Understanding The UK Air Passenger Duty (APD)

Understanding The UK Air Passenger Duty (APD)

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The United Kingdom has the world’s highest taxes for airline passengers, known as the Air Passenger Duty (APD). In this post, I wanted to look at how the APD works — what is it, how much does it cost, when does it apply, and are there any tricks to minimizing it?

What is the UK Air Passenger Duty?

The UK’s Air Passenger Duty is a steep tax levied on any flight originating in the UK — this means that if you’re simply transiting the UK between other countries on one ticket then you shouldn’t be on the hook for this. Rather it’s charged based on having a journey originating in the UK (even if it’s the return portion of a ticket), regardless of where you’re connecting.

Suffice to say that the UK APD is controversial:

  • It’s a tax against those traveling from the United Kingdom, rather than those who simply connect in the United Kingdom, as the latter group doesn’t have to pay this
  • High taxes negatively impact demand for air travel, since it makes flying more expensive; airlines serving the UK have long fought against this tax, since it raises the cost of airline tickets

For some historical context, the UK APD was first introduced in 1994 and was intended to raise money for the government. When it was first introduced the tax was £5 for destinations within Europe, and £10 for destinations outside of Europe (as you’ll see below, it has gone way up).

Over the years the tax has almost been viewed as an environmental impact, intended to encourage other forms of transportation. Then again, those are pretty limited if you’re traveling long haul from the UK. From an environmental standpoint, there are two issues with this:

  • It does nothing to encourage airlines to invest in more efficient aircraft, since you’d think that would be a consideration in terms of emissions
  • If this is about the environment, you’d think transit passengers would be on the hook for this, since they have an even bigger environmental impact when taking two flights
The UK has the world’s highest aviation taxes

How much is the UK Air Passenger Duty?

The UK Air Passenger Duty amount is broken down based on the distance you’re flying, and the class of service you’re flying in:

  • For flights of up to 2,000 miles (short haul), the APD is £13 (~$18) in economy, and £26 (~$36) in a premium cabin
  • For flights of over 2,000 miles (long haul), the APD is £82 (~$113) in economy, and £180 (~$247) in a premium cabin

As of April 1, 2022, the APD for long haul flights will be increasing again:

  • The long haul economy APD will increase by £2, from £82 to £84
  • The long haul premium cabin APD will increase by £5, from £180 to £185

Now, there are some further details to be aware of:

  • For these purposes, a premium cabin would include anything other than economy, so it includes premium economy, business class, and first class
  • If you upgrade your seat the higher UK APD applies, which is why many airlines will request a co-pay when upgrading a flight out of the UK (to account for this cost)
  • The distance isn’t measured between your origin and destination, but rather between London and the capital city of the country you’re traveling to
  • The distance isn’t measured by the distance of your nonstop flight from the UK, but rather by your final destination on your itinerary (assuming continuous travel with no stopovers of more than 24 hours); in other words, the same APD applies whether you fly from London to New York nonstop, or from London to Paris to New York, even though the former itinerary has a much longer nonstop flight out of London
  • The UK APD is in addition to any airport taxes and fees, so this isn’t even all you’ll pay in taxes and fees when originating in the UK
The UK APD could total ~$250 one-way

When does the UK Air Passenger Duty apply?

Understandably there’s confusion about under what circumstances the UK Air Passenger Duty applies, so let me try to break it down as simply as possible:

  • The UK APD applies based on whether you have a flight itinerary originating in the UK; an itinerary is considered to be originating in the UK if you’re on the ground there for more than 24 hours
  • The UK APD doesn’t apply for any flights to the UK, as it’s purely a departure tax
  • The UK APD doesn’t apply to people who are simply connecting in the UK for under 24 hours on a single ticket
  • The UK APD doesn’t apply to children under the age of 16

Let me give some examples, and with each, I’ll explain whether or not the UK APD applies:

  • Are you flying from London to Los Angeles? You’ll have to pay the long haul APD
  • Are you flying from Los Angeles to London? You won’t have to pay the APD
  • Are you flying from New York to London to Paris, and are connecting in London for under 24 hours? You won’t have to pay the APD
  • Are you flying from Dubai to London to New York, and are connecting in London for under 24 hours? You won’t have to pay the APD
  • Are you flying from London to Amsterdam to Los Angeles, with a connection of under 24 hours in Amsterdam? You’ll pay the long haul APD
  • Are you flying from London to Amsterdam to Los Angeles, with a connection of over 24 hours in Amsterdam? You’ll pay the short haul APD

Hopefully, that covers most scenarios. As you can see, the APD is calculated based on the final destination of your ticket departing the UK, with continuous travel within 24 hours.

The UK APD doesn’t apply when traveling to the UK

When do you pay the UK Air Passenger Duty?

The UK Air Passenger Duty is collected by airlines directly at the time of booking. So when you book a ticket that’s subjected to the APD, you can expect that your ticket price will include the APD. This isn’t something you have to pay at the airport, or after the fact, for example.

The UK APD is added to your ticket cost

What’s the difference between the UK APD & fuel surcharges?

There’s often confusion about the distinction between the UK Air Passenger Duty and fuel surcharges, given that UK airlines are known for charging both, and it’s also why award tickets originating in the UK can cost so much. Just to clear that up:

  • The UK APD is a government-imposed fee that can cost up to £180 on a one-way flight
  • Fuel surcharges are imposed directly by airlines, and are a junk fee that has nothing to do with the government

While only some airlines add fuel surcharges (like British Airways), all airlines have to charge their passengers originating in the UK the Air Passenger Duty. Just to give an example of that, say you’re redeeming American AAdvantage miles for business class travel between London and New York.

If you book for travel on American, there are no fuel surcharges, and you’d pay a total of $335.95, which accounts for the UK APD, as well as all the airport taxes and fees (which are on top of the UK APD). Meanwhile, if you were to book British Airways instead, there would be fuel surcharges, and you’d pay $631.25. As you can see, in this case, the fuel surcharges are $295.30.

Since this often creates confusion, let’s look at flights in the other direction, from New York to London. If you were to book American, you’d pay just $5.60 in taxes and fees (there are no fuel surcharges or UK APD). Meanwhile, if you booked British Airways, you’d pay $729.20, which accounts for over $700 of fuel surcharges. Yes, fuel surcharges are higher originating in the US than the UK, but there’s still no UK APD here.

Hopefully, that clears up any confusion regarding the distinction between the UK APD and fuel surcharges.

Flights may be subjected to the UK APD and high fuel surcharges

Are there any ways to minimize the UK APD?

There’s no real way to “beat” the UK Air Passenger Duty, though there are some ways to minimize it, or at least be strategic about it. Different people will have different takes on the extent to which these strategies are worth it, but I figure they’re at least worth pointing out. Let me give a few examples.

Plan your stopover strategically

For example, say you’re redeeming British Airways Avios to fly roundtrip from New York to Paris via London, and you plan to have a stopover of more than 24 hours in London in one direction. If you’re going to do that, I’d highly recommend having your stopover in London on the outbound, rather than the return. Why? Because you’d only pay the short-haul APD (£26), rather than the long-haul APD (£180).

At the point in your itinerary where you’ve been in London for over 24 hours, you’ll be embarking on an itinerary of under 2,000 miles (to Paris), rather than an itinerary of over 2,000 miles (to New York).

Furthermore, if you want to visit London but only briefly, try to plan a stopover of just under 24 hours. That way you can avoid paying the UK APD altogether, all while still visiting the UK for a bit.

Mix economy & business class

When booking award tickets, some people like to travel one direction in business class and one direction in economy class, to splurge without redeeming too many miles. If you’re traveling to & from the UK and are using this strategy, ideally fly business class on your flight to the UK, and economy on your flight from the UK.

For one direction of travel, this would lower your APD from £180 to £82.

Fly out of Inverness

While Inverness is part of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Highlands and Islands are exempt from the UK APD. This is part of an agreement that dates back all the way to 1994, so it’s a nice little loophole. The catch is that not many people would naturally be starting there, and Inverness has fairly limited service.

For example, if you fly from Inverness to London to New York using British Airways Avios in business class, you’d pay $393.97, the vast majority of which is carrier imposed surcharges, as there’s no APD.

Meanwhile if you took just that same flight from London to New York, without originating in Inverness, you’d pay $625.89, which is due to being charged the UK APD.

Position yourself to another country

You can avoid the UK APD by flying out of a country other than the UK, and that could potentially save you quite a bit, especially on a business class ticket. There are a few ways to go about this:

  • Some people will position themselves to Dublin to start their itinerary, because flights from Ireland aren’t subjected to the UK APD (and as a bonus, flights out of Ireland are often cheaper than flights out of the UK, even taking that out of the equation); in some cases flights between the UK and Ireland can cost under $20, so this could save you some significant money
  • Some frequent flyer programs allow stopovers, so you can use those strategically; for example, Air Canada Aeroplan allows stopovers for 5,000 miles one-way, so you could fly from London to Copenhagen to New York with a stopover of just over 24 hours in Copenhagen, and then you’d only have to pay the short haul APD rather than the long haul APD
Avoid the UK APD by traveling from Ireland

Bottom line

The UK Air Passenger Duty is the world’s highest tax that’s levied on airline passengers. This applies to passengers with itineraries originating in the United Kingdom, and the tax ranges from £13 for an economy short-haul flight, to £180 for a premium cabin long haul flight.

Hopefully the above provides a useful summary of how this works, and if anyone has any questions, please let me know. While the UK APD can’t be avoided altogether, there are most definitely ways to minimize it.

What has your experience been with the UK APD?

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  1. Carmen Cardoso

    This is good info to know of my upcoming Euro trip next year

  2. dee

    what do they do with all of this$$$$$? It is expensive enough to live there and the government wants to make it more DIFFICULT?? not nice

  3. Wilhelm

    Lucky: these are carrier-imposed fees, not fuel charges. They used to be fuel charges, but they were changed after authorities clamped down on it. Now it’s just an extra way for airlines to earn revenue.

  4. John

    @Sean M

    I miss the days when you spouted acronyms like APD with wild abandon, as if it were confetti. This brought back some nice(?) memories.

  5. rrapynot

    I regularly visit family in the UK. Quite often I will fly back to the USA from Barcelona to avoid the UK APD. Flights between London and Barcelona are dirt cheap. I just paid $14 on Ryanair including UK APD. I see spending the night in Barcelona as a bonus, not an inconvenience. It’s a win-win.

  6. Gaurav

    Ben, if one is transiting through London for less than 24hrs but on two separate tickets, is it possible to claim a refund of the APD?

  7. Fed UP

    If it bothers you so much, dont fly to the UK. The money probably helps build airport infrastructure. The US also levies fees, like customs fees, etc. Probably not as much , but still.

  8. RB

    Very lucky to have my actual home airport of Inverness. Not gonna lie, I do get frustrated about seeing people fly to Inverness just to skip APD. The airport wasn't designed for that, and almost every flight I'm on from here I see people doing it. HIL Airports got an exception because we actually rely on those flights, and I really hope people milking the system doesn't ruin it for us.

  9. Sean M.

    I think you miss a very fundamental point here - the APD is not levied on the passenger, but rather on the operating carrier as an export tax. That is the reason it doesn't apply to transit passengers who are never actually "imported" in the first place and hence not subject to export taxation.

    Airlines are NOT obliged to pass on APD charges to the passenger, but virtually all of them actually do so with...

    I think you miss a very fundamental point here - the APD is not levied on the passenger, but rather on the operating carrier as an export tax. That is the reason it doesn't apply to transit passengers who are never actually "imported" in the first place and hence not subject to export taxation.

    Airlines are NOT obliged to pass on APD charges to the passenger, but virtually all of them actually do so with very few exceptions (eg. Ryanair deeply discounted sale fares). It is also why airlines are on the hook for APD increases that may occur after the ticket is sold - the APD accrues not at time of sale of the ticket but rather at time of actual export.

    Finally, there are ways for airlines to reduce their APD burden significantly. The most common one is via statistical sampling of transit passengers (viz. if x% of passengers can be shown to be self-connecting, the airline can claim the deduction accordingly even if they have actually collected the APD from the passenger at point of sale). EasyJet in particular lobbied heavily for this to be made acceptable in the 2000s and probably saved themselves a huge amount as a result.

  10. DaninMCI

    Great post on this subject. I do think you miss the minor point of booking mixed cabin tickets. Many people book economy coming from the UK to the US because it's a daytime flight. So it does save points or miles but also the UK APD. I also think it's worth mentioning that neighboring Paris departures aren't without high taxes as well and deserving of a separate blog post.

  11. richard darlington

    What happens if you book, for example, a flight on the AAwebsite taking a flight with a codeshare AA number but the flight is operated by BA? Do you avoid fuel surcharges?

    1. rrapynot

      The fuel surcharge is governed by operating carrier so you would still have to pay it.

  12. derek

    Is Gibraltar or Jersey considered the UK. How about GIB-LHR-JFK or JER-LHR-JFK?

    1. David D

      Jersey is APD exempt, like Inverness. Other UK airports include Newquay in Cornwall, and the Scottish Highlands and Islands for example Barra (where the airport is a beach).

  13. Audrey

    Children 2-16 are only exempt if traveling in economy.

  14. Traci

    Children also pay a reduced Air Passenger Duty—I think it is half of the adult duty or close to it.

  15. Greg

    I have booked a couple of Business class flights to Thailand and won’t unless the Ovid situation improves a lot there. Would I be entitled to the refund of APD if I cancel?

  16. khatl

    It's ridiculous transit passengers don't pay it. Which is why if I'm on the hook for all my family, we'll sometimes either fly to Europe then fly overseas direct, or fly to somewhere such as Paris or Amsterdam, do an overnight there (who doesn't love those cities!) then fly back thru the UK to my destination and still save money!

  17. Eskimo

    UK airport "Resort fees"

  18. david

    The first time I got burned for $100 when my upgrade on the leg out of LHR cleared I learned. I now fly through FRA or any other transit point that doesn't tax my upgrade.

  19. Ryan

    There absolutely is a way to beat the APD. Make your return flight out of Inverness.

  20. Creditcrunch

    Ben if you start a journey from any “Scottish & Highlands” airports like Inverness you won’t be charged APD, this has been a long standing agreement between Scotland and England.

    “ Scottish Highlands and Islands
    Passengers carried on flights leaving from airports in the Scottish Highlands and Islands region are exempt.

    This area is defined as:

    the Highland Region, Western Isles Islands Area, Orkney Islands Area, Shetland Islands Area, Argyll and Bute District,...

    Ben if you start a journey from any “Scottish & Highlands” airports like Inverness you won’t be charged APD, this has been a long standing agreement between Scotland and England.

    “ Scottish Highlands and Islands
    Passengers carried on flights leaving from airports in the Scottish Highlands and Islands region are exempt.

    This area is defined as:

    the Highland Region, Western Isles Islands Area, Orkney Islands Area, Shetland Islands Area, Argyll and Bute District, Arran, Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae
    in the Moray District, the parishes of Aberlour, Cabrach, Dallas, Dyke, Edinkillie, Forres, Inveravon, Kinloss, Kirkmichael, Knockando, Mortlach, Rafford and Rothes
    Passengers on flights from other areas of the UK to airports in this region are not exempt.”

  21. Anonymous

    How do airlines only charge the APD for pax over 16? Technically anyone above 12 buys an adult ticket. Seems unlikely that they'd adjust taxes based on the DOB entered.

    1. James

      UK Airlines always have a 12-15yrs category. Then 'adult' is 16+. Look at BA or Easyjet booking page for example.

      Whereas some foreign airlines just charge it anyway and keep it, I think. Flying Swiss from the UK we've never seen a difference in price between 15yr old and 16yr old for example. Meanwhile Easyjet on the same route would often be slightly cheaper for the 15yr old.

    2. Ben Schlappig

      @ Anonymous -- That's a great question. Airlines in the UK let you book tickets for "children" (2-11) or "young adults" (12-15), so it's not an issue there. I'm not sure how it works for other airlines that don't have that option, though. Should people with 14 year old kids just claim that they're "children," or...?

    3. rrapynot

      I’ve booked with kids on various USA based airlines. Some calculate correctly. Others charge kids as adults. When this has happened a phone call to reservations has been needed to get a refund of APD. If you don’t call they just keep it.

  22. Alan

    I strongly disagree that what you call fuel surcharges are a "junk fee". For one thing, very few airlines call it a fuel surcharge anymore; rather, they are generally known as "carrier-imposed surcharges" since they have little relation to the price of fuel. It's mostly bloggers who keep calling it a fuel surcharge (the exception being a handful of non-US or Europe based airlines).

    Generally, the money an airline gets on an international flight...

    I strongly disagree that what you call fuel surcharges are a "junk fee". For one thing, very few airlines call it a fuel surcharge anymore; rather, they are generally known as "carrier-imposed surcharges" since they have little relation to the price of fuel. It's mostly bloggers who keep calling it a fuel surcharge (the exception being a handful of non-US or Europe based airlines).

    Generally, the money an airline gets on an international flight is the sum of the base fare and carrier-imposed ("fuel") surcharge; for the consumer, there is no difference between having a $1 base fare and $999 carrier-imposed surcharge and a $1000 base fare and a $0 surcharge. It's a $1000 dollars either way. Using surcharges and fares rather than exclusively fares has several advantages for airlines but- and I can't stress this enough- makes zero difference for the customer since airlines (reputable ones, that is) are required to display all-in pricing when booking. The only exception to this is the handful of mileage programs that pass along the surcharge to customers when booking an award ticket (think LH or BA) but this is generally more of a comment on the friendliness of the airline rather the utility of the surcharge.

    1. Ben Schlappig

      @ Alan -- You're absolutely right that fuel surcharges don't have any impacts on paid fares, since it makes up part of the overall fare. That being said:
      -- It's way more than a handful of frequent flyer programs that add fuel surcharges on award tickets (way, way, way more, and it's a problem)
      -- I'm curious what you think the "several advantages for airlines" are to adding these surcharges? In the past...

      @ Alan -- You're absolutely right that fuel surcharges don't have any impacts on paid fares, since it makes up part of the overall fare. That being said:
      -- It's way more than a handful of frequent flyer programs that add fuel surcharges on award tickets (way, way, way more, and it's a problem)
      -- I'm curious what you think the "several advantages for airlines" are to adding these surcharges? In the past we've sometimes seen them try to screw travel agents out of a commission on that portion of the ticket, but what else?
      -- These are junk fees because they don't actually reflect anything real

    2. Alan

      @Ben,

      - Totally agree with you regarding mileage programs. It is a crappy thing to do. That said, I think this is an issue with individual airlines (and it may well be a lot of them); even if BA, for example, stopped passing along the YQ, there's nothing to stop them from adding a copay or something.

      - Yes, one benefit is that the surcharge is generally non-commissionable. The other big benefit is that is...

      @Ben,

      - Totally agree with you regarding mileage programs. It is a crappy thing to do. That said, I think this is an issue with individual airlines (and it may well be a lot of them); even if BA, for example, stopped passing along the YQ, there's nothing to stop them from adding a copay or something.

      - Yes, one benefit is that the surcharge is generally non-commissionable. The other big benefit is that is stabilizes fares, especially in very competitive markets like the North Atlantic. If the economy class YQ is $300, then it is difficult (but not impossible) to introduce a price point lower than $301, preventing a spiral-down of fares as airlines try to get a price advantage. This also acts as a buffer against "fat finger" mistake fares, since generally the surcharge is high enough to make any mistake more bearable for the airline. It's also a great way to lower or increase a lot of fares at once.

      - What it represents is very real- how much an airline wants to get paid to fly a passenger from A to B. Whether or not that price is just a fare, a fare+ surcharge, or any other combination of things, it's no more or less real than any other part of the airline pricing process. I don't think you would call a fare a "junk fee", so I am not following how the surcharge is when it's indistinguishable from the fare for 99% of consumers.

    3. Gaurav

      Ben has already pointed out that it's problematic for award tickets for a number of carriers as well as used to screw agents and (as I understand it, fare based taxes in some areas). This is an "advantage" only for the airline. You undercut your own argument when you say that this allows fares to be stabilized in competitive markets. If everyone else is charging 300 and fares displayed are all in, then surcharges or...

      Ben has already pointed out that it's problematic for award tickets for a number of carriers as well as used to screw agents and (as I understand it, fare based taxes in some areas). This is an "advantage" only for the airline. You undercut your own argument when you say that this allows fares to be stabilized in competitive markets. If everyone else is charging 300 and fares displayed are all in, then surcharges or no, airlines cannot display significantly more than that on a comparison tool. Ultimately there is no reasonable reason to break out a direct cost of providing the core service of transport in order to gouge partners and customers.

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Sean M.

I think you miss a very fundamental point here - the APD is not levied on the passenger, but rather on the operating carrier as an export tax. That is the reason it doesn't apply to transit passengers who are never actually "imported" in the first place and hence not subject to export taxation. Airlines are NOT obliged to pass on APD charges to the passenger, but virtually all of them actually do so with very few exceptions (eg. Ryanair deeply discounted sale fares). It is also why airlines are on the hook for APD increases that may occur after the ticket is sold - the APD accrues not at time of sale of the ticket but rather at time of actual export. Finally, there are ways for airlines to reduce their APD burden significantly. The most common one is via statistical sampling of transit passengers (viz. if x% of passengers can be shown to be self-connecting, the airline can claim the deduction accordingly even if they have actually collected the APD from the passenger at point of sale). EasyJet in particular lobbied heavily for this to be made acceptable in the 2000s and probably saved themselves a huge amount as a result.

DaninMCI

Great post on this subject. I do think you miss the minor point of booking mixed cabin tickets. Many people book economy coming from the UK to the US because it's a daytime flight. So it does save points or miles but also the UK APD. I also think it's worth mentioning that neighboring Paris departures aren't without high taxes as well and deserving of a separate blog post.

Carmen Cardoso

This is good info to know of my upcoming Euro trip next year

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