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Update July 1, 2014:

The current offer on the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® is 20,000 miles after first purchase and payment of $79 annual fee.

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase or balance transfer
  • Earn up to 15,000 award miles with balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) within 30 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Companion Ticket after first purchase
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance airlines and other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee, waived for SEN and HON Circle Members

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The Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® is offering 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles for only three more days. The offer expires Monday June 30, 2014.

All airline awards require the payment of government taxes, but some Lufthansa awards also incur fuel surcharges. The key to getting huge value from your 55,000 Lufthansa miles is to redeem the miles for awards without fuel surcharges.

You can redeem Lufthansa miles with under $5 in fuel surcharges to the following regions:

  • Within North America
  • to Hawaii and Alaska
  • to Europe
  • to Central America
  • to South America
  • to the Caribbean
  • to Africa
  • to Asia

Lufthansa miles can be used for flights on all 26 Star Alliance airlines including United. Lufthansa has a competitive award chart with many destinations costing fewer Lufthansa miles than United miles to reach. See “Comparison of United and Lufthansa Award Charts.”

I checked the fuel surcharges on Lufthansa’s partners to find partners and routes with no fuel surcharges or fuel surcharges under $5 per direction.

  • What routes and partners can you use to pay zero fuel surcharges on Lufthansa awards?
  • How can you figure out the fuel surcharges on a route without calling Lufthansa?
  • How can you search for award space for Lufthansa awards.
  • How can you book Lufthansa awards?

Cash ticket prices are made up of three things:

  1. Base fare
  2. Fuel Surcharges
  3. Government and airport taxes, charges, and fees

The distinction between base fare and fuel surcharges is totally irrelevant to us when we book cash tickets, but it matters quite a bit on award tickets.

On award tickets using Lufthansa miles, Lufthansa collects the fuel surcharges that a comparable cash ticket would include. Most of the time, at least. There’s one big exception I’ll discuss below.

Fuel surcharges are almost always represented with the letters “YR” or “YQ.” I don’t know the difference between the two, and sometimes a cash ticket has both YR and YQ.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 3.54.10 AM

Many Lufthansa partners charge zero fuel surcharges on some routes.

That means there are a ton of Lufthansa awards you can book for  just the government taxes.

You can see the breakdown of any fare by using ITA Matrix. That’s how I researched this post before calling Lufthansa to double check. That’s also the source of all the screen shots that show YQ and YR.

Never Fuel Surcharges

Airlines

Award flights on these airlines will never have fuel surcharges because their flights don’t have fuel surcharges:

  • Copa, with a hub in Panama City, service to several American cities, and service throughout Central and South America has no fuel surcharges on any tickets.
  • Avianca, with hubs in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, service to several American cities, and service throughout Central and South America has no fuel surcharges on any tickets.
Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 3.48.02 AM
Notice there is no YQ or YR on this Avianca ticket from JFK to Lima.

Out of Brazil

Award flights out of Brazil will never have fuel surcharges because Brazilian law prohibits fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 4.03.13 AM
Notice there is no YQ or YR on this Lufthansa ticket from Rio to Frankfurt.

The Star Alliance flies a ton of flights out of Brazil. Most of them are between the airlines’ hubs and Sao Paulo or Rio, but there are also some interesting routes you wouldn’t expect that are noted in parentheses.

Sao Paulo (GRU):

  • Air Canada
  • Air China (via Madrid)
  • Avianca
  • Copa
  • Ethiopian (via Lome, Togo)
  • Lufthansa
  • Singapore (via Barcelona)
  • South African
  • TAP Portugal
  • Turkish (Buenos Aires)
  • United

Rio de Janeiro (GIG):

  • Air Canada (begins December 12, 2014)
  • Avianca
  • Copa
  • Lufthansa
  • TAP Portugal
  • United

Even if you don’t live in Brazil, you could do an interesting triangle trip where you redeem:

  • Lufthansa miles from the United States to Brazil
  • Lufthansa miles from Brazil to Europe, Africa, or Asia
  • United miles from Europe, Africa, or Asia home

Such a trip would have no fuel surcharges.

United in the Western Hemisphere

United flights within the United States, Canada, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean have no fuel surcharges.

United flights to Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Pacific Islands other than Hawaii do have fuel surcharges.

Fuel Surcharges Under $5

Air China flies from New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Honolulu to Beijing and beyond in Asia.

From San Francisco to Beijing, YR is $175 and YQ is $4. For whatever reason, Lufthansa doesn’t collect YR on Air China flights, only YQ.

That means between San Francisco and Beijing, Lufthansa would collect $4 + government taxes + 40,000 miles for a one way economy ticket. I priced out Business Class on the route for 67,000 miles and $6.50 all in.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 3.54.10 AM

This got me excited that maybe Lufthansa never collects YR. Unfortunately, this possible glitch of not collecting YR is confined to Air China as far as I can tell. I tested out EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, and Shenzhen Airlines which all have a big YR on their tickets and no or tiny YQ. In all cases, Lufthansa collected YR and YQ on award tickets.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 3.56.37 AM

Fuel Surhcarges are Collected on Other Tickets

I’ve shown routes and airlines with no or practically no surcharges between the United States and Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. I’ve also shown how to fly from Brazil to Africa, Asia, and Europe without fuel surcharges.

But there is no way to fly directly between the United States and Europe with ultra-low fuel surcharges on Lufthansa awards. Most airlines charge a fuel surcharge of around $250 or more each way. For instance, Lufthansa charges a YQ of $258 in economy between New York and Frankfurt in economy. United charges the same.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 4.08.26 AM

The lowest fuel surcharges on Lufthansa awards between the United States and Europe are on LOT Polish flights, and even those can be almost $200 each way.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 6.35.16 AM

Recap

You can use your Lufthansa miles on awards with fuel surcharges lower than $5 per direction:

  • On Copa and Avianca between the United States and Central or South America
  • On United in the Western Hemisphere
  • On any airlines out of Brazil
  • On Air China to Asia

The Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® is offering 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles for only three more days. The offer expires Monday June 30, 2014.

I got the card last year during a similar limited time offer. I’ve used Lufthansa miles for awards between Hawaii and the mainland, sometimes in a flat bed.

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