How to Upgrade with miles to First or Business Class on British Airways

Yesterday we posted about an amazing Premium Economy fare from the West Coast to parts of Europe, which seem to be few and far between as of late. While Premium Economy is fantastic (much like a domestic first class seat) flying in Business class or First class is even better. Knowing how to move up to those forward cabins is the secret to how we almost always fly in premium cabins at a fraction of the cost. Let’s walk through how you can move up to business and first class for just the cost of a few Avios.

Understanding how British Airways Avios Work

The British Airways award chart is broken up by zones. You’ll pay more or less for your flights depending on how far your flight is. Here’s a breakdown of the zones that BA uses:

  • Zone 1, 1-650 miles
  • Zone 2, 651-1151 miles
  • Zone 3, 1152-2000 miles
  • Zone 4, 2001-3000 miles
  • Zone 5, 3001-4000 miles
  • Zone 6, 4001-5500 miles
  • Zone 7, 5501-6500 miles
  • Zone 8, 6501-7000 miles
  • Zone 9, 7001+ miles

BA Award Chart Pricing

Curious how long your flight it? We like using WebFlyer’s Mileage Calculator to guesstimate. Just put in the origin and destination and you’re all set. Remember, that British Airways charges you by segment not by total distance. You’ll need to price out each leg individually. For example, Seattle to Athens with a stop over in London is priced as SEA-LHR and then LHR-ATH. The Seattle-London leg would be placed in Zone 6.

Can I move from Economy to First?

Easy answer… nope. You can only move one class of service per ticket. That means that you can move from PE to Business and Business to First, but you can not move from Economy to First or even PE to First.

Can I upgrade every flight?

In short, no. It is important to remember that in order for you to move from Premium Economy to Business or Business to First, you’ve got to make sure that there is award space available. Just because you can pay for a seat with cash doesn’t mean that BA has released the space for award tickets. As long as there is an award seat available to book, you should be able to snag that seat for upgrade.

British Airways Premium Economy (courtesy of BA.com)

How do I see if flights are available?

There are plenty of ways to see if your flight is available for upgrade. Perhaps the easiest way is to simply do a search on the British Airways’ website. Log into BA’s website and choose Book a flight with Avios

Next, type in your city pairs, and make sure to choose “First” class for your field type. The reason is that it will then show you PE, Business, and First as your results. 

DO NOT choose book and upgrade. This will show you a very high price and is not what you’re looking for.

The next screen that comes up shows you that on this flight from Los Angeles to London there are plenty of seats available. You can see that there are 2 seats in First on two flights and one flight has 3 seats. Since it doesn’t say how many seats are available in PE or Business, this means that there are more than likely SEVEN seats available for upgrade!

How much does it cost?

This is the kinda tricky part, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty intuitive.

Step 1, find the zone that you’re in. In the above example from LAX-LHR, the distance is 5,440 miles, a zone 6 flight.

Step 2, are you in Peak or Off Peak pricing? At the top of the search you can see in the red box the words OFF PEAK. In the chart that we posted above, you can see that there is pricing for both peak dates and off peak dates.

Step 3, Subtract the cabin you’re currently in from the cabin you want to be in to get the price. Let’s assume that you snagged a Premium Economy ticket in the recent sale. Premium Economy for zone 6 off peak costs 32,500 Avios. Business for zone 6 off peak costs 62,500 Avios. That means that it would cost you 30,000 Avios to move from PE to Business class. If you booked a business class fare, the difference for this flight to move up to First would be 22,500 Avios (85,000-62,500). 

British Airways First Class

How to book the upgrade?

The best way is to call the British Airways call center and give them your information. If you tell them your record locator and the flights that you want to upgrade, they’ll be able to make the change. Pretty simple, assuming that you can deal with the long hold times on the BA line. Some people have reported having success using overseas call centers, but I just try and call near the beginning or end of the day.

Pro tip… if you’re moving yourself up to First Class, you should be able to dial the You First call center. I’ve found that they’re willing to work with you if you’re already in first or you’re moving up to first class. Wait times are typically shorter. Their number is +44-161-448-3013. Skype is your friend. The calls are really cheap and it’s not that hard to do!

Can you move from Economy to Premium Economy?

Sure, you can… you could also fly on Spirit Airlines, but we wouldn’t advise you do either of those things. The problem from moving from the cheap seats to PE is the fee increase. You’re often going to see a large increase which often negates the whole point of doing an upgrade! The cost change between business and first is often minimal, but if British DOES decide to charge you more than you think you should be charged, our buddy Gilbert over at God Save the Points wrote a great article on the topic. Actually, he writes a lot of great articles (hehe) but this one especially is great in reference to manually calculating costs for tickets.

But I don’t have enough Avios!

Luckily, British Airways is a transfer partner with both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. For those with gobs of Bonvoy points, they are also a transfer partner there. Transfer from Chase are instant so they’ll appear in your account within seconds (usually) of making the transfer. There are very often transfer bonuses as well for bonus Avios. Just last November American Express offered a 40% bonus for transferred Avios, that was a massive win for people making a transfer.

Our favorite credit cards to earn Avios are, in no particular order:

So, now you know our secret. We’ve been booking Business Class Club World flights for years and upgrading to First Class. It’s a very painless process to fly up front, especially with the ease of earning BA Avios. 

With that said, when’s your next upgraded flight going to be?

 

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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6 Comments

  1. thank you for walking us through step by step of the how to’s and the pitfalls….this is unknown territory to me….

    Post a Reply
    • Of course! If there’s a specific example you want a hand with, let us know and we would be happy to hand-hold you through it!

      Post a Reply
  2. An important thing to mention is that BA charges BS fees for the upgrade in addition to the Avios. But it’s only for certain services. For example, booking BA Business Class or First Class with Avios usually gets a $500 fee per person (I’ve never tried booking PE). But using Avios to book with American Airlines, for example, usually does not call for that fee. And booking BA Business or First using points from some of their partners may not carry a fee, so it may sometimes be more valuable to book BA Business or First using, say, Japan Airlines miles (I’m just choosing another carrier here without being sure which fit the example). So, beware the use of Avios – I find them well less valuable than some other carriers’ miles.

    Post a Reply
    • It should be noted that I have never EVER been charged a fee moving from Business class to First Class on British Airways. Only the Avios.

      Post a Reply
      • I suspect the “fees” cited were not for the upgrade per se but the surcharge fees that BA imposes that it’s partner airlines do n

        Post a Reply
        • Could be – but they’re also baked into the cost of the revenue ticket

          Post a Reply

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