Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 5 – Using British Airways Avios Points to Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

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I get a lot of questions on British Airways Avios points, and started a series on how to use British Airways Avios points 2 years ago and finally finished writing it.

You can use British Airways Avios points to upgrade paid tickets on British Airways and expensive fares on Iberia and American Airlines.

British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

You Can Use British Airways Avios Points to Upgrade Paid Tickets

Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro:

However, you can NOT upgrade award tickets you’ve already booked with British Airways Avios points.  To upgrade those, you have to change your current booking and re-book the award tickets in a higher class IF award seats are available.

There are a few instances where using British Airways Avios points to upgrade a ticket may be a good deal.  Let’s go over the rules for upgrading a paid fare with British Airways Avios points.

Upgrading a Paid British Airways Booking

You can only upgrade 1 class of booking.  On intercontinental flights outside of Europe, British Airways operates:

  • Coach Class (World Traveler)
  • Premium Economy (World Traveler Plus)
  • Business Class (Club World)
  • First Class

To upgrade from 1 class to the next, you have to purchase an eligible fare (we’ll discuss that below) and find available award seats in the class you want to upgrade into.

For example, if you want to upgrade from a paid Premium Economy ticket to Business Class, an award seat has to be available in Business Class.

British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

You Can Use British Airways Avios Points to Upgrade From Premium Economy to Business Class

The price for an upgrade depends on the base number of points for a British Airways Avios award ticket redemption, which you can calculate for any flight using the Avios calculator.  You’ll pay a separate price for each flight you want to upgrade.  You also have to pay any differences in fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees.

Let’s say you wanted to upgrade a round-trip coach ticket between New York and London.  The price for a 1-way coach ticket from New York to London is 20,000 British Airways Avios points.  This is the base price.

The British Airways Avios points prices for upgrades:

  • Coach Class to Premium Economy – 50% of the base price (10,000 British Airways Avios points from New York to London)
  • Premium Economy to Business Class – 50% of the base price (10,000 British Airways Avios points from New York to London)
  • Business Class to First Class – 100% of the base price (20,000 British Airways Avios points from New York to London)

However, British Airways limits which fare classes you can upgrade.  In coach, you can only upgrade Y, B, or H fares which are the most expensive coach fares.

The cheapest British Airways fare for a round-trip ticket between New York and London in November is ~$956.

British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

You’ll Pay ~$956 Round-Trip Coach on British Airways From New York to London

However, the cheapest upgradeable fare (booked in Y, B, or H fare class) is ~$1,793, and would cost 20,000 British Airways Avios points to upgrade round-trip to Premium Economy.

British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

You’ll Pay ~$1,793 Plus 20,000 British Airways Avios Points to Upgrade to Premium Economy Class

However, the cheapest Premium Economy fare is ~$1,543.  So it’s cheaper to buy a Premium Economy ticket than to book the cheapest coach ticket and upgrade with British Airways Avios points.

So using Avios points to upgrade from coach to Premium Economy is generally NOT a good value.

British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

It’s Better to Buy a Premium Economy Ticket Than Upgrade From a Cheap Coach Ticket With British Airways Avios Points

But There’s a Sweet Spot for Upgrading Paid British Airways Tickets

If you want to upgrade using British Airways Avios points, upgrading from Premium Economy to Business Class seems to be the best value.

Because sometimes the lowest Premium Economy fare costs less than the cheapest upgradeable coach fare.

1.   Upgrading a Premium Economy Fare to Business Class Between New York and London

Let’s say you want to purchase a Premium Economy ticket between New York and London.

The base price for a 1-way coach award ticket between New York and London is 20,000 British Airways Avios points, so it costs 50% of the British Airways Avios points to upgrade 1-way.

This means it takes 10,000 British Airways Avios points to upgrade 1-way, or 20,000 British Airways Avios points to upgrade round-trip.  You also have to pay any price differences in fuel surcharge, taxes, and fees.

So to upgrade to Business Class you would pay ~$1,913 in fuel surcharges, taxes and fees and 20,000 British Airways Avios points round-trip.

British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

20,000 British Airways Avios Points and ~$1,913 Gets You an Upgraded Ticket From Premium Economy to Business Class

Because you are paying for a Premium Economy ticket, you will earn British Airways Avios points on your ticket.  According to the Avios calculator, you will earn 8,646 British Airways Avios points for a Premium Economy round-trip ticket from New York to London.

This means that although you’ll pay 20,000 British Airways Avios points to upgrade a Premium Economy round-trip ticket to Business Class, you would earn back at least 8,646 British Airways Avios points from your paid Premium Economy ticket.  And you’ll earn even more if you have elite status on British Airways.

So your net cost would be 11,354 British Airways Avios points (20,000 British Airways Avios point upgrade cost – 8,646 British Airways Avios points earned for the ticket) for the upgrade!

British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

Use British Airways Avios Points to Upgrade Your Seat (and Your Food) Instead of Using British Airways Avios Points for an Award Ticket

Note:   You can earn miles in partner frequent flyer programs, like American Airlines, by changing your frequent flyer number at the airport.

Buying a Premium Economy ticket and upgrading to Business Class would cost:

  • ~$1,913 for the Premium Economy ticket
  • Plus 20,000 British Airways Avios points to upgrade round-trip to Business Class
  • Less 8,646 British Airways Avios points earned from flying a paid Premium Economy fare

So your total cost is ~$1,913 plus 11,354 Avios points to fly Business Class between New York and London.

2.   Using Avios Points for a Business Class Award Seat Between New York and London

If you booked a Business Class award ticket you would pay:

  • 80,000 British Airways Avios points for a round-trip Business Class award ticket (you do NOT earn British Airways Avios points on an award ticket)
  • ~$1,202 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges
British Airways Avios Part 5 Using Avios To Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

You’ll Pay 80,000 British Airways Avios Points and ~$1,202 in Fees on a Round-Trip Business Class Award Ticket

By paying ~$711 more, you save 68,646 British Airways Avios points (80,000 British Airways Avios points to book a Business Class ticket – 11,354 British Airways Avios points to upgrade to Business Class from Premium Economy)!  That’s more than enough for 7 round-trip domestic coach award tickets that cost 9,000 British Airways Avios points each!

But you should always do what’s best for you.  This may be a good strategy if you need to book multiple Business Class tickets and are short on British Airways Avios points, or if your company allows you to buy Premium Economy tickets that you can upgrade with British Airways Avios points.

The only reason that upgrades using British Airways Avios points make sense for booking British Airways flights is because British Airways adds hefty fuel surcharges to their award tickets.  Upgrades using British Airways Avios points are only a good deal relative to the bad deal of using British Airways Avios points for British Airways flights.

However, there are cheaper ways to fly to Europe, such as using British Airways Avios points for flights on Air Berlin or Aer Lingus, which have little to no fuel surcharges.  Or you can transfer your British Airways Avios points to Iberia and book Iberia flights with minimal surcharges.

Bottom Line

Using British Airways Avios points to upgrade paid tickets is generally NOT a good deal, unless you’re upgrading a paid Premium Economy ticket to Business Class.

Even then, you’ll still spend a fair number of British Airways Avios points (and cash) for the ticket.  But it’s a better deal than buying a Business Class award ticket and paying the hefty fees and fuel surcharges plus the British Airways Avios points for the ticket.

Coming up next, Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 6 – Using Cash and Points.

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5 responses to “Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 5 – Using British Airways Avios Points to Upgrade Paid British Airways Tickets

  1. Hey great posts! Had a quick question on BA, not sure if there’s a problem with their system, but it looks like a lot of US Airways flights aren’t showing up right now when trying to book with Avios? I was looking 2 days ago and PHL-PHX on several different dates no more than 3 months out had a ton of a availability, now I can’t even find any availability as far as 8 months out. Just curious to see if you have heard anything similar? Thanks again!

  2. I purchased an award business class fare from SAT to PHL to LHR and used my AA FF#. I understand I won’t receive miles on an award flight, but will I get credit for segments?

  3. Avios is a joke. You get awarded and you can buy points, but at the end of the day BA can dilute the buying power of the points, and even not release upgrade options. We fly Mexico City to London return every year with points and now the upgrade to Club World from Premium Economy is not possible at all.

  4. Avios and BA are the worst when it comes to frequent traveler loyalty. I can never find available seats using Avios points– unlike United or Emirates which will always release available seats, BA won’t make an effort even for Emerald (Gold) members. And they arbitrarily cancel your flights and make you pursue them for years before providing compensation. And they will wrongfully deny your Avios points and Tier points and gleefully acknowledge their error– but not make an effort to correct it. No wonder they rank at the bottom of airline and frequent traveler program rankings, and we read press articles about how filthy their planes are. Shame.

  5. Pingback: Guide to Booking British Airways Avios - Upon Arriving