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How to avoid fuel surcharges

Find out how to avoid paying fuel surcharges when you book your flights using frequent flyer miles.

Are you trying to book a flight using your frequent flyer miles? Chances are, you’ve probably come up against some unwanted taxes and fees in the process. The bad news is that many of these fees are set in stone and difficult to navigate around. The good news is that a few of these charges can be avoided if you know which airlines to book with.

Fuel surcharges, for example, are some of the most common fees imposed by airlines to make an extra buck. But not all airlines charge extra for fuel, which means it pays (quite literally) to know which ones won’t include these fees. This guide aims to give you that information, in the hope that you’ll get a better idea of where you can save money on your next flight.

What are fuel surcharges?

Fuel surcharges (also known as carrier charges) are extra fees that many airlines add to their seat prices to help cover the fluctuating cost of fuel. These charges were originally introduced by airlines to account for increases in the price of gas. The problem is that many airlines haven’t removed these extra charges since the price of gas has gone down.

This means that many airlines continue to charge hundreds of dollars to cover a cost that doesn’t actually exist. And these fees seem to crop up more often for travellers booking their flights using their frequent flyer miles or points. But don’t worry, there are a couple of ways that you can avoid paying fuel surcharges which we’ll delve into below.

How can I avoid paying fuel surcharges?

There are two main ways to avoid paying fuel surcharges in Canada. One is to book with an airline that doesn’t pass the price of fuel on to its customers. The other is to fly with any airline to a country that regulates the imposition of fuel surcharges on flights to and from its airports.

If you’re using your rewards to book your flight, you may also want to look for a frequent flyer program that will let you exchange your miles to pay for your fuel surcharges. This means that you won’t have to pay them out of pocket.

How can I find out what my fuel surcharges will cost?

The best way to find out how much you’ll pay for fuel surcharges is to look at the taxes and fees portion of a flight you want to book. From there, you’ll usually be able to find a breakdown of the extra costs associated with your flight. You should look for a heading that mentions “fuel surcharges” or “carrier-imposed surcharges” to figure out how much you’ll have to pay for this extra charge, which is imposed by the airline itself.

Airlines with no or low fuel surcharges

There are a number of airlines that have very small fuel surcharges that you can book with to save money. The following airlines tend to offer low or no fuel surcharges on a range of their international flights.

Air IndiaAir New ZealandAvianca
Brussels AirlinesCopa AirlinesEgyptAir
Ethiopian AirlinesEVA AirShenzhen Airlines
Singapore AirlinesSouth African AirwaysUnited Airlines

Keep in mind that these airlines charge low carrier fees on select routes, but may charge higher fees depending on where you fly. It’s important that you do a bit of research and compare the fuel surcharges that each airline levies for the flight you want before you book.

Airlines with higher fuel surcharges

There are also many airlines that have higher fuel surcharges based on collective research. You should still compare these airlines when you’re booking your flights, with the awareness that you’ll likely pay more for fuel surcharges with these carriers.

AsianaAir FranceAir Canada
Austrian AirlinesBritish AirwaysChina Eastern Airlines
EmiratesLufthansaSAS
SWISS InternationalWestjetThai Airways

Again, you should keep in mind that these airlines might offer better terms for their flights despite the fuel surcharges. It doesn’t hurt to include them when you compare your options to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

Countries with fuel surcharge regulations

In addition to the airline you fly with, the amount you’ll pay for fuel surcharges will depend on where you fly. You’ll usually pay much lower fees to fly short-haul and domestic flights. You’ll also pay less to fly to countries that regulate fuel surcharges on flights. You can expect to pay less when flying to and from the following countries:

AustraliaArgentinaBrazil
China (for domestic flights)Hong KongJapan
New ZealandTaiwanThailand
PhilippinesTurkeyVietnam

How the law for each country regulates fuel surcharges will depend on which country you intend to fly to. Many countries will still allow airlines to levy fuel surcharges, but they’ll put a cap on how much you have to pay, which will usually be lower than what the airline might traditionally charge.

Using your miles to pay for your fuel surcharges

Depending on your frequent flyer program, you might be able to use your miles to pay for your fuel surcharges and other taxes. This means you won’t have to pay out of pocket for your extra fees, even though you may have to hand over a larger portion of your hard-earned miles to cover the difference.

The only issue with this method is that you may end up getting less value for your points or miles than you would if you redeemed them directly for flights. For this reason, you might be better off finding an airline that charges low or no fees instead of using your miles to cover the extra costs.

Compare credit cards with airline miles

Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
35,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$139
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn up to 35,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that’s up to $350 towards travel). Apply by July 4, 2022.
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
45,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$120
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 45,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that's up to $450 towards travel). Apply by July 4, 2022.
American Express Cobalt Card
30,000 points
Up to 5x points per $1 spent
20.99%
$155.88
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 30,000 Membership Rewards points in your first year. Earn 2,500 Membership Rewards points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $500 in net purchases on your card (up to 30,000 points).
BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard
60,000 points
Up to 5x points per $1 spent
20.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($150 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 760
Get up to 60,000 points and get the $150 annual fee waived in the first year.
BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege
90,000 points
5 points per $1 spent
20.99%
$499
Min. recommended credit score: 760
Get up to 90,000 welcome points in your first year.
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Bottom line

It’s easy to save money on fuel surcharges when you book flights with airline miles, especially if you know where to look. Use this handy guide to figure out which airlines offer no to low fuel surcharges on flights booked with your airline miles, and which destinations you can fly to to avoid paying these fees.

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