“Negotiating” on airline fuel surcharges


Like most people I’m not a big fan of the unending surcharges that airlines seem to be tossing around these days.  I rarely check a bag so that isn’t my personal beef, but the concept of a surcharge to allow the airline to fuel the plane has always irked me.  Yes, I understand the myriad of reasons that the airlines do it, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

It turns out, however, that things are actually much more complicated than they appear on the surface.  Rather than an airline simply stating that the fee is some number and it seamlessly processing across the global network of airlines, travel agencies and customers, the system is way more complicated than that, and every now and then it works to the customers’ benefit. 

In theory any travel agent can override the validating carrier in their GDS, and a judicious choice will produce an (automatic) pricing that leaves out the surcharges. And they wouldn’t be breaking any rules by doing so. In practice most agencies are afraid of damaging their good will with the airlines, so they are unwilling to do these overrides. Sometimes you can find a carrier whose website will sell tickets completely on other carriers, and get around the surcharges that way.

If you’ve got any real travel geek in you and you want to understand the nuance behind how the surcharges get applied, read the full story here.

So here’s where the “negotiating” comes in to play.  No, you cannot just call up a travel agent or booking clearinghouse and ask to not pay the fee.  But every now and then some of the major online services screw up their systems.  So instead of charging the customer some hundreds of dollars for surcharges that bit gets skipped, and no one is the wiser about the situation.  And it just so happens that one major travel site featuring a “negotiator” is known for occasionally forgetting to include the fuel surcharges on international itineraries.

I’ve got a ticket booked to Italy in April/May that was $230 less than it should have been, thanks to these “negotiations.”  There’s also a fare to India apparently floating around with a few hundred dollars missing because of this.  It is certainly intermittent and not particularly easy to find.  But when you find them, knocking 40% off a trip to Europe isn’t so bad.  Not as good as a missing digit in a fare, but certainly not so bad.  This might just be a situation where the fuel surcharges work in passengers’ favor.

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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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