a bed with a pillow and a purse on it

One of our favorite sweet spots within the British Airways Executive Club program is upgrading paid tickets from Premium Economy to Business Class. British Airways offers fantastic Premium Economy deals from many European cities, and occasionally from London as well. Upgrades should cost minimal cash but for some reason, that’s rarely what you’re told when you want to upgrade.

a plane flying above the cloudsThe Jump

Upgrades from paid economy tickets to premium economy incur substantial cash fees, and are rarely a good deal – if ever. Airlines add large surcharges to move from economy to premium economy, because any cabin higher than economy incurs higher, separate taxes and surcharges. But from premium economy to business, or business to first – the fees are supposed to be virtually the same. So what goes wrong?

Fuel Surcharges

Fuel surcharges appear in the boring breakdown of the price of your ticket with the line “YQ”. Surcharges should be virtually identical between premium economy, business and first – and they pretty much are with British Airways. So when you call to upgrade a flight you booked with cash from Premium Economy to Business Class, the cost should be within $20-$30 in cash, plus any miles needed. But agents regularly come back with an upgrade cost in the $300’s and up one way, plus miles! Don’t accept that.

Manual Calculation

Politely ask the agent if they wouldn’t mind doing a manual calculation of the difference in fees and surcharges. You can mention that you’ve paid far less before and would greatly appreciate the effort. To compare, you can do your own calculation by using the ITA Matrix. Simply visit this website. Open up a second browser window too. Perform a search for the cabin you’re booked in, and in the other window, for the cabin you’ll upgrade to. Search as if you’re booking a new ticket and paying cash. You’ll see two hugely different prices, but it’s the fees associated with the ticket you’re after. Not the difference in price.

a bed with pillows and a purse on itYour Calculation

By doing your own calculation, you’ll see that the YQ is virtually identical between a premium economy fare and a business class booking. Therefore, there really shouldn’t be any substantial difference in price. Click on the British Airways ticket you’ve already booked or will book. On the next page you’ll see a breakdown of the fare. When upgrading just the long haul leg on flights that originate outside the UK, we believe British Airways agents (innocently) incorrectly add in the £150 UK passenger duty, amongst other fees. They should not. The routing has not changed.

Your Move

Don’t be afraid to kick this issue to as many ticketing agents as you need. You’re in the right. Unless of course- British Airways has changed their upgrade system, without warning. We don’t think they have, so this is just a common error preventing people from getting the amazing flat bed business class upgrades they deserve. Remember, the price of the ticket doesn’t matter, just the comparison in the fees associated with the ticket. Ignore the fare, examine the fees. It may take a supervisor, but in short order – you should be able to upgrade to the seat you’d like, with just minimal cash out of pocket, and your Avios of course. Enjoy!

Have you run into this issue?

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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  1. What Ia surprise.. Bloody Awful are rinsing their passengers with hidden fees and lies Sorry but old n news

  2. I recently upgraded a PE ticket to J and was charged $120 in taxes, but they also never deducted my Avios. Should I expect them to deduct them later?

    1. Round trip? That’s not too bad if so. Sometimes the computer doesn’t process properly, so I would assume they might, until after you’ve flown the trip. If they don’t congrats – you win some, lose some.

  3. Two years back i upgraded a return flight from Oslo via London to Toronto / return. And only paid 120 pound everything included tax wise etc
    Never been close to this after that occasion.

  4. I just used the ITA matrix to check this as I got a quote for an upgrade that seemed wildly off what it should be, and the difference in the YQ from PE to CW was £250. I guess BA has changed their ways and place a higher surcharge on CW than PE now. 🙁

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