American AAdvantage Fuel Surcharges on British Airways Redemptions … More Expensive Than I First Realized

On October 1 I wrote about American Airlines beginning to add fuel surcharges to awards redeemed on British Airways.

Previously, AAdvantage members couldn’t earn or redeem miles on British Airways between the US and the UK at all. So members would fly from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. And there was no restrictions on flights beyond London, such as to Africa. But there were no fuel surcharges.

Now, there are more available routes for redemption but all of those routes (including those which were previously available) are significantly more expensive. How much more? I find a US – Europe roundtrip in a premium cabin will often total nearly $600. Now the regular taxes are a bit over $200 anyway, that darned U.K. premium cabin departure luxury tax. But the fuel surcharges are a killer.

And when you do a bunch of British Airways flying, the fees can really stack up. A few days back I reserved the following with American Airlines miles:

    Los Angeles – Chicago – London, American and British Airways First Class

    London – Johannesburg, British Airways First Class

    Johannesburg – London – Los Angeles, British Airways First Class

The taxes and fuel surcharges totaled over $1100 per ticket.

When I first wrote about the changes I thought they were on net positive, British Airways award availability between many cities in the US and London is really excellent… Phoenix, Houston, and Philadelphia in particular in my experience but even Chicago, Dallas, and New York especially in first class.

But now I’m not so sure, $1100 in taxes and fees for an award ticket really does make me choke. Oh, and this was an award for more than one person so those fees really add up.

Other US carriers don’t generally add fuel surcharges to awards. Alaska does on British Airways redemptions. And Delta egregiously adds an international-originating surcharge on tickets that start outside of North America. Asian and European carriers’ programs are no stranger to these fees, but to some extent even these are moving away from them. In December 2009 SAS Eurobonus eliminated fuel surcharges on award redemptions. Lufthansa has offered an option to redeem additional points to cover these fees. Hopefully we won’t see a spread, no doubt American will be looking at the extent their members balk at redemptions when the fees are in place and if they don’t they could choose to add them to other carrier redemptions as well. And if American does it… Certainly dangerous potential here.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Tell me about it – I just redeemed BA miles for Club World seats from San Diego to Johannesburg and paid $980.21 a ticket in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges, which is especially galling as KLM only charges $1285 for economy class flights (including $166.10 “taxes and fees”) from SAN to JNB.

  2. While details keep changing I have generally found it a good rule of thumb to avoid BA and LHR when possible. No wonder the availability is “excellent” at BA – it will remain excellent, as people choose other more reasonable options. 🙂

  3. Yes, I’m rather regretting getting two of the BA Chase cards with the 75K mile bonus each. Looks like I may be able to fly cheaper for a paid seat on Virgin to London, than an award seat on BA.

    However, using those BA miles on American for a domestic flight is still attractive.

  4. Ann, you’re 100% right about using BA miles on an AA domestic but keep in mind that BA miles on AA metal can be as low as 25k r/t in economy, but start out at 75k r/t in domestic first class on AA metal. (vs 50k)

  5. Two years ago when BA offered 2 for 1 redemptions, I decided to wipe out my husband’s and my miles. We did LAX-LHR/DUB in F, and LAX-LHR in C. Fuel surcharges were over $3K for the 4 tickets. So much for free. I’ll have a 2 for 1 voucher from BA in another month, along with 100K x 2 for the Chase cards. I’ll use it but the only way I can stomach it is that the miles were free, so the cost for the ticket is the fuel surcharge/fees. While these examples are for redemption from my BA mileage account, they demonstrate the breathtaking fees on BA tickets.

  6. Very surprised that BAEC charges fuel surcharges on AA metal redemption across the Atlantic. Any idea how they justify this?

  7. Gary, where can I find out how many miles BA requires for flying on partner metal, such as Cathay to Asia? I played around on the BA site and for LAX-BKK in economy got 120,000 + $623 on BA and 100,000 + 200 or so on JAL/AA (the direct routes no doubt). Thanks!

  8. As I said many times on the FT forum, As a loyal AA flyer (soon to be EXP) on Oct 1, rather than gaining many TATL routes, I lost a major oneworld partner for the purposes of redemption — if not the biggest OneWorld partner.

  9. Paying “fuel surcharges” on award tickets is, of course, lunacy. Why don’t the Europeans scream bloody murder? If this became widespread in the USA, it would effectively kill frequent flyer programs.

  10. @Gary
    Just watch BA from charging you YQ on ALL tickets on AA. Reports on FT are that they started on TATL.

  11. We live with it because we have no choice. I suppose it depends on your mentality; I have never viewed award tickets as ‘free’ but if I lived in North America, I would.

    I see the point behind YQ. 747-437B on FT has explained at length the cost of changing fares on the various databases, but I would like to see a YQ cap, perhaps a percentage of the fare? If fuel increases beyond that, the airlines would have to suck up the cost of changing the base fare or temporarily absorb the additional fuel cost.

    BA has tacitly acknowledged that the YQ is actually an intrinsic part of the fare. If you cancel a non-refundable ticket, the YQ is non-refundable whereas the taxes (rightly and legally) are; though they charge a fee for refunding those.

    I can’t see how BA (and others) can justify attacking Ryanair et al for the lack of transparency when they seemingly offer ‘free’ tickets, but do much the same with YQ.

    In summary, we put up with it because it’s the only choice we have. Would I rather pay the YQ and fly BA First or Club World over AA, yes I would and it’s the price I pay for making that choice.

  12. as a regular transatlantic flyer on Virgin and (lesser) BA, I agree with the complaints. BUT… I have to point out one factor: the purpose of these government taxes is to mitigate ‘binge flying’ as it is known in the UK. In other words to dissuade people from randomly traveling at zero cost to themselves and a substantial cost to the environment. This is an anathema to the mileage whores (like me) out there, but it is a real factor.

    Gas is taxed heavily in Europe too. 60% or so, compared to 15% in US. As a result Europeans have pioneered great small economic cars with super economical engines, and small diesels. Mercededs is inits third version of its great A class car, that they don’t even bother to sell in the US, because (supposedly) no one would want it. The fact is: Taxation works in pushing forward a green agenda.

    I don’t like it when it hurts my pocket book, and it does that as much as any of you – but I respect that there is some purpose behind it.

  13. @Paul fuel surcharges are not taxes, they are effectively a fare the airline is charging for a free ticket. You may think that’s good (though remember that many partner airlines e.g. ANA don’t hcarge fuel surcharges on redemptions with partners like Virgin). If you believe the REASON for these fees is for the environemnt I would submit you’re being hoodwinked (regardless of whether you believe the effect is beneficial to the environment, which is questionable, when frequent flyer award seats at the saver level are seats that the airline expects to fly empty and thus there’s no net cotnribtions to incremental flying by the redemption passenger).

  14. As I also mentioned in the FT thread mentioned, charges YQ on AA metal awards to/from LHR. It does not appear to charge YQ on AA metal awards to/from other places, including MAN.

    However, one of the posters in that thread was told by BAEC on the phone that the policy is to charge YQ on AA metal awards, but had not yet been updated.

    It is unclear if BAEC intends to collect YQ on all AA metal awards, or only international or translantic. It is also unclear if awards on AA metal currently bookable on without YQ would be successfully ticketed.

  15. Wow just redeemed for us to Maldives from London and spent $2700 on taxes… and likely to have to spend another $1200 to get us to London. I’m actually thinking I might cancel and go the long way round with Cathay and SQ. I LOVE BA award availability but these fees really take away from the whole point of this game, which for me is to get premium cabins at next to nothing….

  16. Just switched to a BA flight as only one available and following day I get call about BA Tax to pay. As pointed out YQ is not a tax, it is BA’s underhand way of taking additional money of customers with an attempt to pass the blame onto Messrs Brown and Cameron. When Willie Walsh et al treat their staff in a disagreeable fashion everyone looks the other way. Perhaps now it is becoming common knowledge BA are treating their customers the same way some management changes can be made. Still I suppose it is all good news for the other carriers who have a more open and honest charging process. I wish Virgin would have joined One World. I am dreading a marriage of the accountant driven cheapness of AA and the “business” morality of BA.

  17. A bit late I know, but have some thoughts to add.

    BA are not alone in this practice in the UK: Virgin do it too, as I found out when trying to redeem vouchers and miles. Two supposedly “free” business class tickets cost more than two economy tickets.

    It is becoming increasingly uneconomical to redeem rewards, owing to the booking regulations, and to earn miles in the first place. I am encouraged to keep miles accrued through work in order to buy tickets and upgrades in the future (for work, obviously). Of course, we have to buy the cheapest tickets, and it works out that after 25 flights to/from UK to the US I would get a saving of 100 pounds off the next one. The cheapest tickets only seem to earn about 1 airmile per 4 miles flown.

    The mere idea that the cost of fuel is a surcharge is lunacy – fuel is an integral part of the flight, not a luxury you can do without, if you ask me. You’ve paid the surcharge many many times in accruing the miles, then you have to pay it again when redeeming them.

  18. I made the mistake of booking BA using my American Airways miles. I was told that the extra cost was imposed by Heathrow. Now if I change my date of departure (which is supposedly at no cost), it will add over $200 to the $450 dollars that I already paid. I checked BA sites and found that this is indeed due to BA’s fuel surcharge. While I was excited about flying direct from San Francisco, I didn’t realize the true cost of doing so. So much for free award travel.

    As I am flying on to the Caucasus and none of the One World airlines fly there, I had to buy an additional ticket on Austrian Airlines. Now I wish that I had just booked direct to the Caucasus and just paid for the ticket at what would have been only slightly higher than my total cost. To be fair that would be for an economy ticket versus a Business class ticket.

    Although, British Airways is the culprit, I am questioning my allegiance to American. Other award airlines offer direct flights to Europe without the extra cost.

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