I’m Using Miles: Why Do My Award Tickets Have Such High Fees?

Reader Carol asked,

When I try to make a reservation using my American Airline miles, there’s always a fee of $500-$1200 included. Do you know why?

Yes, I do know why! It’s because you’re looking at award tickets involving travel on British Airways.

And because awards on British Airways incur fuel surcharges. The idea is that the miles pay for the base airfare of the ticket only and not taxes (which is normal) or fuel or other miscellaneous charges.

American collects these fees on British Airways awards, and in a miniscule amount on Iberia awards. (Only oneworld carrier LAN will issue British Airways awards without fuel surcharges — all other British Airways partners, including Alaska Airlines, collect them.)

The challenge here is that American usually offers little award availability in premium cabins on its own flights to Europe. And their primary transatlantic partner is British Airways.

You can avoid fuel surcharges flying Iberia and airberlin. Iberia award space is actually pretty good.

With fuel prices low, the idea of fuel surcharges have very little credibility. That’s why they’re now often renamed ‘carrier-imposed surcharges’ (which is essentially meaningless, but not fraudulent).

Here’s my guide to Understanding Fuel Surcharges.

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. …also the high British tax is included in there in many cases. That tax you’ll pay on BA or any other carrier to London.

  2. “Carrier imposed surcharges” is less of a lie, but still I don’t know why it’s legal. If I go to the grocery store to buy a half gallon of milk I pay the $2.00 for the milk, plus the state and local taxes of about 15 cents. They don’t (and can’t) tack on $1.00 for “grocery store imposed surcharges.” Why are the airlines allowed to get away with this?

  3. Another excellent way to Avoid Fuel Surcharges.


    Jus’ sayin ya know dawg. I know I know..” Paris in the springtime”. Bleck

  4. As for the grocery store analogy, yes and NEXT what we’ll do also is when we are finally READY TO LEAVE THE CAVE of self infatuation we will introduce the EBT button onto every online booking site so that guy at walmart who has a ‘cellphone’ and such who let’s face it hasn’t paid for groceries ( the whole bill) since 1992 can tell everyone how we’re picking on him.

    Actually I don’t have anything against the EBT program other than the fact that I found out that like eh 1/3rd of the country was getting them? 60 million? I think that’s got to be a misreported figure but who knows? Listening or reading a ‘news’ reporter these days is like listening to a roadside medicine salesman in Tucson circa 1882.

    Goes in the “These people from Hollywood” never graduated high school column. Oh really? that’s just wonderful. I hope my kids see that.. NOT

  5. Oh well. To each his own. I actually hope wherever anyone decides to go that they get there safely and are kind to each other.

    Tomato, Tomotto . Someday I’m sure I may travel that path just don’t see it right now.

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