Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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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:
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:
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:
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:
After searching, you’ll select your flight from a screen that looks like this.
Then, you’ll see the complete fare breakdown for the ticket you selected.
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.
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.:
|Airline||First/Business Class Fuel Surcharges||First/Business Class Total Taxes and Fees||Economy Class Fuel Surcharges||Economy Class Total Taxes and Fees|
|SWISS International Air Lines||$1,700 to $1,800||$1,822 to $1,922||$320||$443|
|China Eastern Airlines||$608||$688||$408||$488|
|All Nippon Airways||$668||$762||$668||$762|
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.:
Total taxes and fees in round-trip first and business class are around $1,711, while economy sits around $447.
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.:
Total taxes and fees for round-trip first and business class are ~$2,068, while premium economy is ~$968, and economy is $561.
The following fuel surcharges and taxes/fees are assessed on flights between the U.S. and Germany:
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 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, 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 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 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:
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 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 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.
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 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.
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:
Total taxes and fees for round-trip first class and business class are ~$688, and economy is $488.
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 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.
Several other airlines levy fuel surcharges. Some of these include:
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:
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 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:
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:
However, here are a few reasons why LifeMiles can be inferior to MileagePlus:
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.
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 will selectively pass on fuel surcharges — here’s when:
Here’s when it won’t collect fuel surcharges:
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).
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:
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 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 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!
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:
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:
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.
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.
A fuel surcharge is, in theory, an additional fee that airlines levy on customers to compensate for fluctuations in fuel prices.
United Airlines and Avianca LifeMiles are examples of commonly used airlines that don’t pass on fuel surcharges.
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).
AA passes on fuel surcharges for British Airways and Iberia. Besides that, you won’t pay a dime in fuel surcharges.
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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