And thinking about United’s really high pricing for international premium cabin awards, and international first class awards in particular, the more and more I’m liking international frequent flyer programs more and more, including international programs that add fuel surcharges onto award tickets.
Don’t get me wrong, fuel surcharges are bogus fees and they unfairly tax frequent flyers’ accumulated balances. For the most part they don’t really affect paid tickets, among other things they are a convenient mechanism for raising or lowering all fares in a given market. They serve as an excuse for airlines to take cash from members, claiming the miles pay for the base fare only and not any of the taxes or surcharges.
But when choosing a frequent flyer program to use, one that adds fuel surcharges to award tickets can make sense given the mileage savings involved. Think of fuel surcharges as cash and points awards. Depending on the price they can be very good or very poor values.
British Airways charges more and more miles for longer and longer flights, and charges additional miles for each flight segment. Los Angeles – Sydney roundtrip in first class is going to be 300,000 miles and nearly $1000 in taxes and fees. Add on Sydney – Auckland and it costs you even more. Gulp.
But it’s not always extortionate. Let’s take a look at American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner All Nippon.
They have a distance-based award chart. They have a separate award chart for flying only their own flights, and pricing is seasonal.
New York – Tokyo is 13,489 miles roundtrip.
Here’s an itinerary in April, it costs $6731 in business class.
Fuel surcharges are $586. That’s how much more cash you’ll pay ANA to redeem these flights than you would if you were redeeming with United miles.
The roundtrip mileage cost of this award in April is 75,000 miles.
United’s new chart on the other hand will charge you 150,000 miles for this new itinerary. (130,000 if you stick to United flights, e.g. Newark – Tokyo.)
You’re still going to get a pretty decent return on your United miles, even with their new pricing, for this itinerary.
For comparison purposes, let’s use lower United itinerary price that MileagePlus is going to chart of 130,000 miles. That’s 65,000 miles more that ANA is going to charge for the itinerary on its own flights and it saves you $586. That’s a value of less than a penny a mile, the fuel surcharge from ANA means you’re buying back miles on the cheap by redeeming through the ANA Mileage Club program.
Fuel surcharges – when incurred with a program that has really reasonable mileage pricing or really fantastic award availability (such that you could compare their award chart almost to ‘Anytime’ awards or at least a three-tiered chart’s ‘medium’ level), can probably be thought of as offering cash and points awards.