British Airways Reduces Fuel Surcharges, Coach Awards Can Now Make Sense

British Airways settled a class action lawsuit over fuel surcharges. See, these fees had nothing to do with the price of fuel (as required by the Department of Transportation). They awarded cash or miles to a whole bunch of frequent flyers, but continued charging the fees — they just stopped calling them fuel surcharges, and started calling them surcharges. In other words, extra fees that no longer even pretend to have a purpose.

While fuel surcharges aren’t a government tax, they are a tax on frequent flyers, a fee for using miles for free travel (ironic, huh?).

The way that I look at fuel surcharges on first class awards is that you’re buying a discounted coach ticket that doesn’t earn miles and getting a confirmed triple upgrade in exchange for your points. I can live with it, but it hurts.

At the beginning of the year I flew roundtrip British Airways first class because it meant non-stop transatlantic from my home city of Austin, which was especially important to me with a months-old daughter. And of course BA infant fares are only 10% of the miles and taxes, which is great.

However fuel surcharges on coach awards are truly prohibitive. You wind up paying about as much as a paid ticket, don’t earn miles, and may have to take less convenient flights based on availability. Within Europe (before November 2011 program changes) we used to see British Airways awards where fuel surcharges were higher than the cost of a paid ticket.

Last year British Airways increased surcharges on first class awards. Now, though, they’ve reduced surcharges on US – London flights. That started with Seattle – London where they were charging just $65, but it’s now spread. (HT: Head for Points)

Here’s a last minute ticket, Newark – London in coach on BA:

The surcharge is now just $65:

This time American AAdvantage is pricing these awards correctly and not overcharging BA surcharges. On a last minute basis a coach award can actually be a really great deal:

Unfortunately business class one-way surcharges Newark – London are $600, and first class $800, which is absurd. However lower coach surcharges are a benefit to frequent flyers and available on other routes as well.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. So Gary, do we understand that the surcharges on First would be $1,600 for a roundtrip ticket from AUS to LHR? That is still exorbitant and a mockery of “free” tickets for points.

  2. So how much is this in response to market forces versus legal? It sounds more like legal forces. Also, any expectations it’ll spread to Business/First? It might make the companion ticket from their Chase credit card actually worth something.

  3. Screw BA, I’ll fly them again when I get a CASH refund for their past extortion. Hope the strike bankrupts them.

  4. Is it odd that the fee went down to $65 SEA-LHR but it’s still $175 ATL-LHR? Very frustrating.

  5. Don’t forget that departing UK will always incur the rapacious departure tax, which is on the order of $150-200 just for coach, and is 2x or 3x for upper class, so there’s no avoiding surcharges completely.

  6. At least there is some good news, however limited. Hope it spreads a bit. Since I’m east coast US, I usually just fly Y when going to western-ish Europe (and sometimes further east) since it’s such a fairly short flight. 6-7 hours is fine in coach for me. I’ll save my miles or money for longer trips in J/F. Combined with off-peak Avios pricing this could really.

  7. Rick is right about the UK departure tax on the upper classes. It can be much less expensive to add a couple days in Paris or elsewhere and return from there instead.

    Alan: BA can’t be an FFTO until they have a manifesto on 8chan.

  8. Just checked a random flight for two people AUS-LON nonstop in January. Still showing $1,300 in fees and 90K total miles.

  9. Does Gary or anyone know if now BA will refund these very high taxes and fees paid on future BA First Class and Club flights already booked and ticketed but not yet taken? Looking at the NYC and Miami markets in particular.

  10. I was looking at MIA-HNL on United. The one way J fare was around $1,000. The upgrade Y was $9xx.

  11. Let’s not call them “fuel” surcharges, since they aren’t. It is good to see at least a step in the right direction.

  12. “Fuel surcharges” for award tickets are probably the second greatest evil in the travel industry. Resort fees are the greatest evil (if for no other reason than they affect more travellers more often). It’s nice that BA seems to be reducing some of these surcharges now, but why do they exist at all? And why hasn’t the British gov’t or the EU demand that they end? I mean, jeez, you can (at least theoretically) get compensated for a delayed flight from the EU. Given how high that compensation (at least theoretically) is, that’s a dubious consumer benefit. Eliminating fuel surcharges on award tickets is a REAL consumer benefit. Mind you, BA could then decide to simply raise redemption prices, but that would at least be honest.

  13. I’m showing that the same flight is incurring $165.70 in fees and not the $97.30 your search produced. Most likely AA and BA have corrected this!

  14. I am still seeing 136500avios +$1762.65 flying from: off-peak roundtrip
    atl-lhr-hyd > roundtrip for 1adult+1kid (age2-10) +1infant (less than 2yr old)

    how is this calculated, please let me know.
    it should be 65K * 2 = 130k avios

    surcharges are still very high.

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