Updated on March 26, 2014
Updated on March 26, 2014
I had a friend who wanted to start collecting and using miles, but then almost immediately got turned off from the idea when her ticket to Europe ended up costing nearly as much as a revenue ticket would have. Huge disappointment.
This exact problem is why I think the complex world of fuel surcharges is the first thing a budget traveler should learn about if they are interested in using miles and points to save on travel.
Because the reality is you could have the same miles as someone else and spend $500 on your “free ticket” instead of $0 just because you didn’t know about booking intentionally to avoid fuel surcharges. You see, some mileage programs include these fuel surcharge fees on award tickets and some do not.
If you use United miles to redeem a Lufthansa ticket, you’re fine, but if you use Lufthansa miles to redeem a United ticket (outside of the Americas)…that will have fuel surcharges.
To navigate through the challenge of fuel surcharges, you have to start with this basic question.
…then you pretty much have nothing to worry about and this is the best case scenario. United Airlines for instance does not pass on fuel surcharges to their award tickets. American Airlines also is practically in this category, (though for whatever reason they do pass on fuel surcharges for flights redeemed with British Airways/Iberia).
… then you have to do some research as to which partners in the alliance of that mileage program do not have significant fuel surcharges to pass on in the first place.
You must also know that most of the airlines with worth-while mileage programs are part of an alliance. This basically means that the airlines in an alliance help sell flights for one another but also offer a broad range of redemptions too. If you collect United Airlines miles, you can redeem those miles for flights with anyone in the Star Alliance (like Lufthansa, THAI, Singapore, etc.)
So really, we have to know three things.
If you are collecting miles with United, Avianca, TACA, or US Airways (soon to be part of One World Alliance), you don’t need to worry about it because they don’t pass on fuel surcharges to award tickets.
But if you are collecting miles with Air Canada and Lufthansa, mileage programs that DO pass on fuel surcharges, you will want to book tickets on these low-to-no fuel surcharge partner airlines:
1.) Air NewZealand
5.) US Airways
6.) United (within the Americas)
If you are collecting miles with American Airlines, you pretty much don’t have to worry about it, except when redeeming on British Airways.
But if you are collecting miles with Air Berlin or British Airways, you’ll want to redeem on one of the low-to-no fuel surcharge partner airlines:
1.) Air Berlin
2.) American Airlines (within the Americas)
If you are collecting miles with Alitalia, Delta, KLM, or Korean Air, try to book on one of the low-to–no fuel surcharge partner airlines:
While this post can serve as a bit of a reference for you, you will also find an even more extensive post about airline alliances, fuel surcharges, and frequent flyer miles on Drew’s site.
Really though all of this talk about fuel surcharges just reiterates my affinity for American Airline miles and United Miles. It’s all well and good to educate yourself on where to redeem your miles to avoid the fuel surcharges, but what do you do when the partner with the low fuel surcharge doesn’t have any availability for your desired destination? AA and United earn major brownie points in my mind simply for making a free ticket so much more likely. An actually free ticket. Not a free ticket that suddenly has a steep fee tacked on.