British Airways Trials New Avios Upgrade Scheme

Filed Under: British Airways

In theory British Airways has an extremely generous upgrade program.

For example, you can upgrade from business class to first class for the difference in cost between a first and business class award. A discounted business class ticket between New York and London would only require 20,000 Avios to upgrade one-way, with no co-pay. That’s a pretty darn good deal, if you ask me.

Upgrades to first class from a discounted business class ticket can be a great deal

The catch is that there needs to be award space in the cabin you’re trying to upgrade to. And there’s no way to waitlist an upgrade. In the past British Airways was great about releasing award space last minute, though they’ve been getting stingier and stingier lately. In other words, even if 100 people are waitlisted for upgrades, they’ll let the premium cabin go out with empty seats if there’s no award space.

It’s a bit of an odd system, and I feel like they could at least add the ability to waitlist upgrades, or something.

Well, British Airways is running an asinine trial for a new upgrade scheme, to put it mildly.

British Airways A380 Club World

Via Business Traveller:

From 1st-16Dec BA is trialling a new upgrade by Avios scheme. ‘Targeted members’ with bookings will be phoned by the Exec Club call centre with the offer to upgrade to the next cabin for Avios even when there is no reward availability to do so. The catch? It will cost more Avios than the usual redemption.

An example. a W – J upgrade using reward availability on a zone 3 sector is 5,000 Avios. However providing you are one of the selected members, you will be offered to upgrade to a flight with no reward availability for 20,000 Avios. Quite a premium on the usual redemption.

Where do we even begin?

Who uses the phones anymore?!

So British Airways will be phoning targeted members to offer them upgrades to the next cabin. The first issue is that it’s 2014. Why on earth would they call members as opposed to emailing them? Especially frequent flyers, who are in all kinds of different time zones.

And second of all, British Airways has abysmal call center hold times. Please don’t tell me they’re taking Executive Club phone agents away from answering calls so they can instead cold call people.

Four times as many Avios? Really?

This is a trial, so I can’t really blame them for testing peoples’ price sensitivity. But trying to charge quadruple Avios to upgrade just seems crazy. I can see them charging double Avios, but quadruple? Wow!

If I were a betting man, I’d guess a lot of these upgrades will occur on flights which are oversold in economy, where they’d otherwise have to operationally upgrade passengers. But I could be wrong…

How could British Airways improve their upgrade system?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really have an answer. What are possible ways British Airways could improve their current upgrade system that would be beneficial to them as well?

  • British Airways could create separate inventory for upgrades vs. awards (with them obviously releasing more availability to those upgrading as opposed to those outright booking award tickets)
  • British Airways could allow passengers to waitlist upgrades, so that if there are empty seats day of departure you’d clear into them — that seems like a win-win
  • Heck, British Airways could even charge double Avios for the ability to waitlist, or something like that — I’d say it would still be a net win for us

Bottom line

Ultimately this is a test so we can’t hold it against them too much. But if you want to innovate your upgrade program, this just seems like an odd place to start.

What do you think of this test, and how would you like to see British Airways innovate their upgrade program?

  1. I flew 2 days ago London to new york on AA ticket business class,i can see upgrades available to first on BS executive club website,when i called executive club to enquire if i can redeem avios to be upgraded,the answer wad NO as iys AS ticket and upgrade have to ne done at time of ticketing,yeah its a ONE WORLD but they cant do any with each other booking system.

  2. So let me get this straight. BA will make award seating available, that was previously unavailable for four times the price? So I guess the inventory was never really unavailable in the first place, right?

    I hope this trial fails miserably as this is just another way for a legacy carrier to hold back or not release Saver award level inventory and making it’s members not only pay more but wait until the very last second, preventing any meaningful advance planning.

    Am I missing something here Lucky?

  3. @ Rob — No, you can’t redeem miles for four times the price. This is just a test whereby they’re charging four times as much for upgrades.

  4. Speaking of crazy upgrade schemes. I was thinking of using points to upgrade into USAir’s A330 biz class seats from Charlotte to Cancun. It was going to be 15,000 points plus $150. The actual “cash” price difference between coach and businss? $156.

  5. fingers crossed this is a epic fail, otherwise the future of upgrades on BA is not looking good. Apart from short haul, they are the one bright spot in the EC as straight long haul redemption’s are killed with YQ

  6. I think 4x the normal cost is too much. That said, it’s easier to start at 4x the cost and bring it down to 2x, 2.5x, etc if it’s not proving as popular than it is to start at 2x the cost and put it up to 3x or 4x the cost because the take up is too high, etc.

  7. To be fair, the information about the scheme — and the 4x example — came from a comment posting on the Business Traveller site, not an official announcement from BA. The cost of a transatlantic upgrade from Club to First is basically 1/3 of the cost of an award. I don’t see many people buying a Club World seat and then shelling out 100k miles to bump up one cabin.

  8. @John The thread on the BTUK forum may well have been from a comment by a poster, however are you aware that poster is a long serving member of BA cabin crew who only posts these sorts of things when they’ve been appropriately briefed. It’s not Galley FM working overtime!

  9. I fly all the time for work but my company wont pay for biz/first class so I rely on upgrades which I normally do the day of the flight at the check in counter which can range between $500 and $700 and while this is cheaper than the biz class ticket I have yet to have a flight I booked available with any avios upgrade options…..never. For as much as I fly I would hope that would improve but given on 90% of my flights I can upgrade day of – they would be going out without butts in seats.

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