Using Proactive Online Upgrade to buy cheaper premium cabin fares on BA (re-post)

I wanted to re-post something I had written and first published in February 2013, before I first joined BoardingArea. My reason is that, while some savvy UK-based traveller will know about this already, perhaps those who rarely use British Airways may not be entirely aware of this technique. If you've read this before, feel free to skip this post.

British Airways, like most airlines, allows a 24 hour ‘cooling-off' period when buying tickets which allows for full refunds with no penalty. This is typically to allow the customer to check, and where necessary amend, important details on a ticket and be satisfied that a correct booking has been made. You can cancel ‘non-refundable' tickets and still receive a full refund, inclusive of any credit card surcharges.

Usual reasons for cancelling a ticket shortly after booking are:

  • Buying the wrong day
  • Buying the wrong time
  • A conflicting arrangement crops up and requires you to cancel (this happens to me very frequently)
  • Simply changing your mind!

So let me add another reason to the list: An upgrade wasn't cheap enough.

I'll demonstrate this technique by booking a ticket and then cancelling afterwards. My goal is to get a cheap business class ticket.

You start by looking for a cheap ticket in the cabin below the one you wish to travel in. This is because you can only upgrade one cabin per flight. So if you bought a ticket in World Traveller (economy class) and wanted to fly Club World (business class) then you need to make sure there isn't a World Traveller Plus (premium economy) cabin.

Here is a London-Athens (LHR-ATH) round trip flight in October, and the following price looked pretty good for an economy class fare.

Look how much it costs to upgrade: £786 for the whole journey. Insane!

This particular ticket is a ‘non-refundable' type, which is why it's so cheap. I went ahead and booked this flight,

British Airways offer a “Pro-active Online Upgrade” (POU) to most passengers. After you have received your e-ticket log into “Manage My Booking”. and click on “Upgrade”. It should look something like this.

Take a look at the price that is being offered. Usually it will be lower than if you bought the ticket outright – not always though. My example has yielded a round trip POU price of £198, which is a cash saving of £588 on what they offered initially!

If you don't like the price just call up and cancel the ticket. Do not cancel online, as the 24 hour refunding rights only apply if you cancel by phone. Also, if you make any changes to the booking (purchase an upgrade, change dates etc.) before you cancel, then you will invalidate the 24 hour cooling off period.

I called up British Airways to cancel my reservation, which was processed without any problems. I once had an agent trying to tell me my fare was completely ‘non-refundable', and refused to process the full refund. He was wrong — if you encounter this, just politely end the call, hang up and call again. Once the refund has been processed, your Manage My Booking page should update to show the cancellation.

And it might take up to a couple of days to receive an email showing the refunded amount. I got mine about 18 hours after I cancelled. My email reads:

“British Airways Booking Reference : [Removed by PTBM]
Passenger(s) :

Thank you for your request for refund.

I can now advise you that a refund has been processed to the card details
below, and the amount will appear in the account in the near future.

Please note that British Airways can apply a service fee for processing a
refund.  If a fee has been changed this will appear below.

Ticket Information
Ticket Number(s)              [Removed by PTBM]

Payment Type                    American Express card
Card Number                     [Removed by PTBM]
Billing Address                  [Removed by PTBM]
Flight ticket(s) issued by              British Airways, Newcastle, UK
IATA Number                     91499623


Payment Information
Fare/Taxes                      GBP 145.70
Penalty  (deducted)             GBP 0.00
Channel Fee                     GBP 0.00
Total amount refunded                  GBP 145.70

Thank you for booking with British Airways.

British Airways Plc is a public limited company registered in England and
Wales.  Registered number: 1777777.  Registered office: Waterside, PO Box
365, Harmondsworth, West Drayton, Middlesex, England, UB7 0GB.”

Like most airlines, air miles are awarded based on the class of fare that you purchased. If you buy a POU you will be given air miles (and if crediting them to British Airways, the Tier Points too) based on the cabin you upgrade into. So if you upgrade:

  • From Euro-Traveller to Club Europe, your new fare bucket will be I
  • From World Traveller to World Traveller Plus, your new fare bucket will be T
  • From World Traveller Plus to Club World, your new fare bucket will be I
  • From Club World to First, your new fare bucket will be A

You can use paid resources like KVS Tool or Expert Flyer to check fare bucket availabilities for all British Airways flights.

Note that if you use Avios to upgrade your flight then you will earn Avios and Tier Points on the original ticket you bought, because the higher class uses an award, and not revenue, fare bucket.

This technique is especially powerful if you want to buy a cheaper premium fare, or need a cheap source of extra elite qualifying miles or tier points, depending on who you credit your flights to.


Other related posts

Quickest ways to get airline elite status

Getting started with Matrix ITA

Beginners' guide to the Amsterdam to Jersey Tier Point run



  1. Is there a certain fare bucket these upgrades end up in? In other words, does it make sense to check for availability in that bucket to find out what dates have a bigger chance than others?

    • Yes! Longhaul is often where you get the biggest bargains too. You may encounter problems if you book itineraries more complex than a simple round trip.

    • From World Traveller to World Traveller Plus is in the region of £189 each way. I don’t know the other classes I’m afraid. There are threads on Flyertalk devoted to tracking prices which may help. I’ll get back to you with the link.

  2. A word of caution! Last year, I bought a ticket to the U.S. in economy and upgraded it over the phone to WTP and it came out in P, although the agent said it would be T. I could sort it out, eventually, though.

  3. So, let’s imagine I want to fly Europe-Canada, and upgrade WT+ to CW using avios. I can buy the cheap economy fare and then (provided there’s availability) POUG to WT+ at a cheaper rate than buying WT+ upfront. Since the upgraded WT+ ticket is in T, I can then upgrade to CW using avios?
    And I will earn avios corresponding to a T fare?
    That sounds like a really good deal!

    • Unfortunately you can only upgrade once. Other than that you are right that if you do a POUG you will earn Avios and TP according to the higher cabin, and that if you upgrade using Avios you will earn according to lower cabin.

  4. I did this last year and wanted to do it again this year. The upgrade price is much higher this year. Is it known whether this might go up or down if I wait a little longer. Or should I grab what they are offering now?

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