Difference Between Fuel Surcharges And UK Airport Taxes

Filed Under: Travel

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:

DistanceEconomyAll Other Cabins
0-2,000 miles£13£26
2,001-4,000 miles£69£138
4,001-6,000 miles£85£170
6,001+ miles£97£194

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

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.

Bottom line

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!

  1. @ Mike — Where’s the open jaw there? You’re flying JFK-LHR and then CDG-JFK? If so, no APD since you’re not originating any travel out of the UK.

  2. @Lucky, that’s what I figured but if it’s all on the same ticket I wasn’t sure if they’d treat it like a connecting flight (if over 24 hours) even though the connection would happen outside of the UK.

    Make’s sense but I figured I’d ask in case I ever plan something like that.

  3. Is the APD “recoverable”? We got long-haul MIA-LHR BA reward tix, but short-haul Europe BA availability didn’t open until later. We have a total of 3 BA tix pp: MIA-LHR-MIA, LHR-AMS and BUD-LHR. We’re hoping to through-check our luggage but assume we’re out of luck on the APD.

  4. Lucky,

    There are other significant fees for transiting LHR. I have an AA J award ticket JFK-CPH that was originally on Air Berlin (through TXL) and the taxes/fees were about $90. When I switched to transiting LHR for better dates, the taxes/fees jumped to $250! This is on AA metal for the TATL leg.

  5. From April 1st 2015 we will only have Band 1 and 2 (ie bands 3 and 4 are abolished). This largely corresponds to intra-Europe (Band 1) and beyond (Band 2).

  6. I redeemed US Airways Miles for the following British Airways / Cathay Pacific First Class award before they imposed fuel surcharges:

    I paid $191.86 total

  7. Highway robbery! I’ve boycotted visiting the UK since these charges were introduced and taken my considerable business and tourist dollars to many other countries that don’t gouge visitors this way. I must from time to time transit through LHR — a horrid experience itself — but try to escape the clutches of the Exchequer! At one time this usurious fee was based on the number of cabins on a plane, not the actual class of service. Since Concorde on had one cabin (well actually two but both of the same COS), passengers were charged the lowest level of the fee, though were paying significantly more than F on multi-cabin planes!

  8. “(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).

    While most would agree that BA has some of the best service in the industry, the price tag for this ‘Award’ ticket is plenty of reason to avoid both BA and the UK whenever possible. Unless one’s specific destination is within UK, avoid them like the plague. That is not an ‘Award’ ticket, it is a punishment ticket. But then I guess the UK has a long history of abusive taxes and fees. I seem to recall that one of several reasons that Amerika is not longer a colony also had to do with something about taxes, no? The Brits are wonderful folks, but they have been shooting themselves in the foot for centuries.

  9. Thanks for this post. I think about flying FRA-LHR-NRT on JAL F with connection in LHR the same day. That would mean, I don’t have to pay the tax and no fuel surcharges right?

  10. I understand, that for the BA segment there will be fuel surcharges but it should be negligibe for the short way??

  11. Is there anyway for passengers to fight back? It is neither my airport, nor my country, but is there a movement or some organization that deals with these governmental scams against easy targets?

    This is very similar to how NYC punishes cell phone users with various taxes and surcharges, and how some cities use hotel/rental cars etc for financing their stadiums etc.

  12. Disgusted with BA on the fuel surcharges, and have been for years. It now precludes me (a Brit living in the US, American husband, 2 kids) from travelling to the UK to visit family using the thousands of miles we acquire on BA Visa card – the surcharges are ridiculous.
    I recently did a comparison and found that the cost of flying with BA, using miles and paying the taxes & fuel surcharges for our family of 4 in Economy from EWR, was only a couple of hundred $’s less than PAYING $’s to fly Virgin the same route, or PAYING to fly Icelandair via KEF. I think it’s bordering on criminal what BA are doing, especially, as someone pointed out in an earlier post, when oil prices are so low. In many cases, the fuel surcharge itself (over $500) is more than the actual ticket cost!
    Something needs to be done. Perhaps we should start something on Change.org using social media to spread. Lucky?

  13. @ Emma G — Indeed, it’s a terrible value for travel in economy, which unfortunately seems to be the norm for many airlines. Very frustrating. 🙁

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