Sweet Spot: Avios Upgrade From Premium Economy to Business Class

British Airways Club Suite Seat 5

British Airways and its frequent flyer program Executive Club are very popular among travellers. One reason for this is the path to obtaining an elite tier, which can be relatively easy with the UK-based airline. But also the possibilities for redeeming Avios – the Executive Club currency – help to make the program one of the most interesting ones out there.

There are several ways how you can get rid of your hard-earned Avios. But the best one for sure is to redeem them for upgrade awards. Specifically for upgrades from premium economy class to business class. Here you’ll find out which flights are eligible for such an upgrade, how high the costs are, and how exactly you can book your upgrade.

Which Flights Can Be Upgraded?

In principle, most flights operated by British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines are eligible for an upgrade with Avios. You will most likely notice a big difference between upgrading your ticket and booking award tickets. You can get those by using Avios on all British Airways partners.

So the possibilities to redeem Avios for upgrades are limited. And even with the three airlines mentioned, it is essential to make sure that you don’t book codeshare flights. In order words, the code has to belong to one of the named carriers (e.g., BA for British Airways).

What Other Requirements Are There?

The most important one is that all tickets have to be issued by British Airways. So it’s best to just book via ba.com. If this requirement is not met, you won’t be able to upgrade your flight!

On the plus side: you don’t have to worry about your booking class. Virtually all premium economy class tickets are eligible for an Avios upgrade. But you can only climb up to the next cabin class, not all the way to first.

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And here’s where the chance for a great and cheap upgrade opens up. We’ve been promoting tickets for a premium economy class flight, e.g., to the USA at prices starting below €500. Using Avios to make this trip a business class flight is definitely a great deal!

How Much Will an Upgrade Cost?

There’s no short answer to this question since the surcharge will be a combination of Avios and cash.

Avios

British Airways doesn’t publish charts showing the exact amount of Avios needed to upgrade a flight. But you can do the math yourself. Take the amount of Avios required for an award ticket in business class and subtract the Avios that you would have used for your actual tickets – if you wouldn’t have paid in cash. The result is what you will need in your account to get an upgrade. An example might make this easier to understand:

Let’s say you’ve booked a premium economy class ticket for a flight from London to Montreal. The distance between those two airports is about 3,250 miles. Consequently, this flight will be in British Airways’s zone 5. If you had booked your ticket with Avios, you would have needed 26,000. The business class flights would have cost 50,000. The difference – and therefore the amount of Avios you need – is 24,000.

Here’s what you will need to upgrade your next flight from premium economy class to business. You might notice that off-peak upgrades are more expensive than those in peak starting from zone 5. We can’t tell if there’s a good reason for that. It definitely seems like an odd choice..

Zone
Distance in miles
Off-PeakPeak
Zone 1
1-650
2,0002,250
Zone 2
651 – 1,150
3,2503,750
Zone 3
1,151 – 2,000
4,2505,000
Zone 4
2,001 – 3,000
11,25012,500
Zone 5
3,001 – 4,000
24,00020,000
Zone 6
4,001 – 5,500
30,00025,000
Zone 7
5,501 – 6,500
36,00030,000
Zone 8
6,501 – 7,000
42,00035,000
Zone 9
7,001+
60,00050,000

Taxes & Fees

In addition to Avios, you will also have to pay taxes and fees in most cases. The system here is the same as for award miles. The difference between the taxes and fees already paid and those payable for a standard ticket becomes due.

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Please note that you would pay the taxes and fees in the currency of your profile. This can lead to differences in the charges you pay. For example, we found that the charges in Hungarian Forints are cheaper than in Euros.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated to find out how much cash the upgrade will cost you. You have to find out how much taxes and fees were due for the original flight and how much they would cost in the new cabin class. While you know the price breakdown for the ticket you paid for (it’s displayed while booking, but should also appear in the confirmation), the ITA Airfare Search, also referred to as Matrix, is an excellent way to find out the breakdown for the upgrade.

When is it Worth it?

Let’s use our Jersey deal to calculate our savings.

  • The cash business class fare is around ~£3,900 (~€4,610), which includes £829 (~€980) charges.
  • You can book a return premium economy ticket for £581 (~€687) which includes £315 (~€372) charges.
  • Mixed classes (premium there, business back) would cost £2,187 (~€2,585), with £572 (~€676) charges.
  • Booking with Avios in business class would cost
    • 160,000 Avios + HUF 304,880 (~€768)
    • 100,000 Avios + HUF 524,079 (~€1,321)
  • Booking with Avios in mixed classes (premium there, business back) would cost
    • 122,500 Avios + HUF 223,036 (~€562)
    • 76,500 Avios + HUF 382,636 (~€964)
  • Booking with Avios in premium economy would cost
    • 85,000 Avios + HUF 141,191 (~€356)
    • 52,000 Avios + HUF 241,191 (~€608)
  • The distance from Jersey or London to New York is between 3,000 and 4,000 miles, so the upgrade would cost 25,000 Avios as the flights are in the off-peak season.
  • Depending on your currency, the taxes and charges would be between €200 and €300 for mixed classes and €400-€600 for business class.
  • This means that you’d spend 25,000 Avios and approximately £838 (~€991) to fly premium economy to New York and business class back to London.
  • Alternatively, it would cost you 50,000 Avios and approximately £1,095 (~€1,294) to fly business class round-trip.
  • When you compare the upgraded prices with the second option of the Avios fare, you would save ~50,000 Avios and some cash this way.

In a few paragraphs, you will see our active premium economy offers. For most of these, we realised some similar savings as we did in our Jersey example. However, these 3 airlines often come up with business class flights for less than €1,500. As the premium economy fare and the taxes often reach this amount, it may not be worth it to spend your precious Avios on upgrading.

How To Find Availabilities

First of all, it’s worth mentioning that it is often better to start your booking process by searching for availability – if you have the choice. If you have several flights to choose from, you should, of course, opt for the trip with an upgrade option.

Another prerequisite for an upgrade is that there are free award seats. Meaning that there are still seats available that you can pay for with miles. If that’s the case, you can theoretically book your flight with Avios Upgrade right away. But doing it this way has (two) disadvantages:

Firstly, British Airways does not always seem to choose the cheapest fares as a starting point. And secondly, all segments of the booking are included if you select the option to book and upgrade. And this is often not what you want. If, for example, you only want to sit in business class during a red-eye flight or do not wish to upgrade the feeder flights in Europe, you have to proceed differently.

British Airways

This might not be the most comfortable and most convenient but definitely an effective way to search for availability. And you won’t have to rely on third-party tools. Just check for available business class award seats on the flight that you’ve booked or are about to book. If you can find some, you can also upgrade your ticket.

This tool has been developed for the sole purpose of finding free award seats on British Airways flights. No wonder that it works great. You enter your airport of departure, your destination, and the cabin class you want to travel in. And the result will be the availability for all flights – up to 12 months into the future.

How to Actually Book an Upgrade

If all requirements are met and you’ve been able to find award space, the next step is to book that upgrade. Actually, this should be possible by visiting “Manage my Booking” on BA’s website. But from our own experience, we can say that this does not always work as expected. But don’t let that keep you from trying to upgrade your flight!

If you’ve done your homework and checked for availability and your ticket allows for an upgrade, you should be able to get one. If it doesn’t work online, we recommend calling the British Airways customer support. They will be able to lock in the upgrade. But let them know that you’ve tried to do it online. Just in case anyone has the idea to charge you some kind of service fee.

How to Find Premium Economy Fares

It’s common to find premium economy fares to North America from different European airports. Here, you can find our active Oneworld premium economy deals:

Bottom Line

To sum it up:

  • Select a time range, during which you want to fly.
  • Check BA’s award availability tool while looking for your flight.
  • Select the flights that have availability and are the cheapest to book with premium economy.
  • Make sure that you don’t actually pay more this way than you would in cash (usually not) or in Avios (rarely).
  • Book your flights.
  • Try to upgrade online. If it doesn’t work call your country’s BA customer service.
  • Enjoy your flight!

Sure, the option we are presenting here is not the only one that lets you upgrade your ticket by using award miles. But many others are not as lucrative since you might be forced to spend a lot of money on your flight. Often frequent flyer programs will only allow an upgrade with a ticket that’s issued in a specific – often expensive – booking class. The Avios upgrade is possible with the cheapest premium economy class ticket. It is therefore definitely the sweet spot for award upgrades.

This is not our only Avios sweet spot

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Comments (2)

  1. Mike says:

    Hi, like the updates and advice generally, however, I would take issue with your assertion that BA’s Executive Club is easy to gain elite status. I would argue it is one of the hardest. Their status tier points accumulation is pretty difficult compared to other Oneworld airlines and more especially Star Alliance and SkyTeam. They seem to have an opinion of themselves that is at odds with the reality of the majority of frequent flyers, they are not a tier one airline, they are striving to be the best of the LCCs.

    • Patrick says:

      Hi Mike! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! It is hard to find common ground when it comes to obtaining elite status since it very much depends on your flight pattern. If you’re traveling economy class only, I’ll agree: Executive Club could give you a hard time reaching even Bronze status. But we’ve been promoting business class flights for less then €1,300 that will get you BA’s Silver Status. And that’s pretty easy and inexpensive compared to other programs. However, I wouldn’t argue with you about British Airways (not) being a tier-one airline? Even though they’ve made a huge step forward with their new Club Suite.

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