A $1,000 surcharge to fly


I hate surcharges.  I’d much rather just see what the cost of an item is and make a decision based on that number.  The airlines seem to disagree, trending towards surcharges and fees to generate revenue in pretty much every situation.  Airlines have actually raised fares a dozen times so far this year, so they’re doing that, too, but the fees can get out of hand.  The most egregious fee, in my opinion, is the fuel surcharge.  

The fuel surcharge is unlike the checked baggage or assigned seat fees in that it actually applies to everyone.  If I don’t check bags or care about my seat assignment I can fly for just the cost of the plane ticket.  By when fuel surcharges come in to play the cost cannot be avoided.  It is essentially part of the fare, but the airlines hide it as an extra fee, helping them advertise fares lower than what they are actually charging. 

And now the fuel surcharge has broken into new territory, surpassing $1,000 for trips between Sydney and London on Japan Airlines.  That is $1000 in addition to the actual fare.  The flight is about 10,000 miles each way routing via Tokyo, and the $1,000 is a round trip fee, so the fee is only $500 each way.  That’s about $0.05 per mile flown.  Considering that the airlines pay about $0.03-0.04 per seat mile flown for fuel (based on CASM numbers published by the airlines) this fee will actually more than cover the fuel costs for the flights.  Plus passengers are still going to pay the rest of the fare, meaning that the airlines should be able to cover their costs OK, but without charging higher fares, at least not officially.

Of course, if the airlines just raised the fares the folks paying money for their tickets wouldn’t really see any difference, as the end number is the same.  But for passengers looking at reward redemptions they have to pay all taxes and fees as part of the redemption, in addition to the miles.  So if you participated in the JAL frequent flier program and were looking to redeem your points to go from Sydney to London you’ll also have to pay the $1,000 fuel surcharge, since it is not part of the fare.  That just sucks.

Interestingly enough, the fees vary from airline to airline, even for the same flights.  I’ve just booked a flight on Turkish Airlines using some of my US Air miles.  If I purchased the tickets outright from Turkish Air the taxes would be ~$70 for one person.  Using my US Air miles the taxes were $6.  Even with paying the US Air fee of $40 to book the ticket through the call center despite the fact that the online site doesn’t even recognize the destinations I still came out ahead on the cost by using the miles. 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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