I’m often asked why award tickets to the UK involve so many taxes and fuel surcharges.
There’s a ton of confusion among consumers about the difference between taxes and fuel surcharges. That’s largely the airlines’ fault, given that for so long they’ve tried to bundle “taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges” into one, when they’re in fact very different things.
I think it’s important to clarify the difference between the two high “fees” you may face when traveling to/from/through the UK.
Difference between taxes and fuel surcharges
First, in very general terms I think it’s worth clarifying the difference between taxes and fuel surcharges. This should seem obvious, but it can get a bit confusing:
- Taxes are government imposed costs that the airlines incur and pass on to consumers
- Fuel surcharges are fees that go towards paying the airlines’ operating costs, and really are sort of a scam, especially given the current cost of oil (after all, fuel is the largest component of the operating costs of an airline, so surely that’s what your base fare should go towards paying)
UK Air Passenger Duty (APD)
The first major cost you may face when traveling to/from the UK is the UK Air Passenger Duty, which I’ve written about extensively.
The following passengers traveling to/through the UK aren’t liable to pay the UK APD:
- Those arriving in the UK
- Those connecting in the UK for less than 24 hours
The following passengers are liable to pay the UK APD:
- Those connecting in the UK for more than 24 hours
- Those originating travel in the UK (in other words, if you fly from New York to London and then three days later from London to New York you’d be liable to pay the APD, given that you’re originating in the UK that day)
This charge is included in the ticket cost. The amount payable is dependent upon the following:
- The class of service you’re flying in — there’s one charge for economy, and then one charge for premium cabins (which includes first class, business class, and premium economy)
- The distance between London and the capital city of your final destination on the ticket (in other words, if you’re flying from London to Los Angeles to Honolulu, you’d pay the APD based on the distance between London and Washington DC) — it’s not based on how far away your immediate destination is (in other words, you wouldn’t pay less of an APD flying from London to Frankfurt to Los Angeles than you would just flying from London to Los Angeles)
Here’s a chart with the UK Air Passenger Duty charges:
All Other Cabins
This is a charge that applies to all airlines, regardless of whether or not they impose fuel surcharges on award tickets. For example, if you redeem American miles for travel on US Airways from London to Philadelphia in economy (which doesn’t incur fuel surcharges) you’d still pay ~$188 in cash, which covers the taxes, including the UK APD:
Fuel surcharges have nothing to do with the UK as such. It happens to be that the two largest airlines in the UK (British Airways and Virgin Atlantic) impose fuel surcharges on most award tickets, but that has nothing to do with the government.
Every airline and frequent flyer program has a different approach towards fuel surcharges, so it’s tough to make too many broad statements here. For example, British Airways imposes fuel surcharges if you redeem Avios on their own flights, but not if you redeem Avios on their partner airberlin.
Hopefully this clarifies the basic differences between the high air travel taxes in the UK and fuel surcharges. To summarize:
- Any travel originating in the UK will be hit with the UK APD, but not necessarily with fuel surcharges
- Travel just connecting in the UK won’t be hit with the UK APD, but could be hit with fuel surcharges
- It does suck when you happen to be originating in the UK and an air airline imposes fuel surcharges, since it’ll cost you a lot of cash (for example a roundtrip between New York and London in British Airways business class will cost you $1,150+ in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges).
If anyone has any questions on the above, let me know!