How to Save $200 in Taxes When Flying Home from the UK

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.

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, 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. I must be missing something.

    I priced out a BA award ticket in coach from Paris, London to Newark, using their stopover feature (I did it for a week and then for less than 24 hours), it priced to w/e amount of Avios and 332 dollars.

    I did it from London to Newark and it was w/e amount of Avios and 296 dollars. How are you getting the “APD” fee removed?

  2. Gary, I have the same question as Jay, above. I am flying on award tix IAD-LHR-JNB and return, and I am getting hit with the APD both ways. When I tried NYC-Paris-LHR-JNB I was still hit with the APD. Do the pax have to file for a refund after the fact, and if so, how do we do it? Thanks.

  3. @Jay If you’re seeing $296 on taxes from LHR to EWR on BA, something is wrong. Taxes from LHR to EWR on BA in business class should be around $475. From CDG, it should be about $100 less. (This is because France also imposes considerable taxes. Same with FRA. Places like AMS would be about $60 cheaper.) I’m guessing you’re looking at economy, not business class. The difference in economy is less pronounced, maybe $80 or so. I always have thought the advice to start on the continent was overrated, unless you’re already going to go there.

  4. You should be ‘hit’ with fuel surcharges on BA flying IAD-LHR-JNB but not with the APD if you are flying on one ticket traveling onward within 24 hours.

  5. @Jay : That’s strange. Your CDG-LHR-EWR with <24 hrs in LHR should have had more of difference (around $100-110). You don't receive the full benefit of APD removal as CDG airport taxes can be between $50-$100 depending on your class

    @Margita: LHR-DUB does have APD but as it is shorthaul the fees are less (approx.$17-$35 depending on class of travel). If transiting then you won't pay this amount.

    @Kimmie: I don't know in which system you are pricing the ticket but the BA award system does not charge APD if layover <24 hrs. However, there is also a Passenger Service Charge which is charged irrespective of the duration. Is it possible you are being hit with this rather than the APD?

    @Gary: While what you have said is correct. If booking from BA website there are a couple of more obscure options available for removing APD. There is a great article on HFP regarding this.

    It should also be pointed out that if booking through BA site following applies:

    1) If connecting to a longhaul from LON, no additional miles required for INV-LHR or JER-LGW (the connection is free) . However, INV-LHR is all economy and JER-LGW has Business Class.

    2) FlyBe routes will remove the APD (where applicable) but you do need additional miles for the FlyBe route which connects to your longhaul

    3) European shorthaul connections <24 hrs will remove UK APD but also require additional miles for the European Leg (if booking via BA) and APD will be replaced with the European airport taxes. So you dont receive full APD savings ( Sample airport charges for J: LUX: $5, OSL: $15, ZRH $40, CDG $100 )

    While point 2 is a obscurity (and BA reservation specific), point 3 may be useful for some readers of this blog even if booking via AA due to Tax changes.

  6. Following the previous thread, I submitted a request for APD refund to SAS, and was denied, because my inbound flight on AA and my connecting flight on SK were on two separate tickets, even though they were the same day. They said specifically that it had to be on a single ticket.

    Looking at the UK APD regulation, it says:

    “The connected flights must be detailed on the same ticket or conjunction tickets to qualify for the exemption. Tickets can only be regarded as conjunction tickets if:

    a. they are in one booklet, or
    b. where they are in separate booklets:
    each refers to the other and states that they are to be read in conjunction
    there is a summary of the flights constituting the passengers journey including the flights in question

    Although the flights may meet all the other criteria for determining whether 2 flights are connected, they will only qualify for the exemption if the connection is evidenced on the ticket or a flight summary.”

    Obviously this is a reg that dates back to paper tickets, in “booklets.” Maybe I’m just out of luck, but are there any magic words anyone has used, or is SK just taking a more strict interpretation than UA?

  7. Northern Ireland also has concessional APD rates, so you could start in Belfast as well. There’s talk of extending concessional rates to all Scottish airports.

  8. Next month we’re flying on an American Airlines award to Heathrow; but on the way home we’ll fly to Dublin from London (using Avios), then right on to the U.S. from there. (So the American ticket is booked for MEM-LHR, DUB-MEM.) This saves most of the fees too!

  9. I did something similar two years ago on an award ticket. Flew back LHR-LIS-EWR and used the savings on the taxes towards a two day stopover in Lisbon.

  10. Dear Mrs

    Thanks for your call regarding a refund request on 29 February.

    We’ve looked into your request and I’m afraid we’re unable to refund any Air Passenger Duty charges as your flights were on separate bookings. I understand this wasn’t the answer you were looking for, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

    Best regards

    British Airways Customer Relations Executive

  11. Thats why we decided to use united to fly PHX-HOU-LHR and then use DUB as a stopover no additional air miles and little in taxes and then fly home DUB- JFK- PHX the taxes were less than a quarter than from England …..I think in the $50 from Dub versus $240 from London……so well worth it and a few days in Dublin plus you can clear US customs in Dublin

  12. Tested this out with a AUS-LHR-INV award ticket on AA & BA for one person – ended up with $872 in Taxes and Fees (CARRIER-IMPOSED FEES $713; PASSENGER SERVICE CHARGE (UNITED KINGDOM) $74 were the biggest ones).

    Am I doing it wrong?

  13. @Chris you are seeing an award with fuel surcharges. The only thing this does is eliminate the air passenger duty on flights departing the UK.

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