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 to make sure you end up where you belong!

There Are Three Ways To Get A British Airways Upgrade…

  1. Pay Cash, or take a special cash offer.
  2. Use Avios Points to upgrade a cash or Avios booking.
  3. 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 direct with BA, or ticketed using British Airways “stock”, which means your ticket starts with a 125. 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 also can’t upgrade using Avios at the airport or on board, yet. For now, don’t ask because it can’t be done. If you want to use your miles to upgrade, you must do so before check in, ideally more than 24 hours in advance.

If you booked with BA and want to upgrade an American or Iberia flight, you can. Similarly, you can upgrade a BA flight booked with American, but you can only do so using the points currency of the airline you booked with. Basically, if you booked British Airways flights via American Airlines, you must use American AAdvantage miles to upgrade. If you booked American flights via British Airways, you must use Avios to upgrade. Got it?

British Airways Upgrades You Can And Cannot Do

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.

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.

For example…

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.

The best tool for upgrading British Airways flights is RewardFlightFinder. This free website allows 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.

Cash Costs On Upgrades Using Avios

You really don’t want to upgrade economy tickets to premium economy tickets and that’s mostly because of the cash surcharge you’ll face to cover the increased passenger taxes. Upgrades 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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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21 Comments

  1. In my experience with British Airways, if you want to upgrade paying cash, but there is no special offer price offered on the website or mobile app (and you know there are seats available, using expert flyer to check), then you can always upgrade at the check-in desk at the Airport. I travel regularly between London and various Gulf destinations, and I have upgraded at the airport (in either direction – yes, this even works in Riyadh…) a few times. For example, a “full fare” upgrade from Club World to First may be showing on the website or app for at least £1000, and whilst the special offer upgrade may be £400-£500 when available, the check-in desk upgrade will usually be about £600 (i.e. much less than the “full fare” upgrade). So if you want an upgrade paying cash, it always makes sense to take the special offer upgrade if its offered, but if it isn’t available, don’t pay the full fare upgrade online, if you’re willing to chance the availability of a “better value” upgrade at the airport (and, of course, expert flyer is still saying there is space…)

  2. the downside of attempting to upgrade is when you have had to book through corporate service and the ticket is locked to the travel agent…. i find this varies company to company however and haven’t yet understook the rationale; but where the “app” upgrade is available i’ve found it to be cheaper than online

  3. On BA, if you pay in cash and upgrade with Avios then you only get the Avios/tier points for the flight you paid for, not the class you travel in. Much better to pay cash for the class you want and reduce the price with Avios. That way you get Avios/tier poins for the class you paid for.

    1. Sorry Desilu,
      That’s just not quite accurate on a few counts.

      1) The difference between cabins can be thousands. Paying £10k for a first class ticket or £2k for a business class ticket, a few extra points are not worth £8k. Same goes for potential difference between £700 premium and £5k business. Unless you’re working with unlimited funds, your statement could be true in niche situations but very rarely in most practical terms.

      2) It’s long been known that your first statement doesn’t always work out the way you think it will.

  4. As you can see from comments you can upgrade two cabins. You just need to do one online, y to wtp, you can then do an airport upgrade to J if available. If you don’t checkin you can ask what upgrades are available at the airport, if what you want is available you can go online do one upgrade then do the airport upgrade. The risk to that is getting bumped or downgraded if flight is overbooked. Does that make sense. David

    1. But you can’t. An upgrade and an upsell are two different things.

      There’s never a guarantee of being able to upgrade at an airport, nor is there a fixed price. If available, it’s whatever BA are asking on the day for the difference.

      You can’t upgrade using Avios at the airport, and you can’t upgrade two cabins using Avios either, so I must respectfully stand by my assertion. That doesn’t mean you can’t book economy and end up in business, but it’s an exception to the rule, rather than the rule.

      Paying to go from economy to business or first class isn’t an upgrade, it’s an up sell.

  5. I’ve noticed in a few articles you specifically advice to call BA after booking to upgrade with Avios. What’s the benefit in doing it this way rather using their “book with money and upgrade with Avios” feature online when booking the original ticket?

  6. Hey All, bit late to this conversation,

    @Gilbert ‘travel Jedi’ Ott (or anyone)… do you have any idea on the range of special offer prices BA ‘might’ offer on a World Traveller plus to Club upgrade?

    The specific flight is a paid world traveller plus ticket LHR to DXB (though club on the DXB to LHR leg), I can see on expert flyer there are a ton of seats available (though none I can upgrade to with avios). the flight is at an off peak time (and supposedly on the new A350). The standard upgrade cost is i’m offered is £1100.

    Just wondering IF (and that’s the royal IF) a special offer appears for the upgrade, how much might or could it be?

  7. I’ve got to make a booking for a small group of people. In order for them to benefit from my silver status (check in, extra luggage allowance etc.), we all need to be on the same booking. I would however like to book myself a Business seat, whilst the others in the group would like Economy seats. If I book us all on Economy and then upgrade my seat, BA split my booking from the others and give me a new booking reference. So how should I go about booking this, so that we are all on the same booking?

  8. Great article! I’m struggling to find the contact numbers for BA Executive Club, especially for the US office which I’m told is the best way to book Avios flights to get the seats you want. Where are these contact numbers listed?

  9. I’m trying to upgrade using avios for one leg of my upcoming flight. The availability is there but BA are saying that as I booked through an agent and the onward leg is on an other airline I’m not eligible. Can anyone confirm if this is correct?

  10. Hi

    I wonder if you can work your magic here – I missed my AMEX BA Companion Voucher by being £20.41 short of the £10k target and as I was on holiday I didnt realise until the day after the cut off date, aarggh!!!
    I called American Express immediately and was told that as it after the cut off date the computer had already shut the closing date so it would have to be a request into the ‘back office’ to change. This would take 7-10 days, I’ve just called back and apparently its a NO. Very disappointing but seems a shame to miss by such a small amount, rules is rules but any ideas to how I maybe change this outcome?

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