What Are Fuel Surcharges and Why You Should Avoid Them

What Are Fuel Surcharges and Why You Should Avoid Them

When thinking of award fights, many people assume that they will be “free” and to a certain extent they are. But people often overlook the fact that for every award ticket, there are taxes and fees in addition to the required award miles. These fees can add up to a hefty amount if you’re not aware of them so let’s dive into what these fees are and how to avoid them.

What are Fuel Surcharges


Fuel charges or codename (YQ) are a certain type of fee that a carrier levies for every flight operated. They are usually hidden away from passengers in the taxes section or are already factored into the final cash amount of the ticket. The fee is meant to help cover the fuel cost for operating the flight you are purchasing and the exact amount can range wildly between carrier and route. These fees have no minimum or maximum amount and are sort of like dynamic pricing in that each airline can charge as much as they want whenever they want.

For example, British Airways is one of the most notorious airlines for passing on fuel surcharge fees for award bookings. For a cash booking of a business class ticket from San Francisco to London on British Airways, we can see that the fuel surcharge is $850!

British Airways charges a high fuel surcharge fee
British Airways charges a high fuel surcharge fee

Since British Airways passes on these surcharges, these fees can also be found in the award booking of the same flight.

British Airways fuel surcharge fee in award bookings
This fuel surcharge fee is found in award bookings too

How To Avoid Fuel Surcharges


The way to avoid fuel surcharges is to book the desired flight via a partner that does not pass on fuel surcharges. For example, Qatar Airways flights can be booked via partners Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, both of which do not pass on fuel surcharges. Look at the pricing difference in fees for the same flight!

High fees booking via British Airways
Way cheaper booking via American Airlines

Look at how much cheaper booking the same flight via American Airlines is. That’s over 90% less in fees! In general, it’s better to book OneWorld partners via Alaska or American instead of British Airways for cheaper fees.

One thing to be wary of is that certain carriers or routes will impose high fees regardless of booking program. A good example of this is British Airways flights to/from London. As shown earlier, the fees for flights from the US to London booked through British Airways are pretty ridiculous. But even when booking those flights via Alaska or American, those same high fees still apply.

High British Airways fuel surcharge booking via Alaska Airlines
Still high fuel surcharges via Alaska
High British Airways fuel surcharge booking via American Airlines
Still high fuel surcharges via American

Which Airline Programs Pass On Fuel Surcharges


Now that we see how expensive fuel surcharges can be, let’s list out the most popular airline programs for award travel that pass on fuel surcharges and give alternative booking methods. Note that in some cases like Emirates, although the alternative booking method may have less in fees, it will require more points.

ANA

ANA is a popular booking program for cheap Star Alliance business class flights from the US to Asia. However, they unfortunately do pass on fuel charges. For example a round trip from Los Angeles to Tokyo will cost you $533 in fees!

Booking through ANA has high fuel surcharges
High Fees Booking via ANA
Alternative Booking Method

Since ANA is part of Star Alliance, we can use a program like Air Canada Aeroplan to book them with no fuel surcharges passed on. For the same flight we would only pay ~$113 in fees when using Aeroplan! However, the mileage cost is much higher as we would have to pay 150k Aeroplan miles vs 85k ANA miles.

Booking ANA via Air Canada is cheaper since Aeroplan does not pass on fuel surcharges
Much cheaper fees when booking via Aeroplan

Emirates

If you think ANA’s fees are bad, just wait until you see Emirates’ fees. A one way booking between Los Angeles and Dubai will have ~$837 in fees!

Emirates has very high fuel surcharges
High Fuel Surcharge Fees From Emirates
Alternative Booking Method

If you’re hoping to save on fees, Air Canada Aeroplan is your best bet. The cost in miles is higher but you only pay ~$58 USD in fees.

British Airways

We’ve already gone pretty in depth with British Airways so I won’t discuss them more.

Alternative Booking Method

Your best options are either booking through Alaska Airlines or American Airlines.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has fuel surcharges on its own flights.

Virgin Atlantic has a high fuel surcharge fee
Virgin Atlantic has a high fuel surcharge fee
Alternative Booking Method

The alternative is booking through Delta for much cheaper fees BUT the number of Delta Skymiles is MUCH higher, hence their nickname Skypesos. For most people booking Virgin Atlantic via Delta is probably not worth it.

Delta has cheaper fuel surcharge fess but much higher mileage cost
Cheaper fees but much higher mile cost

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines will impose fuel surcharges on its own flights.

Turkish Airlines imposes fuel surcharges on its own flights
Turkish Airlines imposes fuel surcharges on its own flights
Alternative Booking Method

The alternative is book through Air Canada Aeroplan for lower fees.

Air Canada has cheaper fuel surcharge fees when booking Turkish Airlines
Air Canada has cheaper fees

Conclusion


Award travel is great but it’s important to know which airlines levy fuel surcharges so that we ensure we’re getting the best deal possible. Often times cheaper fees come at the cost of higher mileage so it will come down to the individual to consider the trade offs and make the best decision for their situation.

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