How to get great value British Airways Upgrades

Rhys Adams
Aug 30, 2019 · 11 min read

Everyone loves an upgrade, especially on British Airways and their excellent service but my British Airways Executive Card doesn’t get me many gate upgrades these days, and I have reverted to paying for a cabin push, but not at a full price. Here is a guide on how I get a reasonable upgrade on my BA Holidays.

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Credit: Rhys Adams

The trick with all airlines is if you fly or like to holiday, you need to put some hard work into making sure you get the best deal, in short you need to accumulate some Avios points and/or be prepared to part with your hard earned cash.

The days of turning up at the check in desk telling the British Airways customer service desk that you’ve just got married or asking for free upgrades have been replaced by computer algorithms and some common sense from staff, I’ve been a Silver British Airways Executive card hold for years and yes, at the gate I’ve had many an upgrade, but over the last 2 years my upgrade count hasn’t left zero.

So, I’ve had to change tactics and I’ve done this in a few different ways. Firstly I got myself a British Airways American Express Card. There are two versions one with no Annual Fee and the Premium Plus with a £195 annual fee.

British Airways Amex

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Credit: American Express

Whilst a lot of the airline cards have an annual fee, this British Airways Amex is free and gives 5,000 bonus Avios when you spend £1k in the first 3 months. On top of this you will receive 1 Avios Point for every £1 spent. If you can spend £20k per annum, then you also get a companion voucher that gives you 2 for 1 on redemptions (more about this below).

Sign Up (Referral Link): — Using our link will give you a bonus of 1,000 extra Avios points.*

British Airways Premium Plus Amex

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Credit: American Express

Yes there is a hefty Annual Fee on the Premium Plus card of £195, but its great if you know you will achieve and use the rewards. Firstly, as a bonus you will receive 25,000 bonus Avios if you spend £3k in the first 3 months, thats enough for a return flight within Europe (plus taxes and/or charges).

Plus on the British Airways Premium Plus card you only need to spend £10k in a year to get your 2 for 1 companion voucher. Points are accumulated at 1.5 points per £1 spent, but if you spend quite a bit with British Airways you will get 3 points for every £1 spent with BA.

Sign Up (Referral Link): — Using our link will give you a bonus on 1,000 extra Avios points.*

But how can an Amex Card Help Me?

It can be any card really that gives you the Avios miles, there are less around nowadays but this is how I use my card…

Every chance I get I will use my Amex card for spending, this can be grocery shopping, fuel and even my business expenses. It is really important to pay the balance of every month as the interest rates can be high.

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As you can see above, for every £1 I spend outside of British Airways, I get 1.5 miles. On average I get between 3,000 and 15,000 Avios per month which I save up until I need them, on average this is approx. 4,000 Avios per month.

We book our main holidays with BA Holidays, and we do this as a package because overall the British Airways Flights and Hotel packages are really good value, especially when compared with Virgin Holidays, Thomas Cook, etc.

Now I am tight, believe it or not! So when it comes to booking our holidays I search for the flights and hotels, and always book Economy. Firstly, I do this because of the price differences between Economy vs. Premium Economy vs. Club World.

Once booked, this is where you can’t use the usual tools on British Airways’ website to upgrade your class with Avios or Cash. So this is how I do it…

Using the British Airways App on iOS I use the handy “Reward Flight Finder” — Put in my dates of where I’m going to and from and have a look to see if there are any flights in the cabin of my choice.

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Depending on the time factor, they may not be released, but they drip feed these reward flights out into the system, so I make this my daily job to check the system to see whats available.

The other thing I’m not too bothered about is an upgrade both ways, this is where booking the flights separately works better than through BA Holidays. If we are going to America or Canada, I’m ok in Economy on the outbound flight, but as the return leg is through the night, this is where I want the comfort and the upgrade.

If I’m going the other way such as Dubai, etc. Then I want to sleep going out but not bothered about the Economy inbound flight, hope you understand where I’m coming from with this. I treat the upgrades as a necessity and not a luxury.

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Credit: Rhys Adams

I then give British Airways Customer Service a call and ask them if there are any Avios reward flights that I can upgrade my fight to. Now the one thing they will point out, is that usually you can only use your Avios to bump up one class, such as Economy to Premium Economy, but depending on the offer at the time and the member of staff it is possible to skip Premium Economy and go straight to Club World or you pay the difference in fare price to the next Cabin up and then use the Avios to bump up to Club World.

Now before you commit to anything, ask them for a price to jump up without using Avios, now and then it can be cheaper to book and pay for the upgrade depending on what British Airways has to offer.

Examples of this include:

London to Miami booked through BA Holidays with 5 night stay at Epic Hotel, booked as Economy Flights, (LHR to Miami) upgraded to Club World for £150 and 50,000 Avios points.

London to Exuma booked through BA Holidays with 10 night stay at Sandals Emerald Bay, booked as LHR to Nassau, Nassau to Exuma. Return Leg: Exuma to Miami, Miami to LHR. (LHR to Miami) Upgraded to Club World for £150 and 50,000 Avios Points.

London to San Jose booked through BA Holidays with 7 day car hire. Booked as Premium Economy LHR to San Jose, Return Leg. San Jose to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to LHR. Upgraded Inbound (LAX to LHW) to First (Yes First Class) for £900 and No Avios!

London to Tampa (Fly Drive), Back via Miami to LHR through the Multi Centre section of the website, included 3 different hotels and car hire. Outbound: LGW to Tampa, Inbound: Miami to LHW. Upgraded Inbound to Club World for £565.00 and 50,000 Avios.

London to Los Angeles booked via BA Holidays with 4 night stay in Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Outbound and Inbound Direct Flights, both Legs upgraded from Economy to Club World using 75,000 Avios and £600.00

Here is the Avios Bonus.

Because we’ve booked these flights and upgraded with Avios and some cash, we actually still gain the Tier Points (for OneWorld Status) and even more Avios, in some cases 22,000 Avios each, which then bumps our balance even more.

Also if you do just need the flights, you can actually use the Avios to take up to £2,000 off the price of your flights, which is something else we have done.

2 for 1 Companion Voucher

I promised I would touch on and explain the Companion Voucher that the Amex cards have to offer. If you hit the spending criteria, they give you a companion voucher. I’ve had 4 over the years and they work for some flights and not others. Where it does work really well is European Flights from the UK.

British Airways offers a limited number of seats when redeeming Avios points, where you just pay a flat fee of £25 each way for a flight. When you take into account 2 for 1 voucher, this means you can fly to Paris for 7,500 (instead of 15,000) miles, Malaga for 9,000 miles and so on. It also gives you the chance to fly Club Europe (Almost like Business Class but for Short Haul) and redeem a few extra points but still pay the £25! Bargain!

Of course you need to travel with a friend or as a couple but with the Reward Flight Finder you can really find some bargains and don’t forget you can trade in your Avios against Hotels and Car Hire. Meaning one year we spent a long weekend on the Costa Del Sol in a Half Board Hotel and Club Europe flights for £100!

In App Upgrade Offers

If you have just booked flights with British Airways and availability pops up in the next cabin, you can sometimes upgrade via the app. Premium Economy from Economy is usually between £75 and £90, the price of business is more from Premium Economy but depends on how badly you need the rest.

It should work out cheaper than booking the cabin at the outset, so keep your eyes peeled on your app to see if you can upgrade.

Flying with Iberia or American Airlines but booked via BA

Yep, you can still upgrade your flights but you need to do this with either cash or Avios points, for instance you can’t use American AAdvantage Miles to upgrade your flight if its been booked via British Airways.

British Airways Customer Service and Costs

It’s in the media everywhere that the service has slipped with British Airways and that their costs remain high for their flights, you now need to pay extra for your food on short haul flights and they now do flights without checked luggage.

This is an airline that is competing against the likes of Norwegian, Easyjet and Ryanair so they had to take action to keep up passenger numbers. I religiously use British Airways even though I live in the Midlands. A 2.5 hour drive to LHR is nothing compared to flying with someone like Ryanair.

But if you are planning a break then weigh up the costs against BA vs. No Frills Airlines, I worked out that some Ryanair flights would cost me in excess of £300 when I added luggage and chose my seats, with BA these same flights cost me £120 and I got the checked luggage, I can pick my seat and food is reasonably priced. Plus the passengers don’t clap on a successful landing (whats all that about?)

Yes I have to get to London and park up, but the car parking charges at my local airports cost me more than Heathrow and fuel is next to nothing and will be much less when my Tesla Model 3 comes next month.

So make sure you take a good look before booking!

Only use one airline for points

One thing I always say if you are a frequent flyer and want to go through the ranks of schemes such as OneWorld or Star Alliance, is that stick to the one airline or alliance.

For instance, if I want to keep up my BA Silver card, there is no point in me flying to Dubai with Emirates and run to schemes side by side, I’ll fly BA and get my Avios and Tier points.

Flying internally in the USA? Then fly American and get your BA points and gain some tier points. Another tip if you don’t mind a layover and messing with changing flights is my taking multiple flights to the same destination.

I recently flew to Marrakech, instead of flying with BA direct I flew with BA to Madrid and then Iberia to Marrakech. I flew Business on all legs and paid less than a direct economy ticket. I got the extra tier points and Avios due to the cabin and as I took two flights.

With America, it sometimes cheaper to fly to your destination by changing your flights to go via somewhere like Philadelphia or Chicago, you can a few more points if you try and stick with the Atlantic BA flights but your Tier points get a welcome boost.

One more I once flew First from Orlando to Chicago via Miami. I got 60 tier points for each flight and then a few more Avios for the flights. It cost me no extra money and added 1 hour to my trip.

What are your thoughts?

What do you think about the Avios system and using airline credit cards to the balance a boost? Have you got any tips that you feel I have missed? Do you run a blog related to what I’ve put and want to share your link? Drop them all in the comments below.

Further Reads


This post was written by Rhys Adams and is correct at the time of writing. It has not been endorsed or promoted by any person or company and is written for the joy of writing. By using our affiliate links you are accepting that we do not have any involvement in third party websites. You also understand that by using the affiliate links that the writer may receive a reward or referral.

  • The 1,000 additional Avios points is correct at the time of writing, offers do change and may be withdrawn.

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