British Airways first class upgrade guide

By Chris C., June 9 2017
British Airways first class upgrade guide

Even if you normally fly high in business class, there's no reason you can't swap your seat for a first class suite on British Airways flights from Sydney to Singapore and London, maximising your comfort in the air and your lounge perks on the ground.

This can be arranged by using frequent flyer points (Avios) from BA's own Executive Club program, or by spending points through the American Airlines AAdvantage or Cathay Pacific Asia Miles programs.

Additionally, British Airways' top flyers can earn complimentary first class upgrades, while these are also available for purchase both online and at the airport.

Here's what you need to know to upgrade on your next British Airways flight.

British Airways first class upgrades: the basics

British Airways tends to offer first class on its longer international flights – including those to Sydney via Singapore – with passengers able to upgrade from business class to first class, although not from premium economy or economy to first class.

That's because BA upgrades are all one-class: so on flights will all four of those services, business class passengers can move forward to first class, premium economy flyers can upgrade to business class and economy passengers can wriggle forward into premium economy, or into business class on flights without premium economy.

(Booked in economy or premium economy? Read our British Airways business class upgrade guide instead.)

As is standard of frequent flyer programs, those top-level upgrades from business class to first class are all subject to availability – and just because a first class seat is still available for purchase on your flight (at full price) doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to upgrade into that same seat.

However, if you can use Avios to make an outright first class reward booking on your desired flight, that's a sure sign that you can upgrade to first class as well: either after you book via the airline’s ‘Manage My Booking’ system, or during the booking process itself via BA’s ‘Book and Upgrade’ tool.

The same can’t be guaranteed for high flyers 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 first class with BA Executive Club Avios miles

The most straightforward way to upgrade your British Airways flight is to use Avios miles from BA’s own Executive Club frequent flyer program, but note that membership isn’t open to Australians unless you also have access to an overseas address.

Which fares are eligible for first class upgrades? Points-based upgrades are available on all paid BA business class fares with the exception of Bulk Tour (BT) and Inclusive Tour (IT) tickets: generally those booked through cruise and land tour companies.

If you instead paid for your original business class flight using frequent flyer points – whether BA Avios or from other schemes like Qantas Frequent Flyer – you unfortunately won't be able to upgrade.

How many Avios miles do I need to upgrade?

This varies from flight to flight, and between periods that British Airways deems 'peak' and 'off-peak'.

Throughout the remainder of 2017, ‘peak’ dates are as follows, while all other dates are considered ‘off-peak’:

  • July 7-August 5
  • August 31-September 5
  • October 14-29
  • December 15-January 3 2018

On British Airways journeys from Sydney to London (via Singapore), you’d need 50,000 Avios to upgrade from business class to first class during peak times, or 45,000 Avios for the same upgrade during off-peak windows: and in both cases, upgrades can be confirmed during the booking process or immediately thereafter if available on your flight.

Closer to home, upgrading your BA business flight from Sydney to Singapore instead commands just 18,000 Avios during off-peak periods or 20,000 during the peak time.

Take note: You’ll earn frequent flyer points and status credits (or Avios and Tier Miles in BA parlance) as per 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 first 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, British Airways' business class fares in the C, J, D and R booking classes are upgradeable, subject to availability as above.

Again, bookings initially made using frequent flyer points are ineligible for upgrades, as are tickets issued under any other fare letter: including Bulk Tour and Inclusive Tour tickets and lower-cost I-class business class fares.

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 booked 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? From all paid business class fares on Sydney-London flights, a one-way first class upgrade can be had for 70,000 AA miles to cover the entire journey – while on flights from Sydney to Singapore, the same upgrade instead requires 35,000 AA miles in each direction.

Upgrade to BA first class using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Unless you have a Diners Club card, American Airlines AAdvantage miles are rather difficult to earn in Australia, with BA Executive Club Avios even harder to obtain: so as a third option, BA also allows upgrades from business class to first class using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

Which fares are eligible for first class upgrades? Upgrades are once more permitted on paid business class fares booked in the J, C, D, I and R fare classes. Notably, I-class fares cannot be upgraded using AA miles but can be upgraded via the Asia Miles program: so not only are these miles easier to earn, they're more flexible when it comes time to spend them.

What's more, there’s no requirement to book your journey via Cathay Pacific or to include a Cathay Pacific (CX) codeshare flight on your ticket: again a more favourable prospect for Aussie travellers than via American Airlines AAdvantage.

However, upgrades remain one-class only – being from business class to first class – and are again not allowed on business class reward bookings or from the tour fares mentioned earlier.

But wait, there’s a new catch: Asia Miles members can only request return British Airways upgrades, so you’ll need to be taking a round-trip between the same cities to be in with a shot – and even then, upgrades must be available on both the outbound and return legs of your trip at the time of 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, a total of 120,000 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 works out to be 60,000 Asia Miles each way!

If your BA travels only take you to Singapore and back, you could instead fetch a return first class upgrade for 60,000 Asia Miles: being 30,000 Asia Miles per flight.

Also read: The top Australian credit cards for earning Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Free first class upgrades for Executive Club Gold members

Through the Executive Club program, British Airways' most frequent flyers can earn complimentary upgrades to first class by reaching a certain number of Tier Points (status credits) within a single membership year.

Earning 2,500 Tier Points delivers a Gold Upgrade for Two voucher, promising a return upgrade from business class to first class for up to two passengers travelling together with British Airways.

Push that to 3,500 Tier Points in a membership year and you'll also get two Gold Upgrade vouchers: each valid on a return trip for one passenger only, but can always be combined to upgrade two passengers on another round trip.

Which fares are eligible for complimentary upgrades? All paid British Airways business class fares are eligible for upgrades using Gold Upgrade for Two and Gold Upgrade vouchers – as are business class tickets which were booked using frequent flyer points (something not possible when using miles).

However, these upgrades aren't available on group bookings or tickets booked as part of a packaged holiday.

Upgrade availability varies from flight to flight, and much like spending miles for the same upgrade, are only possible on flights which can be booked in first class using frequent flyer points.

What’s the catch? To use these vouchers, your booking must only contain British Airways flights with BA flight numbers – so if your BA ticket was booked under an American Airlines (AA) flight number, or forms part of a broader journey such as a round-the-world fare, you're out of luck.

Complimentary upgrades also can't be combined with frequent flyer upgrades on the same flight: so you can't book a premium economy ticket, use miles to upgrade to business class and then use a voucher to upgrade again to first class on the same flight, for example.

Pay for a British Airways first 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.

Based on reports from BA's regular travellers, expect to pay $2,000 or more to switch from business class to first class on flights from Sydney right through to London, or at least $1,000, if not more, for the second segment only from Singapore to 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 through 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’.

Here's how that looks, albeit on a route where first class isn't offered:

If your booking is indeed eligible for a first class upgrade (and there's a first class cabin available on your flight), you’ll be quoted a price and can either accept it to confirm that upgrade, or can decline it to remain in your original seat.

There’s always a catch: If your booking was made through a travel agent – and yes, that includes corporate travel agents – you won’t be able to upgrade online with money until 24 hours prior to departure when online check-in opens up.

By that stage, any available first class upgrades may have already been snapped up or the price for purchasing one may have increased, but it never hurts to check: you can always say no!

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.


03 May 2013

Total posts 670

Anyone who has flown BA First Class knows only too well its a great Business Class experience at best.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 381

Ouch!! Cmon the seat is kinda nice. 

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 55

Disagree with you Joe, it's a very good first class but maybe that's made more noticeable by BA's very average business class. Not up to the standard of the 'suites' from Emirates and SQ but still a great seat and experience overall.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 May 2017

Total posts 79

I have flown BA F a number of times and often the price difference from J to F is minimal.  I find the over all product better than QF however the food is average. For the additional average of $2k for a return to Europe I always would pay the additional amount of the J class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 132

I think BA F is way better than their J product. Well worth the upgrade!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 413

To me this doesn't make sense ... Additionally, British Airways' top flyers can earn complimentary first class upgrades, while these are also available for purchase both online and at the airport.... If it's available for purchase, it can't be complimentary  

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2438

"British Airways' top flyers can earn complimentary first class upgrades, while these (first class upgrades) are also available for purchase both online and at the airport"

(If you're a top-level flyer, you can earn free upgrades. If you're anybody else, or you've used any complimentary upgrades you may have received, then first class upgrades are also available for purchase both online and at the airport.)

The example in brackets uses 13 more words to say the exact same thing, so naturally, we chose the shorter sentence. :)

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