Is Delta Now Adding Fuel Surcharges onto Korean Airlines Awards? Perhaps Not.

Yesterday Lucky wrote that Delta had started adding fuel surcharges onto award bookings made with Korean AIrlines.

Fuel surcharges are commonly billed to customers on award travel throughout the world. Nearly all European airline programs add fuel surcharges (usually several hundred dollars per ticket), with the notable exception of SAS Eurobonus which eliminated the practice a couple of years ago. Most Asian programs do as well. Most programs in the Americas do not. Notable exceptions are Aeroplan which began last year to add them to a majority of partner bookings, American which adds them to British Airways awards and a small one on Iberia bookings, and Delta which adds an ‘international origination surcharge’ to bookings originating from Europe (since their European counterparts add fees, they figure their European customers have little choice and they can get away with it, one imagines). Delta also adds fuel surcharges to awards on Virgin Australia, Air Tahiti Nui, and some Asian partners as well.

But not to any Skyteam redemptions originating in the U.S..

(It’s worth noting that only United and US Airways amongst U.S. frequent flyer programs are 100% free of fuel surcharges.)

Last week I posted about uber-cheap Korean Airlines fares from the West Coast to Tokyo. I believe this was related to a change that Korean was making, reducing fares and adding fuel surcharges which are coded as YR rather than the normal ‘YQ’ in fare construction.

When Continental joined Star Alliance, they certainly didn’t intend to add fuel surcharges onto award tickets. To this day, United/Continental does not. But their systems were pricing many awards on Swiss with fuel surcharges, because Swiss was coding their fuel surcharges as YR instead of YQ, and so Continental interpreted that to be a tax or other imposed fee rather than a fuel surcharge. So they included it in the pricing automatically. (Continental agents were told to contact the rate desk for manual repricing, some of them didn’t read the memos and weren’t aware of the problem, my understanding was that a sweep was done and everyone who overpaid was refunded.)

Changing the way that fuel surcharges are loaded into fares can certainly wreak havoc with automated pricing engines. So it’s completely plausible that this is a temporary glitch which Delta will get corrected.

The reason why some are jumping to other conclusions is that Delta seems the most punitive in adding fees to award travel. All of their European customers pay fuel surcharges. Anyone grabbing awards from Los Angeles to Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui or to Australia on Virgin Australia get whacked. And since they are stingy on award space across the board, it fits a narrative.

But my best guess, probably = 70% I think, is that it’s an IT glitch. Which fits the narrative that their award redemption IT isn’t very good either.


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. I think (and hope) you are correct.

    As a side note, SAS Eurobonus does charge fuel surcharges on non-SK redemptions (and also does not permit half-price one-way awards unless all SK metal) so the program is not nearly as generous as I had hoped. I recently booked a United ticket on EuroBonus for a client and there was a YQ.

  2. according to flyertalk, delta now charges a fuel surcharge on pretty much any flight – except for Alaska and Delta/AirFrance/KLM/Alitalia originating in the U.S.

  3. Hey Gary,

    Any developments on this in the past 2 weeks? Is the YQ still being charged?

  4. This is definitely not an IT glitch any more. About two weeks ago, between the website and phone agents (multiple calls), I put together OMA-SLC-LAX-KE-ICN-KE-AKL//HKG-MU-PVG-NRT-ATL-OMA all in J/F except OMA-SLC for 135K miles. (Open jaw will be filled with 45K AA miles for QF F on the A380 and J from somewhere in NZ to SYD.) Because the agents kept pricing it at weird amounts, I had it on hold. Clicked redeem on and it came up at 135K miles and ~$710 in taxes/fees. Of that, $571.80 is YQ and YR. A lengthy call on Monday got it sent off to tariff assist, since that YQ is ridiculous considering that DL is doing the over-the-water bit on the return. Got a call back today saying that KE has confirmed their $250 in YR is correct and tariff assist says it should be collected. They’re waiting on MU to come back with their YQ assessment for HKG-PVG, which should be more like $30 instead of $321.80.

  5. Still waiting. I hope get a weekly update tomorrow from my contact. If I don’t get a phone call, I’ll send in an email specifically asking that they have the person working on it give me a call, as I don’t think there’s any way to actually reach that person by phone, at least not with the information that I was given.

  6. Sounds like a major pain in the ass. Hope they reduce that YQ for you, let us know what they end up saying!

  7. Got a phone call right after lunch today confirming that too much YQ had been collected and they’ll be refunding $291.60 to take the YQ line down to $30.20. The agent also said that they were trying to figure out why the system had done this to eliminate it in the future. I suspect that if I’d ticketed over the phone, they might have been able to block some of it at that time, but obviously can’t be certain.

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