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The True Price of an Award Ticket and How to Avoid Fuel Surcharges

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If you’re collecting miles and playing the frequent flyer awards game, you’re probably already familiar with the airport taxes, fuel surcharges and other fees that often get added to your ticket. So when you finally earn that “free” flight you’ve been saving up for, you don’t expect it to be completely free.

But you also don’t expect to pay over $700 dollars:

The charge on this award flight is the result of British Airways’ fuel surcharge coupled with London Heathrow Airport’s high taxes. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you probably know that British Airways adds high fuel surcharges to all their long flights.

But there are ways to avoid the extra fees British Airways and other airlines charge on award flights.

Getting around high surcharges using AAdvantage miles

If you are flying to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia or the Middle East, try flying American Airlines or any of American’s partners except British Airways. Aer Lingus and Iberia do charge small fuel surcharges, but other partners do not.

If you need to fly within Europe, British Airways is fine. They recently removed fuel surcharges from their European flights, so you will only pay a small tax.

For flights to the Caribbean, Central or Latin America, neither American nor its partner airlines apply fuel surcharges.

How to avoid fuel surcharges with SkyMiles

Delta does not add fuel surcharges to their own flights unless your flight originates in Europe. Delta also adds fuel surcharge to many partners, including:

  • Aeroflot
  • Air Europa
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Vietnam Airlines

Some partners are worse than others. The Aeroflot fuel surcharge runs about $250 per roundtrip, while an award ticket on Air Europa will cost you around $540.

So what do you do? From North America, fly either Delta or a Delta partner that doesn’t have a fuel surcharge. There are still plenty of options:

  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia

Using MileagePlus miles

You won’t pay fuel surcharges when you book with MileagePlus miles, even when you are redeeming on partners that do apply fuel surcharges.

Avoiding high airport taxes

You don’t have a lot of options for avoiding airport taxes unless you are willing to reroute your trip. If you can, try to use smaller airports. They often have lower taxes.

For example, it’s best to avoid flying in and out of Heathrow Airport. It’s the most expensive major airport in the world. If you are planning to explore the rest of Europe, you might consider taking Eurostar across the channel and flying home from another airport.

Sometimes you can simply choose a different airline from the same alliance and cut your taxes in half. If you fly to Paris, for example, consider using airberlin. With that airline, you will fly in and out of Orly Airport rather than De Gaulle. The tax difference on this route would be over $100.

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