How To Upgrade Your British Airways Ticket

Three ways to upgrade your British Airways flight with Avios, cash, or status perks

A British Airways plane lifts off the runway.
Updated June 28, 2024
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Upgrading a British Airways flight significantly enhances comfort and travel experience. There are three primary methods available: Avios points, cash payments, or status perks. Each option offers distinct advantages depending on the traveler's situation and the specific flight.

For instance, using Avios to upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy on a transatlantic flight can transform a cramped eight-hour journey into a more spacious, enjoyable experience. However, availability and costs fluctuate, making the timing and method of upgrading crucial factors.

In this article

How to upgrade your British Airways flight

British Airways offers three main ways to upgrade your flight.

  • Use points: You can use Avios points to upgrade flights on British Airways, Iberia, and American Airlines, and vice versa — subject to limitations (more on that below).
  • Pay in cash: Regardless of how you booked your ticket, you can always pay cash to upgrade your flight.
  • Use a voucher: Once you reach Gold status in British Airways’s executive club, you’ll be eligible for free upgrade vouchers once you reach (yet more) milestones.

What are the eligibility criteria for upgrading?

Even if you have the cash or points to pay for an upgrade, you’re not guaranteed to get one. In order for that to happen, you’ll need to meet the following requirements.

  • Availability: You can only upgrade if your flight has room in a higher fare class. You can check this online in your account, by calling British Airways, or by speaking with someone once you're at the airport. Note that even if there are still seats available for purchase, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re available for an upgrade.
  • Special bookings: If you booked with a travel agent, you’ll need to check with them to make any changes. If you booked a holiday package with hotels and/or rental cars, you’ll need to call British Airways directly.
  • First come, first served: Just because a flight has upgrade options available doesn’t mean they’ll still be there later — snag that spot now if you know you want it.
  • Executive Club membership: It sounds fancy, but the “Executive Club” is BA’s frequent flyer program. In order to earn and spend Avios at all, you’ll need to be a member of this free program and have enough points built up to redeem.

Additionally, if you’re booking with Avios, you’ll also have the following limitations.

  • Fare type: As long as you’re not traveling on a bare-bones World Traveller economy fare (Q, O, and G), you’re eligible to upgrade your flight with points, pending availability.
  • Airline points type: You can only use rewards points from British Airways (Avios), American Airlines, or Iberia to upgrade your flight. Even though British Airways is a member of the oneworld alliance and sells tickets on those airlines, you won’t necessarily be able to use those points to upgrade your flights with British Airways.
  • Pre-book your upgrade: Unlike customers who pay cash, if you upgrade with points, you can’t do so once you’re at the airport. You’ll need to do it in advance. More on that below.
  • Upgrade by one cabin class: You can only use points to upgrade by one fare type. For example, you can only move from Economy to Premium Economy, Premium Economy to Business, or Business to First Class.

How to use Avios points for an upgrade

You can use Avios points to upgrade tickets paid for in cash or with other Avios points. This gives you a lot of options, especially if you don’t yet have enough points to redeem a full flight. You can pay cash for the base fare, for example, and use your smaller pot of points for an upgrade. In fact, British Airways even offers a special tool to search award availability for these types of bookings.

Here’s a good step-by-step strategy.

  1. Check your Avios balance: Upgrade costs are determined on a case-by-case basis, so you’ll first need to know how much you have to spend. Check your online account to see.
  2. Search for upgrade availability: If you’ve already booked your flight with British Airways, you can look in your online account or call the airline to see what options are available for upgrading your flight. If you haven’t yet booked, you can use its “book and upgrade” search engine to see options where you pay in cash for your base fare and use points to upgrade to a better seat.
  3. Book the upgrade: If you like your upgrade options and you have enough Avios, you can go ahead and book the upgrade. You’ll get the same benefits that come with that upgraded fare class, such as access to pre-flight Business class airport lounges. It’s also a good way to avoid British Airways baggage fees.

How many Avios points do you need?

British Airways doesn’t publish a simple Avios awards chart that you can use to calculate how many points you’ll need for a flight upgrade. It calculates the upgrade cost for each individual flight, so you’ll need to look up the upgrade cost for the specific flight you’re interested in each time you fly.

British Airways calculates the upgrade cost based on the difference in the Avios points for the two fares. (The Avios points cost for each fare, in turn, depends on other factors like how far you’re flying, whether you’re flying on a peak vs. non-peak travel time, etc.)

For example, let’s say you pay cash for a round-trip Economy fare from Seattle to London, securing your seat on the flight — but you’d like a bit more legroom, and space is available in Premium Economy.

If the points cost for an Economy fare is 25,000 Avios and 50,000 Avios for Premium Economy, then you could snag that upgrade for 25,000 points (the difference in cost between the two fares).

How do you check award availability?

You can check for upgrade availability in two different ways, depending on whether you’ve actually booked your ticket yet or not.

  • Not yet booked: Check which flights have seats available for upgrading by using British Airway’s “book and upgrade” search engine. This is useful if you’re paying cash for your base flight but want to use Avios to upgrade to a better seat.
  • Flight already booked: Locate your booking within your online British Airways account and look for a link to upgrade your flight. You can see upgrade options and costs, and if one strikes your fancy, you can book it here. You can also call British Airways directly. Make sure to do this before your flight because you can’t upgrade with points once you’re at the airport.

How to upgrade with cash

You can’t always use Avios to upgrade your seat, particularly if you’re already at the airport. Paying cash can be a good option if there aren’t any award upgrades available in the higher class, for example, or if you decide late in the game that you really need that extra legroom after you injured your back the night before your flight.

One final word of caution: if you used Avios to book your original fare and decide to spring for that last-minute upgrade at the airport by paying in cash, you won’t earn any additional Avios or Tier points on that transaction. (Tier points propel you toward higher Executive Club rewards.)

How much does a cash upgrade cost?

British Airways is pretty clear in how your upgrade cost in Avios is calculated (i.e., by taking the difference in the points cost between the two fares), but it doesn’t outline how much a cash upgrade will cost.

How do you check upgrade availability?

You can check this for your particular flight in your online account or by searching for options in the “book and upgrade” search engine if you haven’t yet booked.

How to upgrade with status perks

Frequent flyers on British Airways can leverage their loyalty for premium seat upgrades through the airline's Executive Club program. Here's how it works.

Gold status unlocks the door to complimentary upgrades. Once you've earned 2,500 Tier points, British Airways rewards your loyalty with a Golden Ticket - quite literally. This upgrade voucher lets you bump up your seat by one cabin class on any flight.

For the ultra-frequent flyers who rack up 3,500 Tier points, the deal gets even sweeter. At this level, British Airways hands out a two-cabin upgrade voucher. Imagine booking an Economy ticket for a London to New York flight and ending up in Club World (Business Class) without spending an extra penny. That's the power of this voucher.

But wait, there's more. Hit that 3,500 Tier point mark, and you'll get a companion voucher too. This means you can bring a travel buddy along for your upgraded adventure.

How to use your vouchers

Using these vouchers is straightforward.

  1. Log into your Executive Club account
  2. Look for the My Vouchers section
  3. Select the flight you want to upgrade
  4. Apply your voucher

Remember, availability for these upgrades isn't guaranteed. The earlier you try to use your voucher, the better your chances of snagging that premium seat will be.

While reaching Gold status and earning these vouchers takes considerable flying (and spending), the payoff can be substantial. A single long-haul upgrade could be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars, potentially offsetting a significant portion of your travel costs over the year.

Tips to increase your chances of an upgrade

  • Pay with cash instead of with points, since seat availability is more limited for award flights.
  • Book that upgrade as early as possible since they’re offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Choose a flight with more seating options in general, such as flying on off-peak dates or during quieter times of the day.
  • Use a service like Reward Flight Finder to book upgrades with Avios as soon as those seats are released, especially on popular long-haul routes.
  • Look for promotional upgrade offers that British Airways sometimes pushes out in your online account, which can bring down the cash upgrade price to just $79 - $1,299.
  • Open a British Airways credit card so you’ll have enough Avios to pay for that upgrade when the time comes. (Check out FinanceBuzz’s British Airways Visa Signature Card review for more info.)
  • Try to book more flights through British Airways; once you reach Gold status and have 2,500 Tier points under your belt, you’ll get a free flight upgrade voucher. (At 3,500 Tier points, you’ll get a voucher for you and a companion on your fare.)

FAQs

How do I upgrade from economy to business with British Airways?

You can only use Avios points to upgrade from Economy to Business class on short-haul flights operated by British Airways. On long-haul flights, you can only use points to upgrade by one class level, such as from Economy to Premium Economy.

Can I upgrade my British Airways flight after booking?

Yes, you can upgrade your seat at any point up until you’re at the airport ready to board the plane, depending on how you pay and whether there’s room.

Can you use Avios points to upgrade a flight booked with cash?

Yes, if there’s room. If you use your Avios points to upgrade your booking, you’ll only be able to upgrade by one cabin level and only before you get to the airport. For example, if you booked an Economy seat on a transatlantic flight, you’ll only be able to upgrade to Premium Economy, not First Class.

Bottom line

Unlike other carriers such as Alaska Airlines, British Airways doesn’t offer a credit card with upgrade benefits aside from earning more Avios, and that cuts into your options for future flights. That’s a good thing to remember in general: you can use Avios to upgrade your flight, regardless of how you earn them, but it also means it’ll take longer to accrue enough points for your next vacation.

That may not matter to you if you don’t fly British Airways much or maybe if you earn enough points to have them coming out of your ears — but it’s wise to consider. Otherwise, using your points to upgrade can be a valuable way to strike a better balance between comfort and affordability.

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Lindsay VanSomeren

Lindsay VanSomeren is a professional writer based in Suquamish, Washington. Originally a wildlife biologist, Lindsay became passionate about helping others learn smart financial moves after seeing how positive money habits made a big difference in her own life.