Taking Advantage of a Legal Loophole: You Can Avoid Paying Fuel Surcharges on Award Tickets If You Know Where to Start and End the Trip

Fuel surcharges are the bane of many frequent flyers, junk fees adding hundreds or even a thousand dollars onto award tickets by many frequent flyer programs around the world.

Airlines like fuel surcharges because:

  • Changing the fuel surcharge in a market can raise or lower every ticket price in that market, no need to re-file every single fare.
  • They allow an airline to raise price even with many fixed-fare agreements.
  • And, of course, because they can be charged to frequent flyers trying to redeem a captive points currency.

US frequent flyers — who don’t participate in mileage programs based outside the US — don’t have to deal with fuel surcharges very much.

  • American adds them to awards on British Airways (and to a very modest extent on Iberia)
  • Alaska adds them to awards on British Airways
  • Delta adds them to awards on some partners – like China Southern and China Eastern – and to travel originating in Europe.

United doesn’t add them at all.

But for European programs, and those based in Asia Pacific, they can be huge — hundreds of dollars each way. The idea is that miles cover the fare only and the frequent flyer has to pay taxes and surcharges.

They generally make economy travel redemptions foolish, as you spend points and have to find availability, don’t earn miles, and still wind up paying much of the cost of a paid ticket.

There are some tricks to reducing fuel surcharges on award tickets.

Reader Petra shares the news that the Philippines has banned fuel surcharges for tickets originating there. And with the price of fuel falling we’re starting to see a few carriers eliminate fuel surcharges, but some airlines just have a sneaky way of renaming the fee since ‘fuel surcharge’ no longer has much credibility with the price of fuel dropping dramatically.

But if you know where to start and end your award trip you can avoid fuel surcharges entirely.

Just like you can book award tickets originating in Brazil with a savings because fuel surcharges are illegal there, you can book award tickets originating in the Philippines and save on fees as well.

Here are the fees for a British Airways award ticket in business class, Sao Paulo – London.

Similarly, here’s a Japan Airlines business class award itinerary I pulled up at BA.com, one way Manila – Los Angeles.

The taxes and fees on the award are just $54 total.

In contrast, flying the other way — Los Angeles to Manila — brings up taxes and fees of $227.

The Philippines rule apparently applies to tickets originating there and not merely flying to or through there.

Aeroplan, an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, is another airline that adds fuel surcharges onto many of its partner awards. (See How to Book Star Alliance Awards Using Aeroplan Without Fuel Surcharges).

Here’s a business class award itinerary on Asiana, Manila – Los Angeles.

Taxes and fees total $46.30.

There’s savings to be had returning from Asia with a ticket that originates in Manila (or the Philippines generally). Remember, the savings I’m showing here is just for a one-way ticket. A roundtrip originating in the Philippines has no fuel surcharges at all, so the savings is greater.

Some flyers will find value, then, in originating their return from Asia in the Philippines — especially if they’ll be traveling around the region, and can order their trip in any way they wish .. visiting the Philippines ‘last’ is going to be cheaper than going there first or in the middle!

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. Aren’t there some significant complexities in getting ex-MNL tickets issues? Don’t you have to work with the physical airline offices on the ground there, and jump through some hoops?

  2. @CW in my experience, I’ve been able to issue MileagePlus awards originating in the Philippines. Delta says award tickets aren’t subject to the Philippines rule require travel originating there to be issued there. BA seemed to allow it though I didn’t complete the booking stage above. AA requires tickets to be issued by their office there.. which means either paying taxes at the office in person or wiring the funds to them (a process that takes 3-5 days).

  3. @CW- you can buy Manila origination tickets right on most operators websites.

    I was planning on an SQ redemption from Singapore to LA in June- 60K miles + $700 in taxes and fees. Just checked the SQ site and the same dates, but originating in Manila is 60K mile + $100 – and I have to be in Manila the week before anyway. Thanks for saving me $600, Gary!

  4. Seem to be missing something here – just did an award search from MNL to LHR on BAs site, and flying Malaysia F through Kuala Lumpur generated $197 in taxes/surcharges

  5. Would you encourage the FAA to institute similar rules? I can’t imagine it would be politically unpopular.

  6. Gary, any info on Korean Air with exMNL? After a HUGE battle with AA trying to get exMNL flights setup we abandoned AA and went with KE instead hoping that there wouldn’t be any problems. We still had to go through some hassles and wire taxes/fees there (to the tune of $600 for 2pax one-way). May need to see if there is any way that we can get the fuel surcharge portion of this back now.

  7. Delta still seems to be charging fuel surcharges for awards originating in Manila. Any way to get around this?

  8. If I am using Alaska miles to issue an award ticket origin from Manila, do I have to go to Manila office to issue the ticket?

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