Have you tried to use your hard-earned Aeroplan miles only to discover that taxes, fees and surcharges are almost as much as the cost of an economy class ticket? Frustrating, right? But before jumping to another frequent flyer program, become familiar with how to avoid Aeroplan fuel surcharges. Hopefully, the following three examples will provide some pointers.
#1: A PRESENT CASE STUDY
It’s now December 2015 and I’m wondering if it’s worth my while to redeem Aeroplan miles for a trip to Italy and Austria next April. Given the destination, time of travel and being just four months before departure, I’m somewhat skeptical. But it’s worth a look.
The trip involves a visit to Tuscany, hiking the Cinque Terre, cycling the Drau Path in southern Austria, and enjoying a few concerts in Vienna. So ideally, the most convenient flights would be from my home airport of Halifax to Florence and then back to Halifax from Vienna. In Aeroplan language, the overland travel between Florence and Vienna represents an “open jaw.” An open jaw allows one stopover (a stop longer than 24 hours). I consider that a bonus if it can be managed.
Some basics on fuel surcharges
All award travel attracts taxes and fees, and some award travel attracts fuel surcharges. So, taxes and fees are unavoidable, but it’s possible to avoid fuel surcharges.
When airlines price their tickets, the cost of fuel is one of the factors taken into consideration. Some airlines within the Star Alliance express that cost as a fuel surcharge and others simply build it in as a cost of doing business. Where a fuel surcharge exists, some airlines pass it on to their frequent flyer program members on redemption tickets, and some do not. Where they do pass it on, Aeroplan levies fuel surcharges on behalf of those airlines.
My first results
To find out what taxes, fees and surcharges are due, it’s necessary to search in segments. On the outbound leg to Florence, I found lots of itineraries for the last week of April. The taxes, fees and surcharges ranged from $96.06 to $406.46. From what I could see, the “$96.06 itineraries” had a reduced fuel surcharge of $15. All other itineraries included heftier fuel surcharges and with taxes and fees, ranged between $342.16 and $406.46.
For my ideal return date of May 17, the Vienna to Halifax itineraries attracted extra charges of between $280.72 and $333.90. As you’ve likely figured out, they all contained significant fuel surcharges.
By combining the “best” outbound and inbound itineraries (“best” being those with the lowest taxes, fees and surcharges), the best I could find was a return package costing $376.78. The most expensive would have cost $740.36. These are on top of the 60,000 miles (minimum) I’d need to redeem to travel in economy class. Business/first class costs a minimum of 90,000 miles. Any redemption under these circumstances represents a very poor value of Aeroplan miles.
How to avoid Aeroplan fuel surcharges
There’s only one way to avoid fuel surcharges: bypass the airlines that pass fuel surcharges on to their frequent flyer members. These are Adria Airways, *Air Canada, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal and Thai Airways.
Look for carriers that don’t pass fuel surcharges on to their frequent flyer members. These are Aegean Airlines, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca El Salvador (TACA), Brussels Airlines, COPA Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airways, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, TAM Airlines, Turkish Airlines and United.
*Air Canada has a fuel surcharge of $27 per direction for flights within North America. However, if your other flights are with carriers without fuel surcharges, there’s a good chance that surcharge will be reduced or disappear. Jeff at Canadian Kilometers explains how this works.
#2: WORKING AROUND FUEL SURCHARGES
Back to Italy and Austria. My best guess is that 98% of itineraries on my first search had fuel surcharges. The inventory was dominated by three airlines with fuel surcharges – Air Canada, Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa. That’s not surprising given my destination.
The workaround is to look for routes where carriers without fuel surcharges fly. Looking to snag Swiss? Search for routes through Geneva or Zurich. Because Halifax isn’t a hub for many international airlines, I looked for connections between Geneva or Zurich with Toronto or Montreal. United? I searched from Vienna (and nearby hubs) to New York, Boston, and even Chicago. EgyptAir? There were some attractive Vienna to Cairo and Cairo to Toronto options. However, Aeroplan’s rules are such that I couldn’t make them fit the Florence to Vienna open jaw.
All things considered, there were lots of possibilities, but the dates and connections were inconvenient. Additional accommodation costs would have been incurred for little benefit.
There was one exception. Turkish Airlines was also on my radar, and I wondered if a return trip to Istanbul might work. This, of course, would need decent connections with budget carriers to reach Florence and Vienna. There was an attractive itinerary with flights from Halifax to Montreal (Air Canada) and Montreal to Istanbul (Turkish Airlines) for $69.66. This looked promising.
The return flights from Istanbul to Montreal (Turkish Airlines) and Montreal to Halifax (Air Canada) cost just $20.40 in extra charges.
This would have meant a return trip to Turkey for $90.06. Very good.
To connect with Florence, I found a direct flight from Istanbul to Milan with Pegasus Airlines for 39.99 EUR. A direct flight from Vienna to Istanbul with Pegasus also cost 39.99 EUR.
So, flights to Italy, Austria and Turkey would cost a total of $211.76.
Istanbul is one of my all-time favourite cities. Had I not just returned from Istanbul a couple of months back, I might have been tempted. The other sticking point is that Istanbul is in a different points zone and it stretches the redemption amount from 60,000 miles to 75,000. After mulling it over, I decided to save a side trip to Istanbul for another time and those 75,000 miles for a more substantial trip offering a much better value for my Aeroplan miles. Which brings me to my third example.
#3: AUSTRALASIA WITHOUT FUEL SURCHARGES
In March 2017, I’m heading to Australia. That’s in a zone requiring a minimum of 90,000 miles for a return trip in economy class, and 160,000 in business class. Two stopovers are permitted on a return redemption. I tried a few return and one-way searches from Halifax to Brisbane using random dates ten and eleven months away. Every single search consisted exclusively of Air Canada flights with taxes, fees and surcharges of just a little under a thousand dollars. However, by searching in segments, it’s possible to find flights with other airlines. Here are some examples, all in business class. With the exception of a short flight with Thai Airways, none of them had fuel surcharges.
Unless I run into glitches with married segments or Maximum Permitted Mileage values, they might be able to be pieced together in a viable itinerary. If so, the trip will cost 160,000 miles in business class, and a total of $394.76 in taxes, fees and surcharges.
- Halifax – Toronto (Air Canada) – Istanbul – Muscat, Oman (Turkish Airlines): $77.16
- Muscat – Chennai/Madras – Singapore (Air India): $28.60
- Singapore – Bali (Singapore Airlines): $33.30
- STOPOVER IN BALI
- Bali – Brisbane (Singapore Airlines): $56.20
- Brisbane – Singapore – Yangon, Myanmar (Singapore Airlines): $95.40
- STOPOVER IN YANGON
- Yangon – Bangkok (Thai Airways) – Istanbul (Turkish Airlines): $83.30
- Istanbul – Montreal (Turkish Airlines) – Halifax (Air Canada): $20.80
Another option is to choose stopovers in locations where budget carriers provide service to other interesting destinations.
This is a much better use of those 75,000 miles referred to in the second example. With lie-flat beds and airport lounges, it makes for a very comfortable experience.
Don’t give up on Aeroplan. Just figure out how to avoid Aeroplan fuel surcharges. And accept that sometimes, it will be in your best interests to buy a revenue ticket and save your miles for a better deal. Take a look at a previous post, Minimizing Aeroplan taxes, fees and surcharges for additional clues. If you need to boost your Aeroplan account, review 25 Tips on earning Aeroplan miles. If you’re short on time, enlist the services of a consultant to find you a sweet Aeroplan award. Avery Campbell blogs at Don’t Call the Airline, part of the Boarding Area family, and runs his award booking service from Awarding Canada. Matt Dylan offers a service from A Whistle & A Light. Matt also moderates a wonderful Facebook group Canadian Flight Deals & Travel Hacking.
In the meantime, I’m on the hunt for the best deal I can find on a revenue ticket to Italy and Austria.
Please add to the discussion with suggestions or examples. If you’ve published a post on this subject, please include a link in your comments.