For many people, the most aggravating travel fees are out-of-pocket fees charged on frequent-flyer-mile award tickets. At least that’s my impression from reading the comments on this New York Times article I was quoted in. Huge government taxes and fuel surcharges can make what should be a free ticket cost hundreds of dollars per person. People were furious about paying $600 for a “free” economy ticket.
And why wouldn’t they be? Most people think award miles get you a free ticket like they used to. When a phone agent tells them their two-person award will cost miles plus $3,600–yes, this really happened to a client of mine–they think the airline has changed the rules in the middle of the game.
Luckily avoiding these aggravating fees comes down to two simple tips:
1. Do not depart London, especially not in a premium cabin.
The reason is that the UK imposes a huge Air Passenger Duty on all departing passengers, and it’s even bigger on business class passengers–over $210 to the USA.
If you want to go to London and Paris on the same trip, fly into London and out of Paris. That award in business class is 100,000 American Airlines miles and $138. Flying into Paris and out of London in business class is 100,000 American Airlines miles and $284. $150 more!
This does not mean you cannot connect through London. Connecting through London incurs an approximately $54 Passenger Service Charge, but not the $210 Air Passenger Duty. Connecting through London may not be ideal, but it will not break the bank.
And your connection in London can be up to 24 hours before the Air Passenger Duty kicks in.
So avoid departing London to save yourself a couple hundred bucks per person. Avoid routing through London if you can, but stays of under 24 hours incur manageable taxes.
2. Use frequent-flyer miles on award partners who do not charge fuel surcharges.
United miles and US Airways miles are great because they don’t collect fuel surcharges on any awards. American Airlines collects surcharges on British Airways flights. Delta collects surcharges on a ton of its partners. See the list of Delta surcharges I’ve compiled.
If you use your American Airlines miles on a roundtrip to Europe with British Airways, you’ll pay $684 in taxes and fuel surcharges in economy class on top of the miles. That’s nearly $700 for a “free” ticket in economy!
If you use American miles on airberlin, Finnair, or American itself, you will pay $100 or so in taxes and no fuel surcharges. (Just remember to avoid departing London.)
So far, I’ve talked about using American Airlines miles on British Airways flights. You also should be careful using British Airways Avios for trips to Europe.
If you use British Airways miles for a transatlantic flight, you’ll pay at least $800 roundtrip in fuel surcharges if you fly most of its partners. The two big exceptions are Aer Lingus or airberlin. Use your Avios on these partners for huge savings.
Or just use your Avios for flights within the US. If you use Avios to fly American Airlines from Los Angeles to Hawaii, you’ll pay only $5 in taxes.
Finally, there’s the case of using Delta miles to Asia. If you use Delta miles to fly China Southern to Asia, you’ll see fuel surcharges of about $330 per passenger roundtrip. Use the same miles to fly to the same place in Asia on Korean Air, and you pay no surcharges, just government taxes.
There’s nothing worse than paying hundreds of dollars for what should be a “free” award ticket. Luckily, there are two simple ways to save yourself the money and aggravation: don’t depart London on awards and make sure you fly on airline partners that don’t collect fuel surcharges.