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How to Upgrade British Airways flights with miles

by on Wed April 5, 2017 • 2 Comments

British Airways

British Airways has well respected first and business class products, but often times people shy away from booking them because of the fuel surcharges required for the flight. Nevertheless, if you can get a good price on a paid flight, upgrading with miles could be a good option, since British Airways allows you to upgrade with points from some of its cheaper fares.

What miles you’ll need

If you want to upgrade your British Airways flight, you will need British Airways Avios.

If you don’t have British Airways Avios, they are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest as well as a 5:4 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.

If you have any of these transferrable points currencies you can easily obtain British Airways Avios. Transfers from American Express and Chase are instant while transfers from Starwood can take a few days.

Alternatively, if you want to just book a full award ticket in Business or First Class (no upgrade or cash ticket needed), you can book with Alaska Mileage Plan miles, American AAdvantage miles, or Japan Airlines miles, just to name a few options.


How much do upgrades cost?

Prices to upgrade your flights with Avios are segment by segment. If you are flying from New York to Johannesburg via London and want to upgrade both segments from economy to business class during peak travel times, you will need to pay 40,000 Avios to upgrade your flight from New York to London and 50,000 Avios to upgrade your flight from London to Johannesburg – a total of 90,000 Avios.

Here are some sample prices for upgrades on popular routes.

British Airways charges a lower price on dates it designates Off Peak, and the prices in the tables below are listed with the Peak prices first. 

Upgrade Costs from Economy

RouteTo Premium EconomyTo Business ClassTo First Class
New York - London20,000 / 13,00040,000 / 37,00060,000 / 55,000
San Francisco - London25,000 / 16,25050,000 / 46,25075,000 / 68,750
London - Dubai20,000 / 13,00040,000 / 37,00060,000 / 55,000
London - FrankfurtN/A4,500 / 3,750N/A
London - RomeN/A7,500 / 6,250N/A
London - Johannesburg25,000 / 16,25050,000 / 46,25075,000 / 68,750

Upgrade from Premium Economy

RouteTo Business ClassTo First Class
New York - London20,000 / 24,00040,000 / 42,000
San Francisco - London25,000 / 30,00050,000 / 52,500
London - Dubai20,000 / 24,00040,000 / 42,000
London - FrankfurtN/AN/A
London - RomeN/AN/A
London - Johannesburg25,000 / 30,00050,000 / 52,500

Upgrade from Business Class

RouteTo First Class
New York - London20,000 / 18,000
San Francisco - London25,000 / 22,500
London - Dubai20,000 / 18,000
London - FrankfurtN/A
London - RomeN/A
London - Johannesburg 25,000 / 22,500

If you want to figure out how much an upgrade will cost on other routes, you’ll have to do a bit of math.

It’s counter-intuitive, but to calculate the price to upgrade,  you need to find the mileage cost of your ticket in the class of service you have booked, even though you have booked your ticket with cash.

Here’s the formula:

  • Upgrade Price = Avios for an award in the Upgraded cabin – Avios for an award in the cabin you’re buying with cash.

For example, let’s say you want to upgrade from economy to business class…

  • A business class award costs 40,000 points
  • An economy class award costs 20,000 points

So, upgrading a cash coach ticket to business class will cost 40,000 points – 20,000 points = 20,000 points.

You can use British Airways’ Avios Calculator to determine the number of miles each award costs for the flight or flights you want to upgrade.

Are fuel surcharges added onto the upgrade?

Yes. When you upgrade your British Airways ticket, you will need to pay the difference in taxes and fuel surcharges, which can be quite significant. Be prepared to pay several hundred dollars in each direction.

To give you an example, the flight from New York to London in economy has a $125 fuel surcharge in each direction. In business class the fuel surcharge is increased to $478 each way, so the upgrade will cost an extra $353 in surcharges. To complicate matters, long haul business and first class tickets from London get hit with a UK departure tax of 150 Pounds (about $200).

What fares can you upgrade?

Most British Airways fares are eligible for upgrade at time of booking or later on, depending on availability. Only the lowest economy fares (Q, O, and G classes) are not eligible to be upgraded at any time, and the upgrade price is the same from economy whether you buy a cheap or expensive fare.

Upgrades from premium economy cost fewer points than those from economy class.

How to know upgrade space is available

Upgrade space with British Airways is the same as regular award space. You can search for award space directly on but to more easily see space for multiple dates at a time you may want to search for space on instead.

As long as space is available in the class of service you want to upgrade to, you should be able to use your Avios to upgrade.

For example, if you were flying from London to Paris on May 21, 2017, you could search on and you would see business class space available on British Airways. This means that you could pay with miles and upgrade your economy ticket to business class on this itinerary.


You can also utilize ExpertFlyer, a paid service, to determine if upgrade/award space is available on the day that you are looking to book. First class requires space in ‘Z’ class, Business class requires space in ‘U’ class, and Premium Economy requires space in ‘P’ class.


If you see a flight that says ‘Yes’ under seats, it has upgrade space available.


Upgrade space tends to be pretty decent with British Airways, especially into Premium Economy and Business Class. Those First Class upgrades are a little more challenging to snag.

If you haven’t booked your flight yet and have some flexibility, it may be worth looking at upgrade space before deciding on your specific flights to increase your chances of upgrading with miles.

How to book the upgrade

You can book your upgrade on an existing reservation by logging into your British Airways account and navigating to the ‘Manage My Booking’ section.

If you have not yet made your booking, you can search for a cash ticket and upgrade space at the same time by logging into your account via this link and indicating what class of service you would like to upgrade to.


The search will come back with flight options that have upgrade availability.


You can then select the flight that you are interested in to see the cash and mileage cost for the upgrade.


Alternatively, and perhaps more easily, you can call British Airways at 1-800-247-9297 for assistance with your upgrade.

Questions and Answers

What is World Traveler Plus (Premium Economy) like?


Premium Economy on BA gets you a wider seat with more recline and a foot rest.

You’ll get a meal inspired by the business class meals, with a small starter, salad, and main course served all on one tray. There’s no lounge access for World Traveler Plus passengers.

What is Club World (Business Class) like?


On long haul international flights you’ll get a seat that turns into a lie-flat bed with privacy dividers so you won’t see your neighbor while relaxing. Seats alternate facing forward and backward, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when selecting seats, but beware British Airways has the nerve to charge for a seat assignment even in business class.

The meal service is nothing fancy. You’ll get a small starter and salad, followed by a choice of main courses, then a small dessert. There’s full bar service onboard, so you can drink as you please, provided you can manage to get the attention of a flight attendant in the cabin.

On short haul flights with Club Europe, the seat is identical to that in Economy, the difference being the middle seat is blocked so no one will be sitting adjacent. You’ll get a small, basic snack or meal during the flight, with your choice of beverages.

What is First Class like?


First Class gets you more privacy, with no seat between you and the aisle, and more room to spread out and store your things.

You’ll also get a more elaborate meal with a starter, soup, salad, main, and choice of desserts, plus premium wine selections.

On the ground, you’re invited to relax and dine in The Concorde Room, reserved exclusively for BA’s international First Class and VIP fliers.

Can you wait list if no upgrades are available?

If no space is available for the flight you want, you will need to check back and call in when it is. There is no waitlist available for upgrades.

Do upgrades get lounge access?

If you are flying in a premium cabin you will have lounge access on your British Airways ticket.

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2 thoughts on How to Upgrade British Airways flights with miles

  1. randy church

    i am travveling from chicago to london on may 19th in economy plus. can i upgrade using AA miles to business class? if not, what is the cost in us dollars to upgrade?

  2. randy church

    i am traveling from chicago to london on may 19th in economy plus. can i upgrade to business with AA miles? if not, what is the cost in US dollars to upgrade


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