Just because you’re booked in premium economy (World Traveller Plus) with British Airways – or worse, economy (World Traveller and Euro Traveller) – doesn’t mean you have to stay there.
You could use frequent flyer points from BA’s own Executive Club to secure an upgrade to business class (Club Europe and Club World), as you can with American Airlines AAdvantage miles and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
The airline’s top flyers can also unlock complimentary business class upgrades, while all other travellers can purchase a business class upgrade with cold hard cash, too.
British Airways business class upgrades: the basics
Whether using miles from British Airways, American Airlines or Cathay Pacific, points-based upgrades are all one-class – so on flights from Australia, that means you’d need to book and pay for a premium economy ticket to have a shot at a business class upgrade.
On shorter flights such as within Europe and on other journeys where premium economy isn’t available, travellers can instead use Avios to upgrade from economy straight to business class.
Business class upgrades are also subject to availability – just because business class seats are still being sold on your flight doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to upgrade… but if you do snag a better seat, you’ll be able to lock it in immediately.
As a rule, if you can use Avios to book a business class reward ticket on your chosen flight, you’ll also be able to use Avios to upgrade to business class: either after you book via BA’s ‘Manage My Booking’ portal, or while booking your paid ticket via BA’s ‘Book and Upgrade’ tool.
The same can’t be guaranteed for travellers using American Airlines or Cathay Pacific miles, so contact the airline that runs your frequent flyer program – not British Airways – to discuss what’s possible.
Upgrade to British Airways business class with BA Executive Club Avios miles
The simplest way to upgrade your British Airways flight is to use Avios miles from BA’s own Executive Club frequent flyer program, although membership isn’t open to Australians unless you also have access to an overseas address.
Which fares are eligible for business class upgrades? Points-based upgrades are available on most paid BA fares with the exception of the lowest-priced economy tickets in the Q, O and G fare classes, along with Bulk Tour (BT) and Inclusive Tour (IT) tickets.
Flights which were initially booked using Avios or other frequent flyer points also can’t be upgraded using Avios points.
How many Avios miles do I need to upgrade?
The number of Avios needed to upgrade varies from flight to flight, but can also change from one day to the next as BA adopts both ‘peak’ and ‘off-peak’ reward pricing.
For example, during 2017, BA's ‘peak’ dates were as follows, while all other dates were considered ‘off-peak’:
- February 11-19
- April 1-23
- May 26-June 4
- July 7-August 5
- August 31-September 5
- October 14-29
- December 15-January 3 2018
On a British Airways journey from Sydney through to London, you’d need 50,000 Avios to upgrade from premium economy to business class during peak times, or a higher 60,000 Avios for the same upgrade during off-peak windows.
Closer to home, upgrading your BA premium economy flight from Sydney to Singapore instead requires 24,000 Avios during off-peak periods or 20,000 during the peak time.
There’s particularly great value to be had on shorter BA flights within Europe, too, with upgrades from economy to business class on flights like London-Paris available for just 3,750 Avios during off-peak dates or 4,500 Avios during peak travel times.
Take note: You’ll earn frequent flyer points and status credits (or Avios and Tier Miles in BA parlance) in line with the fare you originally paid for – but if you’re a little short on Avios for your upgrade, you can also pair money with a lower number of Avios to achieve the same.
Upgrade to BA business class using American Airlines AAdvantage miles
Can’t join BA’s Executive Club? You can also use AAdvantage miles for your upgrade in much the same way, but with a few key differences.
Which fares are eligible for business class upgrades? On flights from Australia, only fully-flexible British Airways premium economy (W) fares, or on other flights without a premium economy cabin, fully-flexible British Airways economy (Y, B) tickets.
No other British Airways fare types can be upgraded to business class using AAdvantage miles.
There’s another catch: To upgrade with AA miles on BA, your original booking needs to have been made via American Airlines – or failing that, at least one flight on the same reservation needs to have an AA flight number, even if that’s just a codeshare.
If you instead book direct with British Airways and also don’t have an AA flight as part of your booking, you’ll be staying put in your original seat.
How many miles do I need? Move from flexible premium economy (W) to business class on BA’s Sydney-London flights for 30,000 AA miles each way, or upgrade on BA from Sydney to Singapore for 12,500 AA miles from the same ticket type.
Upgrade to BA business class using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Both American Airlines and British Airways miles are difficult to earn in Australia, so upgrading to BA business class using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles pay prove an easier task.
Which fares are eligible for business class upgrades? These days, Asia Miles members can upgrade to BA business class from W, T and E premium economy fares, and on flights without a premium economy cabin, from Y, B and H economy fares. All other tickets, reward bookings and flights booked via tour companies are ineligible.
Unlike AA, there’s no requirement to book your journey via Cathay Pacific or to include a Cathay Pacific (CX) codeshare flight on your ticket, although upgrades remain one-class only: you can’t skip from economy to business class on a flight with premium economy, for example.
But wait, there’s a new catch: British Airways only allows Asia Miles members to request return upgrades, so you’ll need to be taking a round-trip between the same cities – and even then, upgrades must be available on both the outbound and return legs of your trip when making your request.
You can’t simply upgrade your outbound flight and request or ‘waitlist’ an upgrade for the return flight, either: if confirmed upgrades aren’t available on both of your flights, you won’t be able to upgrade at all.
How many miles do I need? On a return trip from Sydney to London and back again, a total of 55,000 Asia Miles could find your premium economy seat swapped for a more comfortable bed in business class.
Provided you can find upgrade availability in both directions, that’s just 27,500 Asia Miles each way!
Free business class upgrades for Executive Club Gold members
British Airways’ most frequent flyers can unlock complimentary business class upgrades after earning a certain number of Executive Club Tier Points (status credits) in a single membership year.
Earn 2,500 Tier Points to receive a Gold Upgrade for Two voucher, which nets a return one-class upgrade on British Airways flights for up to two passengers travelling together.
Continue flying and you’ll also unlock two Gold Upgrade vouchers: each valid on a return trip for one passenger only, but which can be combined to upgrade two people on a single round-trip journey if desired.
Which fares are eligible for complimentary upgrades? Unlike when upgrading with frequent flyer points, British Airways allows upgrade vouchers to be used on almost all paid bookings (including on Q and O fares) and on tickets booked with frequent flyer points.
However, passengers travelling on group bookings or on tickets booked as a packaged holiday (G class) can’t upgrade using these vouchers.
Upgrade availability varies from flight to flight – but if you request an upgrade at the same time as making your booking, you’ll have a far greater chance of being successful.
What’s the catch? The reservation you hope to upgrade must only contain British Airways flights with BA flight numbers – so if you’re travelling on a BA flight with an American Airlines (AA) flight number, or your ticket contains flights with other airlines, you're out of luck.
Complimentary upgrades are again all one-class, and can’t be combined with frequent flyer upgrades. You can’t use points to upgrade from economy to premium economy and then an upgrade voucher to move from premium economy to business on the same flight, for example.
Pay for a British Airways business class upgrade
If you can’t snag an upgrade using frequent flyer points and don’t have an Executive Club upgrade voucher to burn, there’s one last hope: paying for a BA business class upgrade with real money, either online or at the airport.
Which fares are eligible for paid business class upgrades? This can vary from flight to flight, but in most cases, unless you’re booked on a group fare or frequent flyer reward ticket, you’re in with a fighting chance.
How much does an upgrade cost? Again, this will vary considerably between flights. The best approach to take is that there’s no harm in asking: if the asking price is reasonable and you’re happy, then by all means go ahead – and if it’s too pricey for your liking, there’s always next time.
On short trips within Europe, we’ve been offered a business class upgrade for as little as £49 (A$80) and as much as £300 (A$490), so expect to pay more on longer journeys such as from Sydney to Singapore or London.
Also note that this is different to ‘bidding’ for an upgrade on other airlines such as Qantas and Virgin Australia: BA’s offer is a single price, and your response can be only yes or no.
How do I get an upgrade quote online? See what an upgrade would cost on your flight by accessing your reservation via BA’s ‘Manage My Booking’ tool. Then, scroll down to the flight in question, click the ‘Upgrade’ tab and then ‘Upgrade this flight with money’:
If your booking is eligible, you’ll be quoted a price and can either accept it to confirm your upgrade, or decline it to remain in your original seat.
There’s always a catch: If your British Airways flight was booked through a travel agent – including a corporate travel agent – you won’t be able to upgrade online with money until your flight opens for online check-in, being 24 hours before its scheduled departure time.
By then your options may well and truly be limited, but it still doesn’t hurt to check.