My Mile Earning Strategy to Avoid Fuel Surcharges

Posted By Trav

Strategy to avoid fuel surcharges

[bluebox]This is part 4 of the Defeating the Fuel Surcharge Series.  Other posts can be found here:


If you want to save yourself thousands of dollars by not paying a fuel surcharge, you need to fly with airlines that never (or rarely) charge them.

And in order to fly for free on these airlines, you need to collect frequent flyer miles with them.

Now that I’ve already told you what airlines you need to fly on, I’ll give you my personal strategy for earning miles.

I’ve ranked the airlines below on a scale from best, the ones I focus on most, to worst, the ones that I focus on least.


United is currently the undisputed apple of my eye for two main reasons.

First, United miles have amazingly friendly rules.

You never have to worry about paying a fuel surcharge, they allow you to purchase one way tickets, and they also allow one stopover and two open jaws when you book roundtrip.

This means you can visit 2 or 3 places for the price of one!

The other reason I love United miles is they are so easy to collect.

Many Chase cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold [This card is no longer available from Chase], and Chase Ink Plus earn you Chase points that transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio, and the Chase United Explorer earns you United miles directly.

With so many ways to earn them and their super generous rules, United miles rule supreme in my book!

American Airlines

AA miles are definitely another great option because they have great off-peak awards, the one thing United is missing, rarely charge fuel surcharges (just don’t fly on British Airways), and allow one-way tickets and limited stopovers.

You can earn AA miles directly by opening up the Citi AA Visa and the Citi AA Visa business card or also by getting the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and Starwood Preferred guest business cards and transferring those SPG points to AA.

If you transfer SPG points to AA, you’ll also receive an extra 5k AA miles for every 20k you transfer (so 20k SPG=25k AA) which is an awesome bonus!


USAirways miles rounds out my top 3 and are great because they never charge fuel surcharges and are very generous with their routing rules.

Pretty soon, USAirways will merge with AA, at which point your USAirways miles will change to AA miles, so you should take every chance you can get to earn them now and double up.

The easiest way to USAirways miles by opening a Barclays USAirways card.

The Best of the Rest (British Airways/Air Canada/ANA/Lufthansa)

I don’t specifically try to earn miles with any other airlines because none of them are near as good as United, AA, or USAirways.

However, I do take advantage of good sign up bonuses when they come along and collect various miles with other airlines that way.

One of the ways I do this is by earning American Express points, which are useful because they can transfer to multiple partners.  The 6 best ways to use Amex points are listed here.

British Airways Avios points can be a pain in the butt but also very good in specific situations, so make sure you understand the best ways to use them.  Avios points can be earned either through the Chase British Airways card or by transferring from American Express.

Air Canada and ANA also have some good value at times, and the best way to get miles with them is again through transferring from American Express.

Lufthansa miles offer good value if used in specific situations and you can easily earn a nice sign up bonus from the Barclays Lufthansa card.

Basically, if a good deal comes up for American Express or any other airline, jump on it but don’t go out of your way to collect these miles instead of miles from United, AA, or USAirways.

Final Word(s)

Now that you know what fuel surcharges are and learned how to avoid them, make sure to do it!

You’ve earned miles to help you take a trip to your dream destination for almost free, so don’t be a sucker and get stuck with a $600 tab because you weren’t aware of the airlines “dirty little secret”!

Earn miles with the right airlines, avoid the fuel surcharges and pay $100 or less to almost anywhere in the world!

What airlines do you use most frequently to avoid fuel surcharges?  Did you learn your lesson by once getting stuck with huge taxes and fees?  Let us know in the comments below!

(photo courtesy of Joriel)


  1. apexaddict6 says:

    you can also get British Airways points by transferring from Chase UR program

    1. Trav says:

      @apexaddict6- Very true, I left that out. Not usually my preferred method, but it does work in specific instances and is a very good use for some people!

  2. So, apparently there is no way to accumulate miles without a credit card, huh?? ;)

    1. Trav says:

      @Wandering Aramean- They aren’t the only way, but they are the quickest way!

  3. Also, the part where Avios have no YQ on most partner redemptions makes them very valuable in a number of circumstances, mostly in short- or medium- haul markets and mostly in the Americas. Avios is, in many ways, the best use of AmEx MR points right now and not a bad use of UR points, though Hyatt, Amtrak or United are probably better there.

    1. Trav says:

      @Wandering Aramean- Totally agree. I wrote about the 5 ways to use Avios points here, and about the best uses of Amex points here. I agree that for most of what I do, Avios are my best redemption for Amex (although Air Canada can be good too) and in fact, I actually transferred all my Amex to BA during the last 50% promotion.

  4. indsouth says:

    if you have the BA card from chase you get 10% back on your total ticket price

    1. Trav says:

      @indsouth- Really? If you buy from BA directly?

  5. Jerry Mandel says:

    I couldn’t figure out Finnair, Air Berlin, and Royal Jordanian when flying on AA (Oneworld) miles.

    1. Trav says:

      @Jerry Mandel- What do you mean you couldn’t figure it out? YOu couldn’t find availability?

      1. Jerry Mandel says:

        I couldn’t figure it out from your chart.

  6. Alex says:

    Thanks for these entries, this helped me understand why I had to pay 200 euros more for a ticket on the same flight (Frankfurt-Rio one-way) but booked with two different mileage programs (United — no YQ vs. Lufthansa — EUR 200 YQ).

    1. Trav says:

      @Alex- Yep, that’s exactly the reason why. Glad I could help you figure it out, although I’m bummed you had to get stuck with that 200 euro charge. Now you’ll know for next time!

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