How to Upgrade Your Next Flight With British Airways Avios

May 1, 2019

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There are plenty of different ways to use your British Airways Avios — most notably for reward flights. However, some of the best value you can get from those points is by upgrading a flight using Avios from your British Airways Executive Club account.

Eligible Flights

You can upgrade your flight operated by British Airways, Iberia or American Airlines, subject to availability. These flights need to have the flight number of the operating carrier, so the flight you wish to upgrade can’t be a codeshare.

You can only upgrade one class — so economy to premium economy, business/Club World to first class, etc. If the carrier does not offer premium economy on your flight, it’s possible to upgrade from economy to business class. Currently, upgrades from economy to premium economy on American Airlines-operated flights are not possible.

The cheapest economy fares cannot be upgraded — these are the G, O and Q fare classes. To understand what fare code your ticket is, read our guide here.

In addition, in order to be eligible to upgrade your flight, the ticket must be issued by British Airways or a British Airways-registered travel agent, regardless of the operating carrier. There is the ability to upgrade British Airways flights booked through third party travel agents, but there are many more terms and conditions applicable.

You will still earn Avios and Tier Points for the cash fare you originally purchased (the one you are upgrading). You can choose to upgrade just one, or multiple flights within one itinerary — subject to availability, of course.

British Airways A318 Club World to New York. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)
British Airways A318 Club World to New York. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.)

Finding Availability

Each airline manages its upgrades differently. Some allow upgrades at the time of booking, while others process them at the absolute last minute based on seats they would not be able to sell. Some show availability for upgrades and redemptions together, while others show availability for just redemptions or just upgrades. British Airways’ availability is simple — if perhaps frustrating. The seats available for upgrading must also be available for a straight reward redemption.

This makes searching for upgrade availability easy because it’s the same as searching for reward availability. At the same time, you may find that the upgraded seat in a premium cabin you are looking for has already been taken by someone else as a full redemption.

British Airways does release some additional redemption/upgrade availability at the last minute, so if there are no upgrades with Avios available when you first search, it can be worth checking again in the few days before the flight departs. You can try and upgrade at any time from booking, but you must do it prior to check-in — don’t wait until the airport or boarding gate.

For scenarios like this, ExpertFlyer is an incredibly useful tool. With a subscription, you can set alerts for upgrade or redemption space. If space does open up, ExpertFlyer will send you an email right away so you can log in to book the newly available seat.

Cost

This is where it gets a bit tricky. There’s unfortunately no simple upgrade pricing chart published by British Airways. Instead, looking at the chart for a straight redemption, the cost to upgrade is the full redemption cost (of the upgraded class), less the Avios for the lower class you have already paid for.

As an example, if you have an off-peak World Traveller Plus ticket from London to Toronto that you wish to upgrade to Club World, the distance is 3,556 flown miles one-way. That falls into Zone 5, so a Club World ticket would be 50,000 Avios as a straight redemption. Deducting the 26,000 Avios required for a World Traveller Plus redemption (that you have already paid as your cash fare), you will need 24,000 Avios to upgrade this flight to Club World.

As with redemptions, upgrades are charged on a per-flight basis, so if you chose to upgrade both legs of a return ticket you would be charged two separate Avios amounts to upgrade.

Now, where your upgraded class has higher taxes and fees, you will have to pay this at the time of upgrading, as well as the Avios. This is important to note because for flights in premium classes, the luxury Air Passenger Duty is payable, and this can significantly increase the cost of the redemption.

The Concorde Room, British Airways lounge. (Photo by Daniel Ross / The Points Guy.)

How to Book Your Upgrade

This part is easy. Just go to BritishAirways.com, find the your booking in the ‘Manage my Booking’ tab and then select the ‘Upgrade Using Avios’ option. It’s best to check availability (by doing a straight redemption search) first though.

Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy.

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