What is a Fuel Surcharge?

Posted By Trav

what is a fuel surcharge

[bluebox]This is Part 1 of the Defeating the Fuel Surcharge series.  Other posts include:


One of the most important things that anyone who wishes to earn or use frequent flyer miles must learn about is fuel surcharges.

Start earning frequent flyer miles with the right airline, and you can be flying for less than $100 to almost anywhere in the world.

But earn miles with the wrong airline, and you could be looking at a “free” frequent flyer ticket that costs well over $600.

And nobody wants that!

Unfortunately, figuring out which airlines charge fuel surcharges for which flights can be really difficult.

Luckily, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you.

What is a fuel surcharge?

Before everything else, it’s important to know what a fuel surcharge is.  Basically, a fuel surcharge is the dirty little secret of airlines.

In order to save themselves money, many airlines have started to impose a fuel surcharge on award tickets (which are tickets you “buy” with frequent flyer miles).

What happens is that many airlines will give you the “fare” for free when you use frequent flyer miles, but you’ll have to pay the “taxes and fees”.

The sneaky airlines will then include the fuel surcharge as part of the “taxes and fees” section, which means you have to pay that.


When airlines do this, the taxes and fees can be 60-80% of the original ticket price anyway!

For example, you may pay 60,000 miles and $500 in taxes and fees for an award ticket from New York to London, whereas you could sometimes purchase a ticket outright for $700.

Obviously, this is an awful use your frequent flyer miles, which is why fuel surcharges should be avoided at all costs.

You’ve worked hard for your frequent flyer miles, and they should be used to help you travel to your dream destination for almost free….

NOT used to pay airlines who throw in a bunch of fine print hoping that you don’t read it!

By learning which airlines do and do not charge fuel surcharges, you’ll save yourself thousands of dollars each year.

And as an added bonus, you’ll also be giving your business to the airlines who really do have the customers best intentions in mind, not ones that try to swindle you.

Now that you know what a fuel surcharge is, you’re ready to learn how to find one.

Head over to Part 2: How to Find a Fuel Surcharge Using the ITA Matrix.

(photo courtesy of machien59)









  1. Even the airlines which do not charge a fuel surcharge on awards (e.g. United MileagePlus) do often charge them on revenue tickets.

    1. Trav says:

      @Wandering Aramean- Very true. For this exercise, I’m simply looking at how to avoid the fuel surcharge for award tickets, although I know there are ways you can do it for paid if you are really sneaky and/or smart.

  2. Theresa says:

    Thanks! Looking forward to the rest of your series. Hope you will also cover fuel dumping.

    1. Trav says:

      @Theresa- I probably won’t get that in depth, but only because I’m no expert fuel dumper. I know Scott at Hack My Trip has a pretty substantial post on it though that is fascinating reading.


  3. travel4nana says:

    You said to head over to Part 2 but where am I heading to? OR are you speaking about another installment on another day?

    1. Trav says:

      @travel4nana- Sorry about that, Part 2 will be coming out tomorrow. And then Part 3 will come out on Monday and Part 4 on Tuesday. After they are all out, they will be linked up!

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