Lufthansa’s Outrageous 89% Increase In Fuel Surcharges

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Reader Max posted a question on Ask Lucky last Saturday, wondering why he was getting a higher price for fuel surcharges than Ben had paid on his recent trip with his dad. I should probably have had a second cup of coffee, because when I looked at the fare breakdown I thought “Hmmm, that is higher, but Ben did have to change his tickets a few times, so maybe something got messed up along the way” and didn’t hear what should have been obvious alarm bells.

Then Ben’s friend Steven emailed him this afternoon with a “Lufthansa has lost their minds,” and after researching a bit I have to agree.

In the past week or so, it looks like Lufthansa has raised their fuel surcharges on flights leaving the U.S. by nearly 90%.

Flights out of the U.S. have significantly higher surcharges

Let’s look at Ben’s flights to Tallinn as our first example. His ticket was issued in mid-August, and the fuel surcharges (coded as “YQ”) were $447.40 Canadian:

Choosing the exact same flights, the current breakdown shows the fuel surcharge at $844.90 Canadian:

By my math that’s a shocking 88.84% increase.

Switching to U.S. dollars, if you book a round-trip on Lufthansa departing from the U.S. (don’t do this, more on why not below), you can anticipate ~$1300 in fuel surcharges alone:

Previously round-trip fuel surcharges would have been ~$800 (USD), so this is a significant increase.

Booking two one-ways is still less expensive

Historically (and this is true with most carriers), Westbound transatlantic flights have lower fuel surcharges than Eastbound itineraries.

When I booked Lufthansa First back from Europe in June, for example, I flew from London to Frankfurt and then to Los Angeles:

Booked through Aeroplan, the fuel surcharges were $285.90 Canadian per person:

If I price those same flights today, I get $280.20 Canadian in fuel surcharges, which is close enough to be a currency fluctuation:

 

So in general, if you are considering booking Lufthansa and have to book through a program that levies fuel surcharges, you’ll save ~$400 if you book as two one-ways versus a round-trip. If your round-trip would entitle you to a stopover or other perks, you’ll have to do the math to see if it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

Why is Lufthansa doing this?

Well, to be fair, the price of jet fuel has increased in the past month.

But, you may ask “Has it increased 88.84%?”

No, no it has not.

In North America, which is ostensibly the market necessitating this change, given that it is the Eastbound ex-US flights driving the increase, the average price of aviation jet fuel only shows a marginal increase from last month.

So, “fuel surcharges” continue to be a bit of a grift.

Taxes and corporate discounts are typically based off the base fare, and raising the YQ rate is an easy way to adjust fares in certain markets without having to adjust and refile everything else. These aren’t specifically targeted towards those redeeming miles, it’s just a general way to try and increase revenue for the airline (I do feel fuel surcharges seem like a particularly poor incentive towards loyalty).

Avoid fuel surcharges entirely

While there are situations where it can make sense to pay fuel surcharges, at these rates they’re very hard to stomach.

Cash-back cards to help reduce travel expenses

To avoid the YQ when booking Lufthansa premium cabin awards, you can use United MileagePlus miles, or Avianca LifeMiles.

The award rates might not be as lucrative as with partners like Aeroplan and ANA, but for itineraries departing the U.S. it’s likely worth the mileage premium to save the chunk of cash.

Bottom line

This is a massive, massive, increase.

For context, Lufthansa’s fuel surcharges are now ~$150 higher than British Airways for a one-way Eastbound flight, and $300 higher for a round-trip departing the U.S. (one-way Westbound flights are equivalent).

There are fortunately ways to minimize the impact on award tickets, but overall this is more than a bit ridiculous. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more attention from European regulators on fuel surcharges if this trend continues.

Will this increase in surcharges change how you approach Lufthansa awards?

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Comments

  1. United Miles don’t get a ton of play on this site. It seems to me they are the best way to get to Europe, all things considered. Is that fair? (This is coming from someone who is not a fan of United)

  2. @Anthony one problem with UA is a few years ago they started charging higher mileage rates for partner tickets in premium cabins, seems UA finally realized what most everyone has know for years: their international product is inferior to their peers. But TATL, if you’re using *A and can get a new Polaris configured plane then its a good option. AA TATL is also not bad IMO, the seats are great at least, food is OK – standard FA roulette (some good, some crap) applies as with all US carriers though. TATL is quite different than TPAC in that the international carriers have some of the worst products (see LH J/BA J )

  3. The LHR-FRA-LAX ticket was charged only with a European APD because your layover was 60 hours, i.e. more than the 24 hours stipulated in the rules for the flights to be considered connecting: “the flights are connected if its scheduled time of departure is within 24 hours of the scheduled time of arrival of the first flight” (from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/air-passenger-duty-and-connected-flights). As far as the UK government is concerned, the destination of your itinerary would be FRA.

    Side note: utilizing a free stopover on carriers like Icelandair not only gives you time in the transit country, it can also *save* you money thanks to the reduction in APD.

  4. @ Ben — My layover was 12 hours and 10 minutes, and the APD is there on the business class fare for the same flights, just not on the first class fare.

  5. @ Anthony — We intend to talk about United miles a fair bit (Spencer had a post just a few weeks ago about the best way to earn their miles — https://onemileatatime.com/best-cards-united-miles/), but I think we fall into the trap of forgetting that not everyone knows how to use them. We can definitely do better there.

    United has a higher award rate to Europe than many other Star Alliance carriers, particularly for first class, but it’s a solid option for business class redemptions, particularly given how easy it is to accrue United miles compared to other currencies.

  6. @ Nick — It is also increased compared to what it was, and a higher percentage of the overall revenue fare, but not as high as the premium cabins. ~$300 for a round-trip LAX-AMS, which is crazy considering that on the dates I checked the paid economy fare was $581.

  7. @Tiffany – Yes, you have a 12 hour layover on the itinerary dated June 19th which includes the UK APD (“271.70 GB”, which is CAD$271.10 or essentially GBP150 alowing for currency fluctuations). But the example flights you priced out (departing September 27) have a 60 hour layover and hence avoid APD. Unless I’m missing something, you’re not comparing like-with-like.

  8. Just booked using Avianca miles for a LH in J US -Europe – with two stops enroute: Total taxes/fees: $82 – which includes the Avianca $25 redemption fee., so $57 in taxes. The good old days of mileage tickets are over, Avianca and Alaska one of the few ‘bargains’ left. Oh, for a return to USAirways 100 percent bonus buy and R/T US-Asia via Europe with stopover for 90K miles. Did it twice, flew a combined 19 segments on 10 different airlines. Looking at the receipts, the two mega trips cost less than $300.00 in fees/taxes.

  9. As a Chicago-based flyer, I’m lucky to have several FFPs to choose from. I can say – hands down – United is the best option. I have over 500,000 AA miles that are virtually impossible to use for flights to Europe at the saver level – weird connecting itineraries (i.e. ORD-LGA, JFK-LHR, LGW-DBV), phantom availability, obscene surcharges (virtually all ex-ORD Europe flights are on BA metal; even as AA has reduced European flights from ORD, good luck finding a connection via PHL or CLT), or infuriating phantom availability (shows IB or AY flights, good luck booking them). Meanwhile, MileagePlus has a multitude of partners to choose from when going to Europe, dependable phone agents for complex connections, and consistent saver availability in coach and business. Yes, their 70k partner pricing is greater than 57.5k on AA but I’m ok paying ~20% more if I can dependably use the points. Oh, and I’ll take Lufthansa, Swiss, or Austrian ANY day over AA, BA, or IB.

  10. @ Caleb — For sure. AA miles are atrocious for Europe (but a good option for other regions). Star Alliance has much better coverage in Europe with almost a dozen member carriers there, so usually it’s a case of “which Star Alliance miles should I use?” not “is oneworld or Star Alliance best to Europe?”.

  11. Idk. I’m Chicago based and I think IB Avios to Madrid for 68k miles business and annual sales from Amex MR, like the 40% discount currently available is by far the best bargain in J to Europe and back from Chicago…
    Does United offer a better deal??

  12. Wow! Huge devaluation for Aeroplan points! Unusable at economy saver now and if Lufthansa reduces award space for business, Aeroplan might just become useless currency.

  13. Have you ever considered that european carrier are trying to protect part of the award inventory for the european ff crowd as the cc game allowing to get millions of miles does not exist due to more regulation. Americans would leave nothing to the others.

  14. There’s a way to avoid LH surcharges when booking with Aeroplan by changing the flights after the first flight segment in either direction, since Aeroplan doesn’t recalculate surcharges once the journey has started.

    For example, on my recent trip from Vancouver to Munich via Mexico City, I booked dummy flights on united from MEX – MUC via IAH. Once in MEX, I called to change from United to LH, paid the change fee, but taxes were not adjusted. Saved about $400 after accounting for the change fees.

    I’ve done this multiple times with Aeroplan bookings. On roundtrip, you need to change after the first segment in either direction, but it can still be worth the effort and change fees if you’re set on flying LH across the water.

  15. @ Lefrid — I don’t think that’s part of the equation. There are other mechanisms to restrict award inventory, and fuel surcharges impact revenue fares as well.

  16. I can already hear BA firing up their computers to copy this…it just takes them longer since their IT is so unreliable.

  17. @ Tiffany — Well, this news is certainly infuriating, especially since the FCQ and I were planning to use our LH stash for three F r/t West Coast US to Europe. That’s quite the kick in the teeth. I generally expect better from LH, but maybe not anymore. This reminds me of the behavior of our friends over at DL.

  18. I find it hard to believe that the actual ticket prices have increased as such. Has the base fare been reduced and this is just a way to inrease the award pricing?

    I woul prefer they just increse to amount of miles required to book the award ticket than increase the fees…

  19. Same with Ethiopian. I paid on a DXB – GRU less than 50 USD and checking new flights found out it now costs over 200 USD. Outrageous.

  20. Fuel surcharges / carrier imposed surcharges are nothing but scams to shortchange the government (less tax paid on low fares high surcharge) and frequent flyer members trying to redeem miles (airline gets paid in the form of surcharges). I just wish the IRS will exhibit the same inertia when I try to shortchange them next time.

  21. If you have a big cache of Miles and More and want to avoid fuel surcharges and still have a viable experience, fly SAS from the IAD to CPH (55K in business). They have the 1-2-1 seating. I don’t want to sit beside people on a plane ride from the USA to Europe.

  22. @GDDowntown

    Thank you for a brilliant tip.
    Do you know how to connect using this route.
    E.g. If I enter IAD-TXL it offers me connections in FRA, MUC, NYC etc but not in CPH.

  23. I have 240,000 miles on LH and 370,000 miles on Avianca Lifemiles (among several other programs). I use my LH miles for upgrades to Premium Economy and Business — and I’m ok with that. I’ve rarely used my Avianca miles but intend to use them for free trans-oceanic tickets.

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