The Sneaky Way Airlines Can Still Hit You With Fuel Surcharges Even When the Price of Fuel Falls

One thing that readers keep asking is, with the price of fuel dropping, will airlines reduce or eliminate fuel surcharges?

And my answer is that few things would shock me more.

Fuel surcharges aren’t about fuel.

  • They are a convenient, easy way to raise or lower all fares in a market.
  • Since they are a surcharge rather than part of the fare, they aren’t subject to percentage discounts that may attach to certain contracts.
  • They conveniently are an excuse to charge more for award passengers (in some programs and for travel on some airlines), whose mileage currency can’t be used anywhere a member wants the way cash can.

Nonetheless, since airlines have used the price of fuel as the narrative for high costs, and explains surcharges rather than changes in fare as fuel (even though when coded as “YQ” they are ‘miscellaneous’ charges in the fare construction), it’s becoming tough for the storyline that attaches to these fees.

Where might airlines go with this? Air Canada is simply renaming the fees. They are being called ‘carrier surcharges’ as well.

It’s no longer about fuel, but the fees that were supposedly because of fuel remain. Clever.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @viewfromthewing
    YQ (or whatever else airlines choose to call it) is gradually creeping into more airlines.
    wonder if any other countries have a law thats similar to brazil’s

  2. I don’t know if I’d say its “clever” to rename the fee, just their only option. Calling it fuel was outright fraud, a punishable offense. BA only changed the name because of a DOT challenge, not because of their cleverness.

  3. I’m really getting tired of recycled posts, and especially posts that have “click through for more” and then off very little more. Seems awfully cheap, Gary. I expect that at other sites, not here.

  4. The only travel fee more outrageous than YQ is a mandatory hotel resort fee: both are absurd. What makes YQ a lesser evil is that, in most instances where you’re pricing tickets, it becomes included in the total fare you’re quoted so you’re not likely to be deceived. You can sometimes be deceived by resort fees even after you’ve made the purchase!

    The worst case example is priceline’s “name your own price” model. I know that’ unpopular now (probably a good thing!), but you could be bidding on a 4-star property and they “upgrade” you to a “resort” that they charges you $25 in addition to what you bid. How that passes consumer protection laws (even if it’s in the small print), I’ll never know.

  5. this is nothing new. At United it has been called an International Surcharge since mid last year or earlier.

  6. I have no problem with them calling it whatever they want but what is ridiculous is that they tack it on to a “free” award ticket. For a revenue ticket, as long as it is clearly displayed in the total price, the total price is the bottom line. For an award ticket I have much more trouble with being told something is X number of miles and then as an after thought another several hundred dollars. The justification (fuel prices) at least made some sense before. Now it is just because they can.

  7. And the surcharges have increased massively, at least in some cases. For example, in mid-2011 we flew BA first SFO-LHR-CDG; total taxes and surcharges were about $280 per passenger. Now they are $490 for the same flights.

  8. But this just runs circles around the question of why is it even legal for them to quote part of the price as a “fare” and part as a “surcharge”, whatever you label it? Why is it OK to set this part of the fare apart from the discounts that attach to certain contracts?

    Note that I have defended a la carte pricing for things that add value for some passengers, but aren’t important to others. That’s fair. What I despise is being dishonest with these phony “surcharge” labels.

  9. They way I understand it, none of these “surcharges” YQ, seat selection, checked bags, etc., are taxable to the airlines – eventually I see the airlines making all of their fares $1 and adding everything else as a surcharge to increase their pricing flexibility, increasing their profit and decreasing their tax liability.

  10. @Kevin….if you think the government wouldn’t be all over that you live in fantasy land. Logically an airline can’t claim a $1 fare is a legitimate fare, so the only thing that would happen is the government would change and say we are now going to either A. make you break down every charge so we can determine what to charge tax on (the airline wouldn’t want to take the effort or allow the government that deep of a dive, or B. the government would just start charging tax on the total cost of the ticket with no tax exemptions which would make the airline pay more tax and in turn push that onto the passenger. I think when you say ‘i see’ you might want to get some glasses as your vision of the future is way out of focus.

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