How to Upgrade to Business or First Class Using British Airways Avios

Upgrades to business class are what’s colloquially associated with miles and points. The fact of the matter is that upgrades are rarely a good use of your points as they often come with strings attached. Generally an upgrade using points requires you to book an economy class ticket in the higher fare buckets, meaning that the cheapest economy tickets can’t be upgraded. Moreover, the number of points to upgrade are often the same or in some cases even more than the cost of booking an award ticket in business class. Lastly upgrade inventory is the same as award inventory, meaning that there have to be award seats in the higher cabin in order for your upgrade to confirm.

In short upgrades is something we rarely advocate, though there are some exceptions to this rule. Enter: British Airways Executive Club.

British Airways Executive Club

British Airways Executive Club (BAEC in short) is the frequent flyer program of British Airways, a member of Oneworld, and a transfer partner of Amex, Chase and Capital One. British Airways is a great airline partner for traveling between the United States and Europe, mainly thanks to their vast route network and superior award availability in business and first class compared to its Oneworld counterparts Iberia, Finnair and American.

For award redemptions British Airways Executive Club isn’t known to be the best program. This boils down to the fact that they price award tickets on a per-segment basis meaning that the more flights your itinerary contains the more expensive it will be. Secondly, British Airways imposes peak and off-peak pricing meaning that you can expect to pay a higher cost in Avios if you chose to fly on a weekend or holiday season. Third and lastly for first and business class itineraries originating in the United States you can expect to pay a hefty sum for the taxes and fuel surcharges, upwards of 1500-2000 USD per person in addition to the points.

Simply put British Airways Executive Club is a bad program for award redemptions in first and business class due to their high points prices and hefty fuel surcharges.

British Airways Executive Club Is Great for Upgrades

When it comes to upgrades British Airways Executive Club is a great program. The reason for this is unlike other programs who essentially charge the same cost for an upgrade as they would for a business class award ticket, British Airways Executive Club only charges the difference in avios between the classes.

The cost of an upgrade from business to first class can be calculated by subtracting the price in Avios of a business class award ticket from the price of a first class award ticket.

Upgrades on British Airways Executive Club come with a few strings attached, these are as follows:

  • You can only upgrade to the next highest class: e.g economy to premium economy, premium economy to business, and business to first. Upgrades from economy to business or from premium economy to first are not allowed.
  • Deeply discounted economy class tickets are not eligible for upgrades. All premium economy and business class tickets can be upgraded with Avios, including the deeply discounted tickets.
  • Upgrade availability is determined by the number of award seats available, meaning that you can only upgrade to the next cabin if there are award seats available in that higher cabin. Upgrades can only be requested and confirmed in advance, meaning that there’s no possibility to waitlist upgrades or upgrade at the airport.
  • Upgrades using Avios cannot be made online. They can only be made by calling British Airways Executive Club.
  • Differences in airport taxes may apply when upgrading to a higher cabin. Most notably is the UK Air Passenger Duty which will be charged on flights departing the United Kingdom.
  • Only flights issued by British Airways are eligible for upgrade. Codeshare flights issued by a partner airline cannot be upgraded using Avios.

How to maximize the value of British Airways Avios upgrades?

When it comes to maximizing the value of British Airways upgrades it’s important to factor in the cost of the underlying ticket. Business Class tickets originating from the US are known to be very expensive compared to other markets, though in some cases you may be able to find discounted tickets.

The best value however, is for upgrading premium economy tickets to business class.

British Airways Club Suites Business Class on the Boeing 777-200ER.

First of we’ll need to find a reasonably priced premium economy class ticket, and as all fare classes in premium economy can be upgraded we easily start with looking up available options on Google Flights. During the fall of 2021 and well into 2022 it’s possible to find premium economy to many European destinations for around 1200-1300 USD per person. We would consider this to be a great deal when compared to economy which usually costs roughly 600-800 USD per person.

Premium Economy Class from Los Angeles to Athens via London for $1244 round trip.

Once we’ve found our flights it’s time to check for the upgrade availability. This can be done by making an award search on the British Airways Executive Club website which also offers you the option to search on a monthly calendar.

For our itinerary from Los Angeles to Athens we managed to find award seats available in business class on the exact same flights.

The next step is to calculate the cost of the upgrade, and this is done by subtracting the price of a premium economy class award ticket, from the business class award ticket.

For the entire route a business class ticket will set you back 173 500 Avios round trip, whereas the same flights in premium economy will cost 92500 Avios. Subtracted, the cost of the upgrade is 81000 Avios round trip.
If you only wish to upgrade the long haul segments, and keep the short segments between London and Athens in economy the cost of the upgrade will be 60 000 Avios round trip (125 000 - 65 000).

When upgrading to a higher cabin any additional airport taxes will be paid, differences in fuel surcharges or airline fees are not collected. Upgrades from premium economy to business cannot be made online so once your flights are booked and points are transferred you can process the upgrade by calling the British Airways Executive Club hotline.


In conclusion upgrades using British Airways Avios are a great way to travel in business class for a relatively small amount of points, especially when you consider the fact that a paid ticket in premium economy will still come out cheaper than the taxes and fuel surcharges that you’d otherwise pay on an award ticket. If you’re short on points or a family of four traveling it’s certainly a great use of your points.

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