Changes to British Airways Gold Upgrade Vouchers.

If you’re a British Airways Executive Club Gold Card holder you may have received the following email in the last day or so:

As a Gold Guest List Member, you receive a Gold Upgrade voucher for one or two people when you reach at least 2,500 Tier Points. This entitles you (and a companion) to a free cabin upgrade* when you next book British Airways flights with us or a Travel Agent.

We’ve listened to your feedback and are making improvements to the voucher booking process. If you book with a Travel Agent you no longer need to use it at the time of booking; simply contact us directly up to 24 hours before your flight to upgrade. If you’d like to make any further changes after you’ve redeemed your voucher, please contact us directly. Your dedicated Gold telephone number is 0800 408 111 or if calling from overseas +44 161 448 3048.

That means it’s now easier than ever to enjoy your upgrade. Please note the voucher is only valid if you – the Executive Club Member – is travelling on the flight and is subject to availability.

What are Gold Upgrade Vouchers?

If you’re a Gold Executive Club member, British Airways rewards you with additional benefits as you earn progressively more tier points in a membership year.

At 2,500 points you’ll earn a Gold Upgrade for Two (GUF2), and at 3,500 tier points, you’ll earn two Gold Upgrades for One (GUF1).

How do they work?

These vouchers are a great benefit for a number of reasons.

Firstly, they apply to an entire journey, covering as many as six segments using a single voucher.  For example, you could book BRU-LHR-SIN-SYD, and the return, using a single voucher.  That’s a confirmed upgrade from Brussels, all the way via London and Singapore to Sydney.  For two people.

Secondly, they’re confirmed at the time of booking; so there’s no wondering if your upgrade is going to clear before the time of departure.

They’re also combinable with other vouchers such as the British Airways American Express Two for One voucher.  Meaning that you can combine one of them and a Gold upgrade on the same booking.  If you’re a Gold Guest List member then they are also combinable with your “joker” which is officially known as a “space release” benefit, and even use all three in combination.

Gold Upgrade Vouchers can also be used against either a normal revenue booking, or an Avios booking.  However you can’t apply a voucher to upgrade a flight where you’ve already used Avios to Upgrade.

There are two routes to booking a flight using one of these vouchers.  The first is direct with British Airways.  When booking via this route, you are restricted to relying upon regular award inventory, as if you were making a normal Avios booking.  That is ‘P’ class for Premium Economy, ‘U’ class for Business and ‘Z’ class for First.

However the key selling point that makes Gold Upgrades so valuable is when you book via a travel agent.  Agents have no access to the award inventory buckets that I mentioned above, and thus they are permitted to book into revenue availability.  That’s ‘T’ for Premium Economy, ‘I’ for Business and ‘A’ for First.

British Airways therefore oddly incentivises people to book via a travel agent as opposed to direct.  The full rules and procedure for doing so are outlined in these instructions on their travel trade website.

What’s also interesting and advantageous about these vouchers is that availability is only required in the higher booking class, as long as the underlying fare is valid.  This can be complex so will do my best to explain.

Let’s say that I’m travelling from London to New York and I am paying for a business class fare, which books into ‘I’ class.  I wish to use a voucher to upgrade to First.  My travel agent only needs to ensure that ‘A’ class is available (that’s First Class availability).  If there is no availability in ‘I’ then it doesn’t matter, provided that the underlying fare is valid for travel.  This can be very powerful as ‘A’ class can be much more widely available then ‘I’, meaning you can pair an inexpensive business class ticket with a voucher to easily get to First.

So what has changed?

To date, as the email suggests, when booking via a travel agent, you had to get them to apply the voucher at the time of booking.  Now that’s no longer the case.  The Executive Club are able to apply a voucher to a booking after it has been ticketed by a travel agent.

However as you’d expect, there are a number of restrictions:

  • It needs to be a commercially published fare, so specially negotiated corporate fares are excluded
  • It must be a British Airways ticket, on 125 ticket stock
  • It must only contain only BA operated and marketed flights on the ticket but can contain BA codeshare flights
  • There cannot be any other airline tickets in the booking
  • British Airways are not allowed to change a travel date prior to applying a voucher, the Travel Agent would have to do this beforehand, subject to any fare restrictions
  • It needs the regular award inventory buckets of P, U and Z
  • Gold Guest List members can still use their ‘joker’ to force release of award inventory as they do today

Isn’t this a good thing?

On the face of it yes.  However my fear is that this is the thin end of the wedge.

As I explained earlier, currently travel agents are allowed to make a booking with one of these vouchers into regular revenue availability.  This is the single feature that makes these upgrades so valuable.

Now British Airways is introducing a mechanism whereby travel agent bookings can be upgraded after initial ticketing, but can only be upgraded into the much more tightly controlled award booking classes.

If one were being cynical, this could be the first step in removing the ability to allow travel agents to book into revenue classes in the first place.  After all, if you can do the upgrade later on by speaking to British Airways, why do you need the agent support team to process and validate these upgrades from agents in the first place?  Quite.

So it’s a cautious welcome for allowing the additional flexibility, but a watching brief in case they attempt to gut the key value from this real benefit.

 

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