How (and Why) to Upgrade Your British Airways Flight Using Avios

If booking a premium cabin ticket on a British Airways flight costs too much, try using Avios to upgrade.

JT GenterApr 22, 2021
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It can be frustrating to try to find good use of British Airways Avios, particularly on British Airways flights. Booking British Airways rewards flights with Avios can be quite expensive, both in Avios and out-of-pocket cost. That’s why we generally recommend using Avios to book rewards flights on British Airways’ partners that don’t charge hefty fees.

But there’s one great way to use Avios on British Airways flights, and it’s something we all love to do: Get an upgrade. By paying a typically modest Avios and cash co-pay, you can upgrade your seat on British Airways. Here's how to take advantage of this sweet spot.

What you need to know

The number of Avios needed

The cost to upgrade a British Airways flight using Avios is based on that flight's award price. Say you booked a flight in premium economy and wanted to upgrade to business class. If an award in premium economy cost 40,000 Avios and an award in business class cost 60,000 Avios, it would cost 20,000 Avios to upgrade the flight.

That means you need to know the award price for British Airways flights to calculate the upgrade price. And that’s complicated because British Airways no longer publishes an award chart, and its rewards flights are based on distance and a peak-versus-off-peak calendar.

Let’s walk through a few examples. For flights between New York-John F. Kennedy and London-Heathrow, the Avios price to upgrade from premium economy to business class is:

  • 24,000 Avios during off-peak dates (26,000 versus 50,000 Avios).

  • 20,000 Avios during peak dates (40,000 versus 60,000 Avios).

Upgrading from business class to first class between Los Angeles and London-Heathrow costs:

  • 22,500 Avios during off-peak dates (62,500 versus 85,000 Avios).

  • 25,000 Avios during peak dates (75,000 versus 100,000 Avios).

Restrictions

Not all flight classes are eligible

Not all British Airways flights can be upgraded with Avios. The lowest economy fare classes (Q, O and G) can't be upgraded. So, if you got a great deal on a British Airways flight in one of these classes, you may not be able to upgrade to premium economy.

You can use Avios to upgrade ONLY to the next cabin

You can’t use Avios to upgrade from economy to business class. To fly in business class, you’ll first need to pay to upgrade your flight to premium economy. Then you can apply Avios to upgrade from premium economy to business class.

you must upgrade in advance

Travelers can’t upgrade with Avios at the airport or on board. You’ll need to upgrade with Avios online or over the phone before heading to the airport.

There must be award availability

To upgrade a flight, there must be award availability in the cabin that you want to move to. If you want to upgrade from premium economy to business class, you’ll need to confirm that there’s business class award availability. There are two ways to find out:

  1. Search award availability on British Airways’ website. However, American Airlines’ website also shows British Airways award availability, and many travelers find searching on AA.com more user-friendly.

  2. Use American’s advanced search tool. Search only the route between the U.S. city and London, even if you’re connecting afterward. Then, limit the results to nonstop.

Search results show award availability for two business class options and one first class option.

Remember that you can ignore the prices listed. You’re just checking to see if there’s award availability on a flight. If your search returns results, there’s upgrade space on that flight.

How to get British Airways Avios

If you want to upgrade with Avios, there’s one necessary ingredient: Avios. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get them that don’t involve flying British Airways. The airline is a partner of three of the five major transferable points programs:

With these transfer options, you can effectively earn 3 British Airways Avios per dollar spent on travel and dining by using the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Or earn 4 Avios per dollar spent at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x points) by using the American Express® Gold Card. Terms apply.

When to use Avios for a British Airways upgrade

The two best cases for using Avios to upgrade British Airways flights are going from premium economy to business class and from business class to first class.

Upgrading from premium economy to business class

If you’re flying across the Atlantic, who doesn’t want to do so in a lie-flat seat? Thankfully, the Avios rewards difference between World Traveller Plus and Club World can be quite reasonable for many routes. For example, between Boston and London-Heathrow, a rewards flight in World Traveller Plus costs 40,000 Avios, while Club World costs 60,000 Avios.

That means it costs only 20,000 Avios to upgrade from premium economy to business class on this route during peak dates. However, that’s just the Avios cost. You’ll need to price out the difference in taxes and fees to see if the total cost of this upgrade makes sense for you. The cost will depend on the route and ticket.

For reference, we priced out an upgrade on a premium economy flight from Las Vegas to London-Heathrow for June 2021. British Airways quoted 30,000 Avios to upgrade, plus a cash co-pay of $180.91 per person.

Upgrading from business class to first class

British Airways offers a rather spectacular first class product, especially now that it's started installing a seat with a closing door. First class passengers departing London-Heathrow or New York-JFK are treated to the Concorde Room. Exclusive for first class passengers, this lounge offers restaurant-style dining, private cabanas and even a complimentary massage or facial treatment.

Fittingly, the price to book British Airways first class can be extraordinarily high. However, you can experience this luxury for a relatively low price through an upgrade with Avios.

One of the reasons that British Airways rewards flights cost so much is the carrier-imposed surcharges. When upgrading with Avios, you have to pay the difference in surcharges between the cabins. However, there’s typically no difference in the out-of-pocket cost between business class and first class, which you can see when comparing rewards flights.

How to use Avios for a British Airways upgrade

To upgrade your British Airways flights with Avios, you can either request the upgrade online or call the airline.

If you already have a ticket

1. Log in

As phone wait times can be quite long, you’ll probably want to try to request the upgrade online. Log in to your Executive Club account, then go to Manage My Booking.

If you didn’t include your Executive Club account at booking, find the confirmation number for the booking in your email and use the Manage My Booking tool to retrieve it.

2. Head to the bottom of your account page

Scroll all the way to the Quick Links section at the bottom and select “Upgrade my class of travel with Avios.”

3. Complete THE upgrade

Follow the prompts to complete your upgrade. Some users may be told they can't upgrade online and will be asked to call in.

If you need to call to request an upgrade, start by telling the agent that you want to upgrade your flight using Avios. It typically takes a few minutes for the agent to confirm availability and price out the upgrade.

If you don't have a ticket yet

If you haven’t yet booked a British Airways flight, you can use the British Airways “Book and Upgrade” tool to figure out the exact cost of booking a flight and then using Avios to upgrade.

Enter the route, dates, cabin you want to book and which legs you want to upgrade (inbound, outbound or both).

Click “Get flights” to see which flights have an upgrade available.

On the final page, you’ll get a quote of how much it will cost to book this flight and apply the upgrade.

The total is the all-inclusive price of the cash ticket plus the cost to upgrade. In this example of a flight from Chicago-O'Hare to London-Heathrow in July 2021, you’d pay $942 and 20,000 Avios for a one-way flight in business class that would otherwise cost over $7,000.

The bottom line

Using Avios to upgrade British Airways flights can help you get solid value, whether that’s upgrading to a lie-flat business class seat or the luxury of first class. However, make sure to factor in the full cost — not just the Avios cost — when determining if upgrading with Avios is right for your situation.

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