Are award ticket taxes and fuel surcharges negotiable?

No, of course they aren’t, but they are sometimes incorrectly calculated by the airlines.

I’ve booked hundreds and hundreds of award tickets, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned (other than how to be really, really patient), it’s the taxes and fees associated with various airline tickets. I’d like to think that my sixth sense is being able to guess the taxes on just about any award ticket within about $10. I know, that’s a real wasted sixth sense, but when you book enough awards around the globe you start to memorize the various departure taxes, fuel surcharges, fees, etc.

Which brings me to yesterday. A colleague was putting on hold a business class OneWorld distance based award ticket through American, which included travel on Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, and British Airways. The only segment on British Airways was between London and Los Angeles after stopping there for a few days. So we were expecting the taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges to be high.

For example, doing an award search on I see a date between London and Los Angeles which has business class award space on both American and British Airways.

If you price them out separately you’ll see that the American ticket would cost $276.70. That makes sense, as that’s almost entirely made up of the UK Air Passenger Duty, which is ~$250USD.

Meanwhile the British Airways flight would cost $561.60, which also makes sense, since American imposes fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways though not for travel on American.

So doing the math you’ll see that the difference between the taxes/fees is $284.90, so it’s safe to assume that’s the extent of the fuel surcharges.

Just to be certain American wasn’t pricing it incorrectly I went to ITA to search the fuel surcharges on a revenue ticket on the same British Airways flight.

As you can see above the fuel surcharge is £179.50, which converts to ~$268. That’s ~$17 lower than what American is charging, though that’s not something worth arguing over.

Anyway, back to the actual award. Like I said it included travel on Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, and the above segment on British Airways. American said the total cost would be $850 per person, which seemed high to me. Europe tends to have high taxes though the above segment was the only one departing Europe, so other than the $561 I was expecting there to be no more than an additional $100 in taxes, given how low the taxes are for most Asian airports.

I assumed we just weren’t doing the math right, so after my colleague told me the amount we called back American and asked for a breakdown of the taxes. Now, understandably most agents think you’re crazy when you ask for a breakdown given that they assume the computer calculates them correctly, and also assume you have no clue what you’re talking about, which is probably true in 99% of cases.

She went to her supervisor and gave us a breakdown in the taxes. And as it turns out there was a discrepancy in the fuel surcharges. She said they were $460, while we thought they should have been no more than ~$285, given that no fuel surcharges are imposed on any of the other carriers.

While she thought I was crazy she forwarded the request to the rates desk. I was sure to describe exactly where I thought the discrepancy was and explained that only British Airways is supposed to impose fuel surcharges, and that for London to Los Angeles they should be no more than $285.

Anyway, the rates desk should update the record with their findings within 24 hours, and I’m curious what they have to say. My suspicion is that they accidentally imposed fuel surcharges for some of the Malaysia Airlines segments, given that they’re a new partner so they may still be working out some glitches.

Or it’s entirely possible I’m wrong in this case, though in the past I’ve had luck getting taxes revised on award tickets when they’re clearly wrong. So if you’re ever in a situation where the taxes don’t add up, ask rates to review them!

I’ll post an update in the comments section once I hear more.

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. A single return flight to Europe on BA from Australia costs over a thousand in fuel alone! I don’t think 561 is that expensive in comparison…

  2. I had a very similar experience recently. Booked a oneworld explorer award and was quoted “taxes” of around $650. I went to Matrix and calculated them to more more in the area of $200. Called AA, explained to the agent that I thought YQ/YR were being added, and she put in a request to the rate desk to look at it within 24 hours. The next day I called back, and taxes were recalculated at about $275… still a bit more than expected, but much less than the original quote.

    BTW, my itin also had MH segments on it (in addition to CX, RJ, and AB).

  3. My favorite related story was one time when I was calling to change a US Airways award ticket. The agent put me on hold for 75 minutes and came back to tell me that I’d been refunded part of the fees because they’d messed it up during the original reservation. While I appreciated them catching that, the agent’s tone made it sound like I should be eminently grateful that I’d just gotten money back, when they never would have proactively caught it if I’d not had to call back to change a flight. Oh US Air…I will not miss your system after the merger.

  4. @ Vincent — Totally agree, and to clarify, $561 or so is exactly what I was expecting. That’s the published cost and that’s fine. But it’s the mystery ~$200 in fuel surcharges that are confusing me.

  5. @ Danny — LOL! US Airways’ rates desk is the most incompetent of any airline, and it can work both ways. I’ve switched award tickets from originating in Brussels to originating in London which should have triggered the $250 APD, but after the agent put me on hold for 30 minutes while talking to the rates desk they decided there was no change in taxes. Gotta love it!

  6. Sixth sense? Sounds like a great bet for a drink. How about ORD-NRT-MNL-HKG-DXB-HKG-PEK, CAN-KUL-PEN-KUL-LHR-DUS-VIE-AMM-ORD on JL, CX, KA, MH, BA (VIE-DUS only), AB and RJ?

  7. I’m so lucky to live in Brazil in this kind of situation since here is forbidden to charge fuel surcharges.

  8. I think AA charges fuel surcharges on CX too. A one way SIN-HKG-ADL(CX)-MEL(QF) award ticket was pricing out at ~$240, while a one way SIN-BNE(EY)-MEL(QF) was only ~$60.

  9. @ Joel — They’re definitely not supposed to be charged on Cathay Pacific, so I’d suggest asking for a breakdown.

  10. I can’t opine on the discrepancy in your award, but I do know that the BA fuel surcharge in $$ is higher than the BA fuel surcharge in pounds, converted.

    They first tried to say it was because the fuel cost is dependant on the locality but I pointed out a RT LHR-LAX fuels up in the exact same places as a RT LAX-LHR. They then said something to the effect of “it is what it is”.

  11. @Lucky Good to know. Though in the end I missed out on a day trip in HKG because it would’ve been Chinese New Year there, and went on EY to get my limo ride to the airport 😀

  12. Over last 6 months, not uncommon to have AA misprice fees on awards usig partner metal. Even simple routing like LHR-USA on BA will often come up $50-70 higher on AA award than BA charges for same flight, same day.

    What I do is:

    1. Always check, and if there is a difference, document it.

    2. Book AA award, but do not purchase rather put on 5 day hold.

    3. Call AA and get it over to pricing desk. This can often be a struggle as CSR wants to believe the screen and it’s almsot impossible to go thru without making clear that you know a lot more about this than the rep likely does. I always have ready the ITA details on BA fees for that flight that day and ask rep to have rate desk check ITA, which has resulted in rep asking “What is ITA”. I say-the rate desk will know.

    And they almost always do.

  13. Sorry for my newbie question

    As a BA member , when I book a flight like LON – NYC , they will charge me same fuel surcharge on AA as on BA . Any way to redeem AA flights with BA miles without paying for fuel surcharge ?

  14. @ Tom — You’re correct, you pay the fuel surcharges either way if using BA miles. There’s no way to convert BA miles into AA miles, unfortunately.

  15. I recently booked YVR-JFK-LHR-HAM on CX, AA, BA using AA miles. Taxes and fees seemed high and I found out that AA overcharged me ~$50. After spending a good 30 mins with CSR to get a breakdown of every single tax and fee (she thought I was nuts), explaining to her that German airport taxes/fees should not be collected, waiting another half an hour for rate desk to do their calculations, AA finally agreed they messed up.

    Also, has anyone noticed that booking CX via vs. calling in is several dollars cheaper? I booked JFK-YVR route several times and this discrepancy shows up again and again. One time CSR agreed with me after talking to the rate desk and other time she just told me to book it online.

  16. I’ve seen cases where will show much higher taxes (2X) on award flights on AA metal than AA will show — it almost seems that BA is using the foreign taxes that are applicable to Business or First class tickets/price (non-US destination country that charges a lot of taxes), even though it’s a Coach Saver award (so what should be 4500 Avios + $70 taxes shows up on as 4500 Avios + $150 taxes) — has anyone see this and is it something that BA agents would be able to resolve? It would be good to know how to direct the agents during the conversation for where to look, how to fix it, etc.?

  17. Hi Lucky, I’m experiencing a similar issue with ANA. I booked two tickets in business class on Austrian from JFK to Dubai via Vienna. I know Austrian has a high fuel surcharge, but what I was quoted from ANA was ridiculous. According to ITA, the fuel surcharge for a roundtrip between JFK and DXB via VIE is $600. ANA has charged me $545 each way. This was a trip I had to take so I decided to pay it and then get it refunded later if I could. So far after calling, no luck. Any suggestions?

  18. @ Jen — Strange. Is the extent of the routing JFK-VIE-DXB-VIE-JFK? Are you stopping over in Vienna at all? What were the total charges?

  19. @Lucky – Our routing is JFK-VIE-DXB-VIE-JFK. We have a ~4 hour layover in Vienna on the way there and a ~5 hour layover in Vienna on the way back. The fees charged are: 2.50AY, 33.40US, 5.00XA, 7.00XY, 5.50YC, 20.40AE, 1.40TP, 20.00AT, 47.20ZY,545.00YQ, 545.00YQ. Other than YQ, these all seem to match ITA (although ITA has XF and TP charges that weren’t included in my taxes). I’m wondering if they are looking at the YQ for a one way but charging it twice. Any thoughts? I’ve talked with an agent twice and they say the rate desk confirmed it.

  20. @ Jen — That’s really strange. Even looking at the one way YQs that doesn’t add up. I’d call back and ask the rates desk to verify again. I’d ask where they’re getting the YQ from.

  21. @Lucky, here’s a sample routing I found next week. Last time I’d looked in Sep or Oct, AA was low-season, so Saver was 12.5K miles, which made the BA Avios to AAdvantage less favorable than usual. Note that flights originating in the US (SJU) one-way or round-trip price correctly for BA taxes, but the ones originating in SDQ price incorrectly. I think last time I’d look at ITA and the AA taxes were correct, but the BA ones corresponded to higher fare classes (Y or business — looks like flights leaving SDQ pay a dom republic tax proportional to the fare). Anyway here goes (sorry the table doesn’t paste nicely, but basically SDQ->SJU AA tax is $69, BA is $120; SDQSJU round-trip AA is $103, BA is $204.

    Sample Dates Route AA Miles AA Tax BA Avios BA Tax
    3/26/2013 SJU -> SDQ 12.5K (low)/17.5K (saver) $34 4500 $34
    3/27/2013 SDQ -> SJU 12.5K (low)/17.5K (saver) $69 4500 $120
    3/26/13 – 3/27/13 SJU SDQ 25K (low) / 35K (saver) $97 9000 $97
    3/26/13 – 3/27/13 SDQ SJU 25K (low) / 35K (saver) $103 9000 $204

  22. @Lucky, Just wanted to report back. I tried again with ANA with no luck. It occurred to me that maybe I should check on Austrian’s website to see if they will show the tax breakdown for a revenue ticket in business class. And, they do. And it matched exactly what I paid via ANA which was drastically different from what ITA was showing. I guess lesson learned is to not completely trust ITA when being quoted something different.

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