Airline taxes and fuel surcharges can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of an award ticket booked using frequent flyer points. But these taxes and charges can vary drastically. On some frequent flyer redemption bookings, the taxes are as low as $5. At other times, they can run into the thousands of dollars!
The co-payment required when redeeming points for a flight comprises of two parts: taxes, and carrier charges. Taxes are genuine government and airport charges that are added to the cost of all flight tickets. For example, there is a $55 departure tax included in the cost of all international flights departing Australia.
Such taxes are inevitable, but carrier charges (including “fuel surcharges”) can be avoided. The key is to fly an airline that doesn’t charge them. While some airlines impose exorbitant surcharges, others don’t have them at all.
The government imposed levies and charges should basically be the same for any single route – it’s the YQ/YR [fuel surcharge] that make some fares/redemptions significantly more costly than others.
The main factor determining fuel surcharge amounts – or indeed whether one is charged at all – is the airline operating your flight. For example, there are very high fuel surcharges payable when redeeming Qantas points to fly with Emirates. But there are no additional surcharges payable for American Airlines, Japan Airlines, Finnair, Fiji Airways or LATAM Airlines flights. When using your points to fly with one of these partner airlines, you’ll only pay genuine taxes – which could be just a few dollars! Fuel surcharges are also relatively low with Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways taxes are considerably lower – probably closer to $500 return per passenger for Australia-Europe. Cathay Pacific taxes are quite reasonable, probably around $400 for this trip. Finnair, Air Berlin and Japan Airlines have even lower taxes as they don’t charge any fuel surcharges.
When using Qantas points, airlines to avoid include Qantas, Emirates, British Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Royal Jordanian.
Malaysian taxes are quite high, but still a little lower than Qantas/Emirates. British Airways is about on par with Qantas – very high.
If you’re planning to depart from Europe, it’s also worth avoiding flights departing the UK. Flights from the UK attract an Air Passenger Duty which, for a Business class passenger flying long-haul, would add over $230 to the ticket price! The tax can be avoided by departing Europe from outside the UK, or transiting through the UK for less than 24 hours.
FWIW, flying W/J/F out of LON to SYD brings with it an “Air Passenger Duty” levy of £142 for an Adult. All carriers must impose this.
There’s one final trick that can save you hundreds on airline-imposed fuel surcharges. Certain countries actually impose limits on fuel surcharges, and some have even banned them altogether. You’ll benefit from these laws if the first flight on your ticket departs from either Hong Kong, The Philippines or Brazil.
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