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The odd way that ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ is priced since long-haul Reward Flight Saver launched

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Many strange things happened with the extension of Reward Flight Saver Avios pricing to long haul premium cabin redemptions 18 months ago.

At that time British Airways introduced the option to pay lower surcharges (a fixed fee of £350 return on most long haul Club World routes) in return for using a lot more Avios.

If you had a large Avios balance and a low bank balance then these changes are positive, and they work well for anyone redeeming a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher.

how to upgrade british airways flights with avios

The changes were bad news for anyone with an ‘old style’ Amex 241 voucher (although these are all now used or expired), Barclays Upgrade Voucher or Gold Upgrade Voucher, or anyone who enjoyed booking flights from low-tax jurisdictions.

One interesting change was the impact on ‘Upgrade Using Avios’. This is when you use Avios to upgrade a cash ticket on British Airways.

What was interesting was that there was no change.

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, non-refundable or full fare, 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, non-refundable or full fare, 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, Business Class or First Class, you won’t be able to upgrade your Economy, Premium Economy or Business Class 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 you book flights and upgrade with Avios?, 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 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.

What does it cost to upgrade a BA flight with Avios?

To quote from

“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 a standard Avios redemption ticket in the higher cabin and the cost of a standard Avios redemption ticket in the cabin you originally booked.

In addition, you pay the taxes and charges based on the cabin you fly in.

How does Upgrade Using Avios work

What changed with the introduction of Reward Flight Saver to long haul?

Intriguingly …. nothing.

It seemed that someone at BA took a deliberate decision NOT to wreck ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ pricing.

Upgrades continue to be priced off the Avios points needed for a flight before December 2022.

Here’s an example.

The current ‘base’ pricing for Business Class to New York, off peak and return, is 160,000 Avios + £350. The current ‘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:

How does Upgrade Using Avios work

You only require 48,000 Avios to upgrade an off-peak New York return Premium Economy 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 are being charged a lot in extra surcharges but you don’t notice it

If you look at the screenshot above, you might think that the cash price of the underlying Premium Economy ticket is £1,570.

It isn’t. It is actually £950. So where does the extra £620 come from?

As well as charging you 48,000 Avios, British Airways quietly adds a £620 surcharge when you upgrade. The ‘carrier surcharge’ in Club World is £900 return whereas in Premium Economy it is only £280 return, so you are charged the £620 difference on top of the cost of the Premium Economy ticket.

Hence, in my example above, you are paying £950 for the Premium Economy ticket plus £620 in additional surcharges for a total cash element of £1,570.

The Reward Flight Saver changes do not apply to First Class so, unsurprisingly, there are no changes to ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ pricing there.


‘Upgrade Using Avios’ on long haul British Airways flights is still priced off the pre-Reward Flight Saver levels of taxes and charges.

The reason, I think, is because it is the easiest way to get around the problem that taxes and charges are capped on Reward Flight Saver flights but are not capped on the underlying cash ticket from which you would be upgrading.

Rather than have to pay a partial cash refund to anyone who upgrades, it is easier for BA to pretend that Reward Flight Saver doesn’t exist and keep using the pre-December 2022 Avios pricing.

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

Comments (49)

  • PH says:

    I wish they’d throw a bone to those of us with crappy work travel policies re: the ability to upgrade more economy fares and… shock horror… 2 class upgrades

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