Everyone loves an upgrade. Everyone.
Despite the fact that most people love the idea of an upgrade, most people fail to put in the minimal work required to actually get one. They also fail to consider that most upgrades happen long before you get to the airport and don’t require a gimmicky line. In short: you just need points or cash. In the case of British Airways, you need Avios Points or cold hard cash.
Here’s a ridiculously clear guide to upgrades on British Airways and their many airline partners, to make sure you end up where you belong – aka in a better seat!
- Pay Cash, or take a special cash offer.
- Use Avios Points to upgrade a cash or Avios booking.
Use charm and wear a great outfit.
The third is a bold faced lie. It will never work, so save yourself and the lovely check in person the effort of saying no, and just do one or two.
Roadblocks To British Airways Upgrades…
There are a few things which can keep you from being able to successfully upgrade your British Airways booking using cash or Avios, so they’re important to know right from the get go.
Basically, you want your booking to be made directly with BA, or ticketed using British Airways “stock”, which means your ticket starts with a 125, a dash and then a series of numbers. It would look something like 125-12345678910. You can’t upgrade using Avios or directly with BA if your ticket…
- Was issued by another airline, like American, Finnair or Iberia.
- Is booked into a special group economy ticket fare class, like Q, O or G.
- Is already in first class. Pilots seats are sadly not up for sale at this time.
You can now upgrade using Avios at the airport, using a dedicated desk at Heathrow, but upgrades on board using an app still aren’t available, for now. If you want to use your miles to upgrade, you must do so before check in, ideally more than 24 hours in advance, or at the Heathrow upgrade counter. Using cash, you’ve got more flexibility.
If you booked with BA and want to upgrade an American or Iberia flight, you can. Similarly, you can upgrade a British Airways flight booked with American, but you can only do so using the points currency of the airline you booked with. Which you choose is hugely important though, because you’ll need miles with the airline you booked with.
Basically, if you booked British Airways flights via American Airlines, you must use American AAdvantage miles to upgrade your flight on British Airways. If you booked American flights via British Airways, you must use BA Avios to upgrade. Got it?
Upgrade Update: In late 2020, or early 2021 – Oneworld Alliance is set to announce alliance wide upgrades, which will mean you can use miles from any Oneworld airline to upgrade a ticket on any other Oneworld Airline. BA is included. This means you’ll have far more options to use Avios to upgrade flights on Cathay Pacific, JAL, Qantas and others in the near future.
Every airline has different rules for upgrades, and British Airways are actually really fair. In every cabin there are expensive and less expensive fares, and even the lowest fares (excluding Q, O and G) can be bumped up to the next cabin. The main rules are…
- You can only upgrade one cabin, like economy to premium, premium to biz, biz to first.
- You can only upgrade using Avios if a seat using Avios is available in the next cabin.
- If you want to upgrade with cash, that’s always possible as long as a seat is for sale.
British Airways and other airlines operating in the region are bound by weird cabin taxes, which make upgrading from economy to premium economy (world traveller to world traveller plus) almost always a terrible idea. This is because you pay an increased passenger tax as soon as you move in front of the curtain. If you’re already in premium and want to move to business or business to first it’s much, much better value.
Ok great, but how do I find upgradeable seats?
SeatSpy.com and RewardFlightFinder.com are two of the easiest tools for finding seats which you can book using Avios, or upgrade to using British Airways Avios. Search for a seat in the cabin you’d like to sit in, on the flight you’re booked on, and if there’s one available, it’ll be available for upgrade using your points.
British Airways Upgrades Using Avios
Using Avios there’s one main key factor, scratch that – two key factors you need. You need points first, and you need a seat made available in the cabin you want to upgrade to using points as well. It’s much easier than you think to find said seats. Simply run a search using Avios, as if you don’t already have a booking. You want to search in the cabin you want to upgrade to – not from – and you want to make sure the seat is available on the same flight.
If you have a booking made with Avios, you can upgrade it using more Avios, if a seat is available in the next cabin. You pay the difference in Avios and passenger taxes. If you made a booking with cash, you’ll pay a cost in Avios and passenger taxes, which is the difference in points needed from one cabin to the next.
Almost all long haul upgrades to business class or first class require between 18,000-30,000 points one way, depending on peak or off peak and how far you’re going. You can figure out the exact Avios cost by subtracting the cabin you’re in from the cabin you’re going to.
London to New York or vice versa is 68,000 Avios one way off peak in first class. Business class off peak is 50,000 points, and premium is 26,000 points so an upgrade from business to first would require 18,000 Avios (68,000-50,000) and premium to business 24,000 points (50,000-26,000).
Hot Tip: The best upgrades are the ones you can do instantly, like finding a cheap premium economy flight and immediately calling and upgrading to business class using Avios Points. Don’t attempt this online. To do this, look at upgrade possibilities before you actually book and then call instead.
Again, the best tools for upgrading British Airways flights or finding availability to use your Avios Points are SeatSpy or RewardFlightFinder. These free websites allow you to see all dates where seats using Avios are available in your desired cabin.
- Reward Flight Finder allows you to search once and see a year of availability.
- You can also set free alerts, which will email you when and if a seat opens up.
- When a seat opens up in the cabin in front of you, you call BA on the phone to upgrade.
You really don’t want to upgrade economy tickets to premium economy tickets and that’s mostly because of the exorbitant, highly questionable cash surcharge you’ll face to cover the increased passenger taxes.
Upgrades on British Airways from premium to business (World Traveller Plus to Club World) or business to first (Club World to First) are the best values, and you’ll usually pay roughly £100-£200 in cash, in addition to the points.
Hottest Tip: Right now the best value in travel is finding “cheap” premium economy fares from the UK or Europe to the USA, Middle East and beyond, and upgrading to Club World business class using Avios. There are many recent examples where you could fly round trip business by buying a £515 return premium economy ticket and spending 40,000 points for a return upgrade.
It’s important to note that the figure you’re quoted over the phone may not always be correct. Yep, sometimes airlines incorrectly price things. Read up on how to tackle all that here, once you’re done with this immensely helpful guide you can’t wait to share with your friends.
British Airways Upgrades Using Cash
If you’ve read any of the news stories saying that downloading your preferred airlines app is a great idea, they were right – it is. You can always upgrade any British Airways ticket you booked with cash using more cash, but it’s almost always going to be crazy expensive. The best way to upgrade using cash is often the special offers which are pushed to travelers in the British Airways mobile app. When you log on to your booking, you’ll see a “special offer” price. These are worth monitoring! A few things to note…
- You generally can’t upgrade Avios bookings using cash.
- You can only upgrade with cash if a seat is still available for sale.
- Unless you get an offer, you’ll pay the full difference in fare to upgrade.
Business class can occasionally be the same price or less than economy or premium. When corporate travel policies or initial budgets make travelers book economy, it’s worth taking a peek to see what business or premium is selling for, since the upgrade price might be really reasonable. Checking the best source for business class deals in the first place also helps too.