your employer is happy to pay for a semi flexible ticket, you are unlikely to be upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus).
You can upgrade ANY Premium Economy ticket to Business Class (Club World). This is the sweet spot in terms of ‘bang for your buck’, going from a slightly larger economy seat to a fully flat bed, often with a door.
You can upgrade any Business Class seat to First Class.
Tickets issued via BA Holidays or travel agents can be upgraded but this usually requires a call to the Executive Club. Tickets which are part of package holidays sold by anyone except BA Holidays cannot be upgraded.
Upgrades use the same reward availability as Avios redemption tickets. If you cannot book an Avios redemption in Premium Economy or Business Class, you won’t be able to upgrade your Economy or Premium Economy ticket.
Upgrades must be done in advance of travel. You cannot upgrade with Avios on board or at check-in.
Whilst this article only looks at long haul, you can also upgrade short haul flights in the same way.
How do I book flights and upgrade with Avios?
ba.com, once you are logged in, has the ‘Book with money, upgrade with Avios’ booking option.
This allows the system to sell you the cheapest ticket in a suitable ticket bucket and immediately process the upgrade.
Note that you cannot do this from the booking screen on the ba.com home page. You must be logged in and searching from the Executive Club welcome page. You are looking for this:
You do not need to upgrade at the time of booking – indeed, it might not be possible if there are no Avios reward seats in the higher cabin to upgrade into. You can use ‘Manage My Booking’ online to upgrade later.
However, if you are planning to book an Economy ticket and upgrade it to Premium Economy then I would recommend doing it all at once. The method above ensures you are sold an upgradeable ticket in the first place and not a cheaper non-upgradeable one. It makes no difference in other cabins as all Premium Economy and Business Class seats can be upgraded, however cheap.
Note that, because British Airways has higher surcharges in First vs Business, Business vs Premium Economy and Premium Economy vs Economy, you will be asked for an additional cash payment on top of your Avios if you upgrade at a later date.
What does it cost to upgrade a BA flight with Avios?
“The Avios amount required for the upgrade is based on the Avios costs for reward flights in the cabins you are upgrading from and to and will depend on whether your flight is scheduled on a peak or off-peak date.
“The formula is:
Avios for the cabin you wish to upgrade to – Avios for the cabin you make your booking in = Avios required to upgrade one way
“Here’s an example for a peak one-way upgrade from London to New York, upgrading from premium economy (World Traveller Plus) to business (Club World):
Club World: 60,000 Avios – World Traveller Plus: 40,000 Avios = 20,000 Avios to upgrade”
In simple terms …. the Avios cost is the difference between the cost of an ‘all Avios’ ticket in the higher cabin and the cost of an Avios ticket in the cabin you originally booked.
In addition, you pay the taxes and charges based on the cabin you fly in.
What changed with the introduction of Reward Flight Saver to long haul?
Intriguingly …. nothing.
It seems that someone at BA has taken a deliberate decision NOT to wreck ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ pricing.
This is a little surprising, given that the airline was happy to use the introduction of Reward Flight Saver to devalue ‘old style’ Amex 241 vouchers, Barclays Upgrade Voucher and Gold Upgrade Vouchers as well as flights from low-tax jurisdictions.
Here’s an example.
The new ‘base’ pricing for Business Class to New York, off peak and return, is 160,000 Avios + £350. The new ‘base’ price for Premium Economy to New York is 85,000 Avios + £280.
On this basis, ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ from Premium Economy to Business Class should cost (160,000 – 85,000) 75,000 Avios on an off-peak date.
Instead, it is unchanged at the old pre-December 2022 price:
You only require 48,000 Avios to upgrade an off-peak New York return flight to Business Class, which is the difference between the OLD base prices of 100,000 Avios for Business Class (Club World) and 52,000 Avios for Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus).
You will see that the ‘taxes and charges’ number is £996. This is identical to what you pay for a CASH ticket in Business Class to New York.
The base cash price shown, £1399, is the base price of a Premium Economy seat on the dates I looked at. The total cash price for Premium Economy, including £536 of taxes and charges, was a shocking £1935. It costs an extra £400 to upgrade to Business Class because BA adds an additional £400 of surcharges in this cabin.
(It’s hard to believe that a Premium Economy return flight to New York in mid February, including a Saturday night stay, costs £1935 but, in the current crazy market, it does.)
The Reward Flight Saver changes do not apply to First Class so, unsurprisingly, there are no changes to ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ pricing there.
As you are paying the ‘full’ taxes and charges figure when you use ‘Upgrade Using Avios’, not the new lower Reward Flight Saver figure, British Airways is – correctly – not asking you to pay the new, higher, base Avios prices when upgrading.
It’s bizarre that I need to run an article to highlight that BA has ‘done the right thing’ but, given some of the other changes in the last month, it wasn’t something to take for granted.
The only thing that is complex is that, unless you happen to know what the ‘old’ Avios base pricing was – you can find it in this HfP article – you can’t work out in advance what your upgrade will cost.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (January 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:
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.
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.
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.
SPECIAL OFFER: Capital On Tap has increased its sign-up bonus to points worth 30,000 Avios if you apply by 4th February. This is exclusive to Head for Points readers. Click here to apply.
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.
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.
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.