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The Ultimate Guide to Airline Fuel Surcharges (Including Those That Charge the Most & the Least)

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Stephen Au
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Stephen Au

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There’s plenty of value to be found in the world of award travel, from scoring first class flights to posh hotel suites for pennies on the dollar.

But all this luxury doesn’t exactly come easy or without obstacles. In particular, fuel surcharges on award tickets are among the biggest annoyances award travelers will encounter.

We’re here to help navigate this topic specifically — in this guide, we’ll focus on the following topics:

  1. Figuring out fuel surcharge costs for specific flights
  2. Showing which airlines levy fuel surcharges
  3. Showing which frequent flyer programs don’t pass on fuel surcharges
  4. How your routing can make or break your fuel surcharge game

An Introduction to Fuel Surcharges

According to the glossary provided by freight/logistics firm Flexport, “A fuel surcharge (FSC) is a fee assessed by a carrier to account for regional/seasonal variations in fuel costs. A fuel surcharge is most often seen in trucking, but an ocean or air carrier may also assess a fuel surcharge.”

This definition makes total sense — in theory, at least.

We have witnessed airlines raise fuel surcharges over and over again for no apparent reason. These increases don’t affect customers paying for their tickets outright, because the ticket prices remain the same while surcharges increase.

The only people that feel these fuel surcharges are award travelers.

Imagine this: you’ve finally decided you’re going to visit the U.K., and to get there you’ve got your heart set on British Airways’ business class. You’ll book your ticket with your American Airlines AAdvantage miles, but as you’re selecting your flights you see that you’ll be charged a whopping $1,900 in fuel surcharges for a round-trip business class flight.

At that point, you’re basically dumping your points and paying almost $2,000 to fly in business class. Not cool.

Before we dive into this concept, let’s go over a bit of terminology. We’ll clarify what it means to “levy” fuel surcharges vs. “pass on” fuel surcharges.

In short, the levying (or charging) of fuel surcharges is up to the airline operating the flight, while passing on fuel surcharges to an award traveler is dependent on the frequent flyer program.

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

  • British Airways will levy fuel surcharges on its Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR) flight.
  • American Airlines AAdvantage will pass on fuel surcharges on this flight, while Cathay Pacific Asia Miles will not pass on the entire amount.

How To Figure Out if a Flight Has Fuel Surcharges

The next question to ask is: How do I find out if the flight I want to take has fuel surcharges?

Using the Google ITA Matrix is the best way in this case. To find out if your flight has fuel surcharges, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the ITA Matrix website.
  2. Type in your originating and destination cities.
    • Click Show Advanced Controls.
    • In the Routing Codes field, type the airline code (ex: British Airways is “BA”).
  3. Search your dates.
  4. Choose your cabin.
  5. If applicable, choose nonstop.
  6. Type in your currency in the search box (ex: U.S. dollars is USD).
  7. Click Search.
  8. Choose your desired flights.
  9. Look for a Carrier-imposed surcharge (YQ/YR).
    • This is your fuel surcharge.

Let’s take the same example route on British Airways’ Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR) flight.

Here’s what a completed search query might look like:

ITA Matrix
A complete search query will help you find out which flights have fuel surcharges. Be sure to toggle “Advanced Controls” to specify which airline you’re interested in. Image Credit: ITA Matrix

After searching, you’ll select your flight from a screen that looks like this.

LAX LHR ITA Matrix
Image Credit: ITA Matrix

Then, you’ll see the complete fare breakdown for the ticket you selected.

LAX LHR ITA Matrix breakdown
It might be like reading hieroglyphs, but look for the infamous “YQ.” In this case, the round-trip fuel surcharge is a shocking $1,700! There may be other taxes and fees, as well. Image Credit: ITA Matrix

Now that you know how to ascertain the fuel surcharge amount for a specific flight on a specific airline, let’s talk about the airlines that levy the most in fuel surcharges.

Bottom Line: Google ITA Matrix is your best friend when looking up fuel surcharges. Check out our Matrix ITA Advanced Guide for other tips for finding cheap airfare! 

The 14 Airlines With the Highest Fuel Surcharges — Summary

For the purposes of this section, we’ll assume that the route you will be flying on is a round-trip flight from the U.S. (in later sections, we’ll get into how you can avoid fuel surcharges by flying different routes).

In this section, we’ll show you a summary table illustrating the airlines that levy the highest fuel surcharges, as well as the total taxes and fees baked into each round-trip flight from the U.S.:

SCROLL FOR MORE
AirlineFirst/Business Class Fuel SurchargesFirst/Business Class Total Taxes and FeesEconomy Class Fuel SurchargesEconomy Class Total Taxes and Fees
Emirates$1,610$1,711$346$447
British Airways$1,700$2,068$320$561
Lufthansa$1,800$1,996$320$516
Iberia$1,700$1,792$320$412
SAS$1,700$1,790$320$410
Air France$1,700$1,920$320$482
SWISS International Air Lines$1,700 to $1,800$1,822 to $1,922$320$443
Austrian Airlines$1,700$1,827$320$448
Qatar Airways$932$1,039$362$469
Air Canada$527$680$250$412
Turkish Airlines$620$711$400$491
China Eastern Airlines$608$688$408$488
All Nippon Airways$668$762$668$762
Asiana Airlines$462$550$462$550

The 14 Airlines With the Highest Fuel Surcharges

Emirates

Emirates First Class - A380
Fly in style in your private cabin with Emirates first class — and don’t forget to take a shower on their A380. Image Credit: Alex Miller

Emirates is known as one of the best airlines in the world for good reason. It has a magnificent first class product, which you can see for yourself in our full review. There are tons of ways to book both business and first class, too!

But, fuel surcharges and taxes/fees associated with Emirates tickets are steep — here’s a look at what you’ll need to pay on flights between the U.S. and the U.A.E.:

  • Round-trip first and business: ~$1,610
  • Round-trip economy: ~$346

Total taxes and fees in round-trip first and business class are around $1,711, while economy sits around $447.

British Airways

British Airways has some of the most insane fuel surcharges in the industry. Although there are tons of ways to book British Airways first class and business class, it’s more or less an art to avoid fuel surcharges.

There’s yet another consideration you need to take into account when booking award tickets with British Airways — the U.K. levies the so-called Air Passenger Duty (APD), which for business class can add a whopping £191 (~$233) per person for long-haul, premium cabin flights departing from the U.K.

The best way to avoid the APD is to not fly from the U.K. back home.

The following fuel surcharges and taxes/fees are assessed on flights between the U.S. and the U.K.:

  • Round-trip first and business class: ~$1,700
  • Round-trip premium economy: $600
  • Round-trip economy: $320

Total taxes and fees for round-trip first and business class are ~$2,068, while premium economy is ~$968, and economy is $561.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa A380 First Class Seat
Lufthansa A380 first class. Image Credit: Greg Stone

Lufthansa is famous for having a lackluster business class product but a phenomenal first class product.

The following fuel surcharges and taxes/fees are assessed on flights between the U.S. and Germany:

  • Round-trip first class: ~$1,800
  • Round-trip business class: ~$1,700
  • Round-trip premium economy: $600
  • Round-trip economy: $320

Total taxes and fees for round-trip first class are ~$1,996, while business class is ~$1,896, premium economy is ~$796, and economy is $516.

The key to minimizing fuel surcharges here will either be to use a Star Alliance frequent flyer program that doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges or to fly between countries with regulations that limit or prohibit fuel surcharges.

Hot Tip: Learn about the best ways to search for Star Alliance award availability in our detailed guide.

Iberia

Iberia is Spain’s flag carrier. It is owned by British Airways and is also a Oneworld partner, so booking award travel on Iberia will involve a Oneworld frequent flyer program.

Currently, Iberia passes on $850 in one-way fuel surcharges and $1,700 in round-trip fuel surcharges for business class flights between the U.S. and Spain. Economy fuel surcharges are $160 one-way and $320 round-trip.

The total taxes and fees for business and economy class round-trips are $1,792 and ~$412, respectively.

SAS

SAS, which serves as the flag carrier for the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, is a Star Alliance partner. The airline doesn’t offer a first class cabin, but it does pass on fuel surcharges for business class and economy tickets.

You can expect to pay $1,700 for round-trip business class flights between the U.S. and Europe and $320 for round-trip economy flights.

Correspondingly, the total taxes and fees for business and economy class on these routes will be around $1,790 and $410, respectively.

Air France

Air France A350 900 business class
Air France A350-900 business class. Image Credit: Air France

Air France is the first SkyTeam airline we’re looking at. While it offers a first class product — the elusive La Première — you’re effectively not able to book seats with points or miles. The carrier does pass on fuel surcharges for business class and economy flights, however.

You’ll pay $1,700 in fuel surcharges for a round-trip business class flight between the U.S. and France, and $320 round-trip in economy.

After adding up all the extra taxes and fees, your out-of-pocket cost is $1,920 for business class and $482 for economy.

Hot Tip: In general, when you book Air France business or first class flights using points and miles, you’ll only see a small portion of fuel surcharges passed on, whether you’re booking with Flying Blue, Delta SkyMiles, and so on.

SWISS International Air Lines

Swiss Air business class seat
Swiss Air business class seat. Image Credit: Swiss Air

SWISS is owned by Lufthansa Group, so it makes sense that its fuel surcharges are roughly the same as its sister airline.

The difference is that SWISS has an excellent business class product, particularly on its Boeing 777 aircraft.

Only Miles & More Senator and HON Circle members may book SWISS first class awards, so that’s likely not an option for most. Still, for the sake of completeness, we’ll include the first class fuel surcharges here.

The following fuel surcharges are assessed on flights between the U.S. and Switzerland:

  • Round-trip first class: ~$1,800
  • Round-trip business class: ~$1,700
  • Round-trip economy: $600
  • Round-trip economy: $320

Total taxes and fees for round-trip first class are ~$1,922, while business class is ~$1,822, premium economy is ~$723, and economy is ~$443.

Austrian Airlines

Austrian Airlines is another Star Alliance airline that levies steep fuel surcharges.

On flights between the U.S. and Austria, round-trip business class fuel surcharges run around $1,700, while economy runs at $320.

After adding taxes and fees, your total out-of-pocket taxes and fees will be $1,827 in business class and $448 in economy for round-trip tickets.

Qatar Airways

Qatar QSuites, 777, Turndown Service with Lie-flat bed
Qsuites. Image Credit: Alex Miller

Qatar Airways offers arguably the best business class product in the sky, called Qsuites. Although very few carriers pass on fuel surcharges on Qatar Airways flights, it’s still useful to know just how large the fuel surcharges are here.

For the sake of comparison purposes, we’ll assume that you’re booking a round-trip flight between the U.S. and Qatar.

For these flights, fuel surcharges will be $932 in business and $362 in economy.

Factoring in additional taxes and fees, your total out-of-pocket cost is around $1,039 in business class, while economy is around $469.

Hot Tip: Keep in mind that although Qatar Airways levies huge fuel surcharges, you will rarely pay for these when booking awards because partners like American Airlines, British Airways, and Japan Airlines Mileage Bank typically do not pass on surcharges for travel on Qatar Airways. 

Air Canada

Air Canada Business Class
Air Canada Signature Class on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Image Credit: Air Canada

Fuel surcharges on Air Canada will vary depending on the route you take, but as an example, we’re highlighting surcharges on round-trip flights between Toronto (YYZ) and Frankfurt (FRA).

Even though Air Canada levies substantial fuel surcharges of around $680 in business class and $412 in economy class, most frequent flyer programs (including Air Canada Aeroplan) only charge around $159 in business or economy class when redeeming points for these round-trip flights.

Hot Tip: Air Canada levies fuel surcharges on its own flights, but its frequent flyer program, Aeroplan, (which we’ll discuss below) does not pass on any fuel surcharges, which is an important distinction to keep in the back of your mind.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines 777-300ER business class
Turkish Airlines 777-300ER business class. Image Credit: Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines is another Star Alliance carrier. However, its fuel surcharges aren’t as drastic as the airlines above. These surcharges will run in the low hundreds of dollars instead of the thousands.

The following fuel surcharges and taxes/fees are assessed on flights between the U.S. and Turkey:

Total taxes and fees for round-trip business class are ~$711, while economy is around $491.

China Eastern Airlines

This SkyTeam Airline is one of the many airlines in the alliance that add fuel surcharges to their flights.

However, they’re not all that severe, especially for first class flights. These are the fuel surcharges and taxes/fees assessed on flights between the U.S. and China:

  • Round-trip first and business class: ~$608
  • Round-trip economy: $408

Total taxes and fees for round-trip first class and business class are ~$688, and economy is $488.

All Nippon Airways

ANA First Class, Boeing 777, Legroom, NRT>IAH
Image Credit: Alex Miller

ANA is known for its excellent premium cabin round-trip redemption rates. In fact, it offers some of the best redemption rates in the frequent flyer world.

Until recently, the carrier did not levy fuel surcharges on flights to/from Japan. Although this has since changed, the fuel surcharges are still much lower than those on flights between the U.S. and Europe, especially for the number of points you’ll save when using ANA or Virgin Atlantic to book.

Expect round-trip fuel surcharges to be around $668 regardless of cabin class for flights between the U.S. and Japan.

Total taxes and fees for round-trip flights will be around $762.

Asiana Airlines

Asiana Airlines A380 Business Suites 2A - Cherag Dubash
Asiana A380 Business Suites. Image Credit: Cherag Dubash

Asiana Airlines is a great way to cross the Pacific Ocean.

Similar to ANA, Asiana levies the same fuel surcharge regardless of the cabin class you’re traveling in.

Expect fuel surcharges of $462 and total taxes and fees of $550 for round-trip flights between America and South Korea.

Other Airlines that Levy Fuel Surcharges

Several other airlines levy fuel surcharges. Some of these include:

  • Cathay Pacific: $289 for round-trip business class between the U.S. and Hong Kong
  • Japan Airlines: $675 for round-trip business class between the U.S. and Japan
  • Korean Air: $460 for round-trip business class between the U.S. and Korea

Best Frequent Flyer Programs To Avoid Fuel Surcharges

Several frequent flyer programs do not pass on fuel surcharges to award travelers. Most of the time (but not always), these programs will charge more miles.

In a sense, you’re often considering the trade-offs between using more miles vs. using cash to pay the fuel surcharges. It’s ultimately up to you to pick which method to use.

Here’s an example. Let’s assume we want to fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR) in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.

We’ve narrowed down all our options and are deciding between 2 frequent flyer programs:

  • Transfer 68,000 Amex points, redeem 67,500 Virgin Points, and pay $825 in total taxes and fees
  • Transfer 106,000 Amex points, redeem 106,000 Flying Blue miles, and pay $199 in total taxes and fees

Basically, the decision you have to weigh is whether to use 38,000 more points or pay $626 extra. You’d have to value your points at around 1.6 cents each at a minimum to make paying fuel surcharges worthwhile.

United Airlines MileagePlus

United Airlines MileagePlus is a good program, especially for those new to booking award travel. Why do we say that?

The program is very easy to use: you can book awards completely online, award availability searches are made easy with month-long calendar searches, and it’s easy to earn a lot of United miles!

Additionally, because United Airlines is a Star Alliance airline, you’ll enjoy a diverse and widespread route network for booking award travel.

Hot Tip: Need help deciding which United credit cards to get? Check out our post comparing all of the United co-branded credit cards!

Best of all, United Airlines does not pass fuel surcharges on customers!

Here are the 2 disadvantages of using United Airlines MileagePlus:

  1. Phantom availability can occur (i.e., space shows up on United’s award search, but isn’t actually available)
  2. Awards generally cost more in miles

Avianca LifeMiles

Avianca LifeMiles has tons of award redemptions that deliver fantastic value. In our opinion, it’s one of the most underrated frequent flyer programs out there.

In many ways, Avianca is actually better than United Airlines. Here are 3 reasons why Avianca LifeMiles can be superior to United Airlines MileagePlus:

  • Award costs are generally lower (e.g., 110,000 United miles vs 87,000 Avianca LifeMiles for the same flight)
  • You can buy miles with a 100% to 150% bonus during sales and get first class flights for pennies on the dollar
  • More transfer partners (American Express, Brex, Capital One, Citi, and Marriott Bonvoy)

However, here are a few reasons why LifeMiles can be inferior to MileagePlus:

  • Star Alliance award availability can be blocked
  • No way to use a co-branded credit card to earn LifeMiles directly
  • $25 award booking fee

As far as fuel surcharges go, you don’t have much to worry about: Avianca will charge $61 in total taxes and fees for a one-way flight.

Bottom Line: Using Avianca LifeMiles is great because you avoid fuel surcharges on all airlines, can book awards completely online, have numerous transfer partner options, and can purchase miles at huge discounts! Just watch out for less award availability access than United. 

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Singapore Airlines doesn’t levy fuel surcharges on its own flights, but fuel surcharges will be passed on to all partners.

It’s important to note that you can generally only book Singapore Airlines business and first class by using KrisFlyer miles. There are very rare instances in which Singapore Airlines releases partner award inventory, but these are few and far between.

Luckily, there are tons of ways to earn Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles, so you’ll have no problem racking up miles quickly!

Hot Tip: It helps that Singapore Airlines has one of the most phenomenal airline experiences out there … just check our review of Singapore Airlines’ first class suites!

Delta Air Lines SkyMiles

Delta Air Lines will selectively pass on fuel surcharges — here’s when:

  1. Itineraries originating in Europe on Delta, Air France/KLM, and Virgin Atlantic
  2. Travel on Aeroflot (temporarily suspended), Aeromexico, Air Europa, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui, Saudia, and TAROM

Here’s when it won’t collect fuel surcharges:

  1. Travel on Aerolineas Argentinas, Alaska Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, GOL, Kenya Airways, Korean Air, and Vietnam Airlines
  2. When there is no fuel surcharge levied by the airline

Delta has some pretty acceptable partner award costs, but the rates for its own products are horrible (particularly in Delta One or Delta One Suites).

It’s easy to earn Delta SkyMiles and very easy to use them to book award flights, so we went ahead and included the program in our list.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska Airlines makes it extremely easy to figure out fuel surcharges will be collected on your flight.

Here are the airlines on which Alaska Airlines will pass on fuel surcharges:

  1. British Airways
  2. Icelandair

On all other airlines, it will not pass on fuel surcharges.

Hot Tip: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has tons of sweet spots that you simply cannot overlook — avoiding fuel surcharges on these flights is just the icing on the cake!

It’s not very often you can book flight awards for cheap and avoid all fuel surcharges — but with a great frequent flyer program like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, you just might be able to make it work.

Also, you can earn Alaska Airline miles fairly easily.

Air Canada Aeroplan

Air Canada Aeroplan is fantastic thanks to its expansive list of airline partners on which you can book flights using Aeroplan points.

Also, Aeroplan does not pass on any fuel surcharges, which opens up a whole new universe of possibilities when looking to book travel using points with the lowest possible out-of-pocket costs.

American Airlines AAdvantage

American Airlines only passes on fuel surcharges on British Airways and Iberia flights — as long as you avoid booking on these carriers, you won’t be on the hook for any fuel surcharges!

You’ll want to use your AA miles to book other Oneworld carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, and Japan Airlines. And, don’t forget that there are loads of ways to earn AA miles.

How To Change Your Routing To Avoid Fuel Surcharges

Let’s pivot to discuss the last topic in this guide: changing your route to avoid fuel surcharges.

Did you know that some countries restrict or regulate the fuel surcharges that an airline can levy for travel departing from the country?

For example, if you flew from the U.S. to Dubai in Emirates first or business class, you’d pay ~$1,610 in fuel surcharges.

However, if you flew from Auckland to Dubai, you’d pay $0 in fuel surcharges and $27 in total taxes and fees. Considering how huge the difference in additional fees can be, your origin city is something you should definitely pay attention to when booking award travel!

Here are the countries that ban or regulate fuel surcharges:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Hong Kong
  • Mexico
  • Maldives
  • New Zealand
  • Philippines
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Vietnam

As long as your flights originate in one of these countries, your fuel surcharges will be significantly less than what you’d normally pay compared to a flight departing from the U.S.

You can play with city pairs in your travels by using a city located in the countries in this table and using the hub city for airlines that charge notably high surcharges as shown in the beginning section.

For example, if you choose Australia and Emirates, you will be able to basically fly to any city without paying fuel surcharges! Here’s what that looks like:

  • Sydney (SYD) to Los Angeles (LAX) via Dubai (DXB) on Emirates first class will only cost $111 in total taxes and fees!

There are an infinite number of routes you can take combining the countries above and the airlines in the top section of this guide to significantly reduce the fuel surcharges you’ll pay.

Ultimately, you’re limited only by your creativity, as there are loads of ways to reduce fuel surcharges on flights.

Final Thoughts

Fuel surcharges are a complicated beast.

We’ve introduced the concept of fuel surcharges, identified the airlines that charge the most, and pinpointed the best frequent flyer programs to dodge those pesky fuel surcharges.

Luckily, there are tons of ways to construct itineraries that avoid fuel surcharges using the tips provided above.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a fuel surcharge?

A fuel surcharge is, in theory, an additional fee that airlines levy on customers to compensate for fluctuations in fuel prices.

Which airlines don't pass on fuel surcharges?

United Airlines and Avianca LifeMiles are examples of commonly used airlines that don’t pass on fuel surcharges.

Which airlines should I use to avoid fuel surcharges on Star Alliance flights?

You can use a frequent flyer program like United MileagePlus, Air Canada Aeroplan, or Avianca LifeMiles to avoid fuel surcharges entirely.

Singapore Airlines doesn’t levy fuel surcharges on its own flights but passes on fuel surcharges on all partners (if they levy fuel surcharges of their own).

Which airlines should I use to avoid fuel surcharges on oneworld flights?

AA passes on fuel surcharges for British Airways and Iberia. Besides that, you won’t pay a dime in fuel surcharges.

Which airlines should I use to avoid fuel surcharges on SkyTeam flights?

Generally speaking, it’s very difficult to avoid fuel surcharges on SkyTeam flights unless you redeem Delta SkyMiles. Your best bet is if the airline you’re flying fits the criteria in the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles section above. Otherwise, you’ll want to modify your routing to avoid fuel surcharges.

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About Stephen Au

Stephen is an established voice in the credit card space, with over 70 to his name. His work has been in publications like The Washington Post, and his Au Points and Awards Consulting Services is used by hundreds of clients.

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