Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

‘Upgrade Using Avios’ pricing is, oddly, unchanged despite the recent overhaul

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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 to upgrade british airways flights with avios

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?

To quote from ba.com:

“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.

Conclusion

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.

You can find our more about ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ on ba.com here.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (June 2024)

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:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £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 £15,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points. These points convert at 1:1 into Avios.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 16TH JULY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points and a huge range of valuable 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

10,000 points bonus – plus an extra 500 points for our readers 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.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus 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 (72)

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

  • joe says:

    Will there be a stuffed article about the way the changes effect kids.

    Is it even legal what BA have done?

    If the government were to have brought in reduced APD for kids today, then since BA have a fixed fee, the APD savings on reward flights would just go straight to BA not the consumer this would be an obvious abuse of government money by BA.

    This is exactly what is happening though when you book a kids ticket their reduced APD rate is just extra profit for BA.

    • Rob says:

      RFS in Economy, which is where this kicks in, was launched a couple of years ago on most routes. These changes just covered cabins where kids do pay APD.

      • Froggee says:

        When I booked flights to RFS to Jersey (from Edinburgh), the RFS charge was slightly less than £35 for my sons which I assumed was because the genuine fees, taxes and surcharges was less than £35 for kids.

      • joe says:

        Fair point but how do BA get away with this.
        It costs BA £252 less in taxes to fly 3 kids instead of 3 adults. Why aren’t they forced to pass this saving on?

        Airlines got the biggest benefit of the APD cut due to reduced holiday costs meaning more seats booked. But this is taxpayers money going directly to BA with no benefit to families at all certainly against the spirit of the law.

    • JDB says:

      You should be careful what you wish for! On European RFS, the fixed sum is very often less than the APD and real disbursements. Of course that may change.

      • tony says:

        I don’t believe that’s the case. APD plus Heathrow or Gatwick departure fees will always exceed £25 on the outbound. There are a small number of inbound flights where the real disbursements are less, but once you factor in YQ it’s probably less than 20% of the network where this applies. Germany, France, Austria, Netherlands and Italy are all >£25

  • aseftel says:

    I think you might have picked up some Valentine’s pricing or something – there’s a lot of much cheaper WTP inventory at the moment. E.G. for 03/02-08/02 on BA185 and BA180:

    Cash WTP: £628 (£181 fare)
    Cash CW: £2,054
    UUA to CW: 48k + £1,177
    CW redemption: 160k + £350

    At 1p/Avios, your breakpoint to NYC is £921 – easy to find cash tickets below that in WTP. That does ignore the fact that you’re earning Avios & TP on the underlying ticket if you upgrade (right? Not mentioned in the article), which swings the calculation quite a bit depending on your earning rate and desire for TP.

    • memesweeper says:

      you also loose flexibility unless the underlying WTP ticket has some… but if you are sure of your dates this would appear to be the lowest-cost method of getting into a business cabin.

  • Oliver says:

    Could somebody kindly confirm the flexibility when it comes to getting your Avios back if you need to change the flight dates or cancel all together:
    1) If I have a non-flexible WTP booking and used Avios to upgrade to CW, and I need to cancel or change the date to one without CW Reward Seat availability, do I get my Avios back? Do I lose all of the cash part?
    2) If I booked a flexible WTP booking and upgraded to CW, do I still get my Avios back if I cancel?

    I like Upgrade with Avios as it allows you to collect 180 Tier Points vs. 0 for a full reward flight, however the flexibility of a pure reward flight is an extremely attractive feature! Thank you

    • SamG says:

      You can reverse the upgrade and get your points back

      I’d recommend doing this before any cancellation as I had a big debacle during the BWC voucher era with an upgraded booking

  • SamG says:

    You (likely) SHOULD NOT use this tool to book WTP to CW

    It doesn’t pick up “DIF” fares which BA uses widely – fares that are based on an economy fare with a fixed uncharge to WTP. The tool will only book you into a “pure” T or E or W fare which is usually more expensive

    Book your WTP online and then call in for your upgrade (note you need to chose the change booking option for cash bookings, not Avios). Any problems cancel within your 24hr cooling off period

    What is even more interesting is they did “trash” ET to CE pricing when the £1 option came in, so this was an active decision.

    • AJA says:

      This reinforces what I’ve heard before that “book and upgrade” is worse value than “book, then call to upgrade”. I never really understood why, but you’ve explained it nicely, being the more expensive base fare in WTP before upgrading. I learn something new every day. Thanks.

      • SamG says:

        It’s specifically a WTP to CW issue though, ET to CE, WT to WTP and CW to F all ok!

        • AJA says:

          Thanks. I’ve only ever upgraded WTP to CW

        • Brian says:

          Do you realise that to new readers who are looking for advice, your post is gobble de gook ?
          I know YOU understand it , but a newcomer needs all the info not just the abbreviations, and we are the ones who need the real help, you are experienced enough to cope really.

          • AJA says:

            @Brian The thing is those abbreviations are used by BA themselves and are pretty basic when you consider that they are referring to the cabins on board BA aircraft. The article is all about using Avios to upgrade from one cabin to the next.
            BA, by the way means British Airways (in case you don’t understand that one)
            The rest are:
            F = First or first class
            CW = Club World or business class
            WTP = World Traveller Plus or premium economy
            WT = World Traveller or economy class
            CE = Club Europe or short haul business class
            ET = Euro traveller or short haul economy

            Happy New Year to you.

          • Lady London says:

            Sorry Brian but we all started where you are now.

            A little reading around to catch up with full meanings as things become important to you to understand is what we all had to do ourselves.

            AJA has kindly answered you but your question was even more basic than Frequent Flyer 101 level.

    • tony says:

      Note you can upgrade simple bookings online, so after having made the reservation. There’s no need to call up – note that’s not the case for holidays bookings, though.

  • Paul says:

    Anyone paying £2 grand for BA premium economy either has too much money or is short of several IQ points. Just insane

    • Dev says:

      I did but purely because of a stupid work rule where Biz is now off limits … so I booked a £2.4k WT+ instead of the cheaper CW fare.

      God bless corporate travel agents and the inflexibility of any booking they create on your behalf.

      • Lady London says:

        The only way to work with such policies is to do exactly what they ask and always book WTP if that’s the maximum the company policy will allow.

        Not your fault if “accidentally” your WTP fares so frequently always work out to notably more cost than J would have been.

        You can with good humour, your most cooperativen demeanour and a smile, also put down in writing the relative costs “just to mention”.

        The other thing you and your colleagues can do, is request that if you now do longhaul without the benefit of a flat bed so you can’t sleep in the plane, you will have an extra hotel night on arrival to sleep in order to be in a fit state for meetings/work the following day.

        And on the return, due in the office/for work only after a full night’s sleep on your return. You can mention Health & Safety somewhere in this. Whilst of course cooperating in full with the required policy.

        If you’re important enough to the company then by all means refuse to fly – but if you’re not sure you are, less risky to try as above or negotiate extra nights on each trip instead, letting the company make its own decision to change if they see higher costs or less available work time.

    • Andy says:

      As a corporate traveller from the regions doing a 48hr TATL would you choose for your corporate travel booker to stay in process and spend (in my case) north of £2.9k for BA where I have lounge access and upgrade opportunities (I sat in new first on the way out), or insist on an AirTransat, Delta or Westjet economy … when I’ve work to do and 19 hours days to stay in UK time at the other end, I think it’s pricey, but the alternatives suck.

      • Dev says:

        When you travel to countries where your UK sim does not work, and local airport is terrible and traffic situation would drive you bonkers, the only way to travel is with top tier status on legacy carriers in Full Flex no-nonsense fares where you can change at will even at check-in, paying north of £2-3k for both economy and/or Economy+ seats is the norm.

      • Bagoly says:

        I think Paul (and I ) would say that your company should be paying for you to be in CW. Or not need to go.

        • Dev says:

          Unfortunately a post-covid “re-interpretation” of travel policy by HR! It truly drives you mad but I absolutely insist on my 11hrs rest as a minimum.

          I’m slowly approaching the limit where I will refuse to go.

  • SamG says:

    7 night Inc a Saturday is £670 on a DIF fare based on O class economy for example

    Then compare the “carrier imposed surcharge” between that and the CASH CW fare for the same dates and that’ll roughly be your cash cost for the upgrade

  • Tony says:

    It’s too much like hard work!!

    On U.K. shorthaul Ive discovered EasyJet…. Looking for Y London – Mykonos in early May….BA are charging £350 rtn, biggest shock….EasyJet are charging £46 basic return!! £46…!! Bingo.

    • Peter K says:

      But easyJet don’t do longhaul which is where this article is saying the most benefit comes from.

    • Bagoly says:

      Don’t disagree with your conclusion; but to be comparable, do add say £30 each way for a suitcase and arguably £25 each way for a seat.

    • Barbs says:

      That £46 usually means you can only take a small underseat bag, and that’s it. By the time you’ve paid for a proper check and/ or carry on bag, and probably picked a seat, because the non emergency seats are smaller then BA seats, you often end up not much off the BA price.

  • LewisB says:

    Just called to upgrade a WTP BA Holiday (LHR-LAX-LHR) and can confirm they used the old avios pricing and usual carrier imposed charges (+£400pp).

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