BRITISH Air charged me just this week over 400.00 in fuel charges for an American Air flight from Boston to Paris. My friend who booked the same flight on American did not have a fuel surcharge. We both used our frequent flier miles. Something is wrong. What can be done. I wanted to be on same flight as friend so I booked it. BA said no fuel charges on domestic flights or flights to far east. I used 45000 miles and still had to pay 601.00 in total. My friend only had to pay 87.00
On domestic awards inside the U.S., frequent flyer programs like American’s and United’s will only charge you the $2.50 per segment (not to exceed $10 roundtrip) “September 11th Security Fee.” Until 10 years ago domestic awards really were ‘free’ but when this expenses was added onto airline tickets the major carriers didn’t absorb it on awards but began passing it onto consumers.
All airlines add taxes onto international frequent flyer award tickets. Airport taxes, immigration taxes, etc.
Here’s the fare breakdown for a trip between New York and London next month:
I took a random set of dates and came up with a total cost of $750.40.
That breaks down as:
- $111 Base fare
- $438 Fuel surcharge
- $201.40 Taxes
When you redeem miles for this ticket with a US-based frequent flyer program you’ll pay the $201.40 in taxes. If you book by phone, there may be a telephone booking fee. US Airways adds a fee for international awards, and also for partner awards. But it’s fairly standard to pay a couple hundred bucks in addition to miles when redeeming an award for international travel.
But most non-U.S. frequent flyer programs also add fuel surcharges to the cost of an award ticket. That means for this $750.40 ticket, a frequent flyer redemption would cost $639.40 (taxes plus fuel surcharges) in addition to the miles!
British Airways Avios adds fuel surcharges onto all award tickets when a paid ticket would also incur a fuel surcharge. There’s no fuel surcharges on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines domestic awards, because those airlines don’t add the charges onto those tickets for paid travel. There’s also no fuel surcharges on American or LAN flights to and from South America, again because those tickets don’t have fuel surcharges when purchasing paid travel.
But transatlantic flights always incur fuel surcharges with the British Airways frequent flyer program. Which means that it almost never makes sense to redeem for international coach travel using the British Airways Avios program.
While fuel surcharges can and sometimes do vary based on class of service, it’s not usually a significant difference. You’ll pay roughly the same taxes and fees on a coach ticket as on a business class ticket. In the case of this London award, 45,000 miles roundtrip is saving only the $111 base fare. But for a business class ticket, 90,000 miles roundtrip would save several thousand dollars. It’s the same out of pocket $639 — plus a higher luxury tax for departures originating in the U.K. – for business class as for coach.
Recognizing how onerous these fuel surcharges are, SAS EuroBonus removed them from award redemptions 2 years ago. This was a huge move. SAS remains about the only non-U.S. program not fleecing their members in this way.
British Airways, when they introduced the new Avios program in November, reduced fuel surcharges on intra-Europe award tickets for those members who have earned miles in their account within the preceding year. Since deep discounted paid tickets on routes competing with low cost carriers would sometimes offer reduced fuel surcharges as well, it was not uncommon previously to see intra-Europe coach award redemptions that cost more in taxes and fees than a paid ticket would have.
I used to say “non-North American programs” imposed fuel surcharges, because Aeroplan only added those fees to awards actually booked on Air Canada… until the fall when they started imposing the fees on awards booked on most but not all partners. (This came shortly after no longer including US Airways domestic first class flights on international business class awards and gutting their reward chart.)
And it’s not even exclusively non-U.S. carriers. American Airlines adds fuel surcharges onto awards on British Airways flights. Delta adds fuel surcharges onto many flights originating in Europe and also to several Asian partner itineraries and also to awards booked on V Australia.
Now, I find that British Airways premium cabin award availability is so good, from so many US gateways, that I might be willing to swallow some extra charges. But when you pair multiple long haul flights in an itinerary, the costs really add up. Flying US – Europe – Africa roundtrip can run about $1000 in fuel surcharges per person. On an award ticket!
Fuel surcharges are one of the things undermining the value of the American Express Membership Rewards program. Membership Rewards lost Continental as a transfer partner, which hurt. But the real problem is that most of its remaining parters add fuel surcharges. Its Star Alliance transfer partners are Aeroplan, Singapore, and All Nippon – fuel surcharges all. British Airways means fuel surcharges. Air France/KLM Flying Blue incurs fuel surcharges. Delta does not… sometimes. Although Delta miles are often called SkyPesos for a reason.
Back to the original question, the same American Airlines flight will cost a pittance in taxes when redeemed with American AAdvantage miles but will cost almost as much as a paid ticket when redeeming with British Airways Avios. Which means using Avios points for that award isn’t a great idea.
For a US-based customer, Avios points should be used for:
- Domestic short-haul non-stop awards on American or Alaska Airlines (no fuel surcharges, cheap award pricing)
- Non-stop flights on American or LAN to South America (no fuel surcharges, reasonable award pricing)
- Non-stop flights on British Airways to London or with connections inside the U.K. or to nearer Europe (fuel surcharges, but reasonable award pricing)
If you’re getting your BA miles from a 100,000 mile signup bonus with a Chase credit card, the points are still an absolute bonanza, you just have to use them carefully. What I wouldn’t do is focus on earning British Airways Avios instead of miles in other programs unless you’re a U.K.-based customer.
If your interest is coach awards, you want to avoid programs with fuel surcharges. American (except when redeeming British Airways), United, US Airways, Alaska Airlines (except when redeeming British Airways), Delta (except when they impose fuel surcharges) are where you should be looking.