Book an award ticket for travel on British Airways across the Pond, and you’re going to pay pretty hefty fuel surcharges.
But if you originate in the UK and don’t fly British Airways you’re still going to pay hefty taxes. 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 most departures originating in the UK.
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.
Last month I pointed out that since the APD is collected when you buy your ticket, but the airline doesn’t actually remit it until you fly, 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 depending on the airline you’ve purchased your ticket from. United will refund this tax.
There’s another way around the tax. The UK government excludes itineraries originating in the ‘Scottish Highlands and Islands’ from the air passenger duty.
United’s Belfast – Newark non-stop doesn’t incur the tax, but Belfast – London – Newark would.
However any itinerary originating in Inverness doesn’t incur the tax. And as Paul P. pointed out to me, British Airways will start Inverness – London Heathrow service May 3.
Any award itinerary Inverness – London – US (or elsewhere) will avoid the tax that would be incurred with travel originating in London. Here’s a fare construction for a business class itinerary originating in Inverness and connecting through London to New York. No Air Passenger Duty or APD:
The same thing works with any flight originating outside the UK and connecting in London. But it’s the only flight I’m aware of that British Airways operates domestically from an exempted airport.