Book an award ticket for travel on British Airways across the Pond, and you’re going to pay pretty hefty fuel surcharges.
But use your American AAdvantage or Alaska Airlines miles to fly on American transatlantic, even without fuel surcharges the taxes and fees are still pretty high.
I picked random dates for Los Angeles – London non-stop in business class. It’s an AAnytime award (so lots of miles), but what’s relevant here is the taxes. There are no fuel surcharges and yet you’re still coming out of pocket nearly $300 for one person.
The same holds true for using Delta miles on an itinerary originating in North America (remember: Europe-originating SkyMiles awards incur fuel surcharges, which in my view is tantamount to theft). And the same holds true of United MileagePlus awards — there are never fuel surcharges on United-issued awards, but UK taxes are still high.
That’s because of the UK’s Air Passenger Duty (APD) also referred to as the UK luxury tax or premium cabin departure tax, even though it applies to coach tickets as well.
The amount of this tax is based on distance and class of service. And it applies to all departures originating in the UK.
On a paid business class ticket London – Los Angeles you’re paying US$209 in APD.
It’s half that on a coach ticket.
Here are the amounts (in British pounds) and distances:
The fee was sold as an environmental measure but the UK now admits it’s primarily a revenue generator. There are exceptions to the fee — for instance certain Northern Ireland flights were exempted when Continental threatened to cancel Belfast-Newark non-stops (a route United flies to this day), and children up to age 12 flying economy are now exempted.
And since the UK government didn’t want to disadvantage British Airways from competing in connecting markets, it only applies to UK departures and not to UK connections. Fly Paris – London – Los Angeles and there’s no UK APD to pay. Similarly, fly through London to get where you’re going outside the UK, be it Paris or Brussels or Munich or Amsterdam, and you won’t pay this fee. That’s why some people originate their travel outside the UK, and connect through London, instead of starting in London.
That’s all by way of background. Reader L.B. taught me something about the UK APD that I didn’t know.
- I always thought that to avoid the APD, your travel originating or terminating beyond the UK had to be on the same ticket.
- So if you only found award availability to London, and had to buy your connection to Rome on a separate ticket, you were stuck paying the tax.
- Or if you bought a ticket from London (or other UK city) to the US, and later decided that you’d begin your trip home from another country buying a ticket on a low cost carrier to London the night before (but within 24 hours of your departure) you were out of luck. You had already paid the tax. And since your travel originated outside the UK on a separate ticket you were stuck anyway.
In fact, while the APD is collected when you buy your ticket the airline doesn’t actually remit it until you fly.
- If you wind up not taking the trip, you can claim the tax back from the airline.
- If you travel on a separate ticket to the UK within 24 hours of your UK departure, even if it’s on another airline, you can claim the tax back from the airline you paid it to.
L.B. points me to this illustration,
Earlier this year I flew U[nited] from [London Heathrow] to the USA on a ticket whose price correctly (at the time of purchase) included the APD.
As events turned out, I arrived in the UK on a [British Airways] flight less that 24 hours before my departure from [London]. I requested a refund of the APD by email to [United] (with both boarding passes and the original eTicket attached) and was paid by a refund to the card used to purchase the UA ticket within a few weeks.
Perhaps others knew this, but I didn’t realize it, and am kicking myself because I’ve paid UK taxes that weren’t due!