7 Best and 13 Worst Airlines for Fuel Surcharges

Airline fuel surcharges can increase the costs of your travels, even on award flights. See which airlines to fly and which ones to avoid due to their surcharge policies.
Last updated Sep 10, 2021 | By Ben Walker | Edited By Becca Borawski Jenkins
7 Best and 13 Worst Airlines for Fuel Surcharges

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as booking a flight using points or miles because it immediately cuts out a big cost for any trip. But have you ever gone through the process of booking an award flight and found you still owe money for some reason?

Unfortunately, this is likely due to taxes and fees being added on top of your base fare — and this often includes a hefty airline fuel surcharge.

To up your points and miles game, it’s best to understand that fuel surcharges are a normal part of booking flights, whether with cash or rewards. But if you want to get the most value from your award flights, it makes sense to book flights with airlines that don’t charge high fees — and avoid the ones that do. Let’s see how it works.

In this article

7 best airlines for fuel surcharges

Air Canada

If you book an award flight through the Air Canada Aeroplan program, you won’t have to pay carrier-imposed surcharges — whether it’s with Air Canada or a partner airline. This is a welcome change to Air Canada award flights that accompanies the revamped Aeroplan loyalty program.

Popular destinations to book through Air Canada Aeroplan include Hawaii and short-haul flights within North America, as well as flights to Europe and Asia.

Airline alliance: Star Alliance

Number of alliance partner airlines: 26

Number of destinations: Over 1,300 destinations in 195 countries

Alaska Airlines

Award flights through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan can have fuel surcharges, but not typically for popular partners, such as Cathay Pacific and Emirates. Though, you might see fuel surcharges passed on with award flights on British Airways and Icelandair through the Mileage Plan program.

Popular destinations to book through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan include Hong Kong and other cities in Asia, as well as multiple countries in South America.

Airline alliance: oneworld Alliance

Number of alliance partner airlines: 14

Number of destinations: Over 1,000 destinations in over 170 countries and territories

American Airlines

Fuel surcharges aren’t typically found on award flights through the American Airlines AAdvantage program, unless you’re flying British Airways or Iberia. Even without those options, you still have plenty of airlines and routes to choose from while avoiding fuel surcharges.

Popular destinations to book through American Airlines AAdvantage include Japan and South Korea, Europe, and the Middle East.

Airline alliance: oneworld Alliance

Number of alliance partners airlines: 14

Number of destinations: Over 1,000 destinations in over 170 countries and territories

Avianca Airlines

Avianca doesn’t charge fuel surcharges to any award tickets when booking flights through the LifeMiles program. This can be especially useful if you find award space through Avianca or one of its partner airlines to a destination you want to travel to.

Popular destinations to book through Avianca LifeMiles include Europe and Asia, as well as New Zealand and Australia.

Airline alliance: Star Alliance

Number of alliance partner airlines: 26

Number of destinations: Over 1,300 destinations in 195 countries

Delta Air Lines

If you do enough research when using the Delta SkyMiles program to book award flights, you shouldn’t end up with fuel surcharges. Pay extra attention to any flight originating in Europe or on particular airlines, such as Aeroflot, Aeromexico, China Eastern, and Czech Airlines. Delta doesn’t have carrier-imposed surcharges on domestic flights.

Popular destinations to book through Delta SkyMiles include the U.K., short-haul domestic flights in the U.S., and the Middle East.

Airline alliance: SkyTeam Alliance

Number of alliance partner airlines: 19

Number of destinations: Over 1,000 destinations in 170 countries

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines won’t impose fuel surcharges for award flights through its KrisFlyer program as long as you’re flying with Singapore. For partner airlines, you might have surcharges.

Popular destinations to book through Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer include Singapore, Hong Kong, and certain cities in Europe.

Airline alliance: Star Alliance

Number of alliance partner airlines: 26

Number of destinations: Over 1,300 destinations in 195 countries

United Airlines

United Airlines MileagePlus doesn’t pass on surcharges when booking award flights. This includes United flights and partner flights.

Popular destinations to book through United MileagePlus include short-haul flights worldwide, the Caribbean, Europe, and Peru.

Airline alliance: Star Alliance

Number of alliance partner airlines: 26

Number of destinations: Over 1,300 destinations in 195 countries

13 worst airlines for fuel surcharges

Plenty of airlines charge fuel surcharges, but here are some of the worst offenders.

Aeroflot

This Russian carrier flies all over the world, with flights primarily connecting through Moscow. You can expect fuel surcharges on most flights, though the cost will vary depending on your route. For economy fares between Moscow and the Americas or Asia, it’s $126 per flight segment.

Air France

Air France is a viable option for flying to France from the U.S., but you’re likely to get hit with some surcharges. If you want to reduce the risk of fuel surcharges, consider using your Flying Blue Miles for flights with Delta or Aeromexico.

All Nippon Airways

Expect surcharges for ANA flights, including to or from Japan. You might be able to avoid surcharges by using your ANA Mileage Club miles with partner airlines, such as United or Avianca.

Asiana Airlines

Asiana operates many flights between the U.S. and Asia, though you’ll typically have to pay surcharges on these flights. It might be worth it to look into award flights on partner airlines through the Star Alliance.

Austrian Airlines

You might consider a flight to beautiful Austria from the U.S. on Austrian Airlines, but watch out for the accompanying fuel surcharges. Similar to Asiana Airlines, Austrian is also part of the Star Alliance, which could be a useful avenue for finding partner flights with lower surcharges.

British Airways

British Airways is known for its high fuel surcharges, which are often applied when flying on British Airways flights or with partner airlines. Short-haul flights using Avios points are typically best, including within Europe and Asia, because the surcharges will be low.

China Eastern Airlines

Loads of SkyTeam Alliance airlines have high surcharges, including China Eastern Airlines. If you’re flying between the U.S. and China, consider how the costs on this airline might affect certain ticket prices.

Emirates

If you’re a luxury traveler, you’ve heard of Emirates. But you’ve also likely heard of its high fuel surcharges between the U.S. and the Middle East, as well as other destinations. However, Emirates has recently reduced its fuel surcharges, making it much more accessible for many travelers wanting to book award flights.

Booking through Japan Airlines Mileage Bank or Qantas Frequent Flyer could offer helpful award redemptions.

Iberia

Is it any surprise that an airline merged with British Airways has fuel surcharges? Probably not, but you might find Iberia tacks on fewer charges than its British counterpart.

Lufthansa

Similar to British Airways, Lufthansa often charges big fuel surcharges. If you want to avoid these charges, consider booking Lufthansa flights through a partner airline that doesn’t typically pass on surcharges, such as Air Canada, United, or Avianca.

Qatar Airways

Booking through Qatar Airways themselves may hit you with fuel surcharges and help ruin your flight with one of the best airlines in the world. But if you book through a partner airline that doesn’t often pass on surcharges, such as American Airlines, you might be able to avoid some of these fees.

SAS

A major carrier for Scandinavian countries, SAS has fuel surcharges on flights you might want to book between the U.S. and Europe. Though, it could make sense to look into partner flights with Star Alliance airlines to try and lower the fees.

SWISS International Air Lines

The Lufthansa Group owns SWISS, which means you should expect big fuel surcharges. Similar to Lufthansa, though, look for flights with partner airlines through Star Alliance if you’re interested in flying between the U.S. and Switzerland or other applicable destinations.

What is an airline fuel surcharge?

An airline fuel surcharge is a fee tacked onto your flight booking that’s supposed to offset the airline’s cost for fuel. It makes sense in theory — you need fuel to fly planes, and the people flying on the planes should help pay for it — but it’s uncertain what criteria airlines use to adjust this fee and whether this money is actually used for the cost of fuel.

And at the end of the day, added fees are almost always annoying, regardless of the context.

These fuel surcharge fees were initially added to the cost of bookings to combat rising oil prices. This made sense at the time because you need oil for jet fuel. But then fuel prices went down, and the fuel charges didn’t completely go away.

And in some cases, airlines changed the name from “fuel surcharges” to “surcharges” or something similar. This basically means airlines wanted to continue charging fees even if they had nothing to do with fuel costs.

But how does that affect you? Read on to see.

Why you need to understand fuel surcharges

The issue with these surcharges is that they aren’t always transparent. Many airlines roll fuel costs into their overall ticket pricing, so you aren’t surprised with an additional charge at the end of the booking process. But that’s typically not the case if you’re booking an award flight.

Award flights cost a chunk of your rewards, and many airlines will also charge airline fuel surcharges on top of the points and miles you’re using. If you think this is slightly unfair compared to cash ticket prices that often roll fees into your total ticket cost — it’s because it is.

It can be both shocking and disheartening to see huge fuel surcharges on a flight you were hoping would be free or nearly free. You’ve used the best travel credit cards to rack up rewards, and now an airline’s surcharges are getting in the way of your big redemption moment.

But if you learn how to spot fuel surcharges, it can be easier to avoid them, especially when booking award flights.

How to find the fuel surcharge

Wouldn’t it be nice if every airline had a page at the start of their booking process that showed exactly what to expect for fuel surcharges on any given flight? It would be, but that’s far from the reality of what to expect. However, it’s still not too difficult to find fuel surcharges with different airlines and flight routes.

One method is to go through most of the booking process with the airline you want to fly directly from their website. Choose your origin and destination airports, select your flight(s), and get to the point where you can see the total cost of your ticket. Then you should be able to see if there’s a fuel surcharge included in the ticket price.

But an easier method for checking flights on multiple airlines may be through the Google ITA Matrix airfare booking page. Here’s how to get started:

1. Head to the Google ITA Matrix website

Airline Fuel Surcharges

2. Select “Round trip,” “One-way,” or “Multi-city” from the tabs at the top

3. Input your origin and destination airports or cities

4. Click on the “Advanced controls” button

5. Input the airline code in the “routing codes” boxes for the airline you want to fly

6. Select your dates and passengers.

7. Select your cabin, stops, and other options

8. Input a currency (USD for United States Dollar)

9. Click on the “Search” button

10. Select your flights

11. If the breakdown of your ticket cost shows a “Carrier-imposed surcharge (YQ),” that’s your fuel surcharge

Airline Fuel Surcharges

Note: Using the Google ITA Matrix method can help you find fuel surcharge costs on flights paid in cash, but it doesn’t show the fuel surcharges on an award flight. However, it should give you an idea of what to expect either way.

How you can avoid airline fuel surcharges

Here are a few tips to consider when trying to avoid airline fuel surcharges:

  • Consider partner airlines: Most major airlines are part of an airline alliance or partner with other airlines. This means you might be able to book award flights through a partner airline instead of an airline with high fuel surcharges. Using this strategy, you might be able to avoid surcharges completely or simply lower them.
  • Avoid certain carriers: If you don’t want high surcharges, avoid the carriers that typically impose them. For example, don’t fly British Airways. This doesn’t mean you can’t use your Avios rewards, but it might make more sense to use them with a partner airline.
  • Pick specific routes: Where you fly can affect your flight’s fuel surcharges. For example, Australia and New Zealand have regulations on fuel surcharges, which means your flights originating from these countries would have little to no extra fees.
  • Earn flexible rewards: You don’t have to earn rewards from an airline to book award flights. While the best airline credit cards can be useful, if you compare credit cards, you might be better off with one that allows you to transfer points. The best rewards cards can give you options to transfer rewards to an airline that doesn’t have high surcharges or is partnered with airlines that don’t have high surcharges. Consider cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and The Platinum Card® from American Express if you want to earn flexible rewards that can be transferred to travel partners.

FAQs

What is an airline fuel surcharge?

An airline fuel surcharge is a fee added onto the overall cost of flight bookings. These charges were originally added to combat rising oil prices, but they’ve since become a mainstay for many airlines, regardless of fluctuating oil prices.

Is a fuel surcharge refundable?

Getting a fuel surcharge refund typically depends on the airline you booked your flight with and their policies. It could also depend on the specific situation with your ticket, including its fare class. For example, you might receive a partial refund of fuel surcharges on an ANA flight if you change your flight date and the fare price has decreased. However, you might not get certain fees refunded if you’re on a nonrefundable or saver fare.

Which countries regulate fuel surcharges?

These countries have regulations on fuel surcharges:

  • Australia
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Maldives
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Philippines
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Vietnam

Keep in mind that regulations will likely differ between countries. For example, fuel surcharges may only be limited if your flight originates from a certain country, but not if you’re flying into the country.

Bottom line

Fuel surcharges certainly aren’t fun, but they’re part of booking award flights (which are fun). If you’re new to using points and miles for award travel, it can take some getting used to searching for and avoiding airline fuel surcharges. But once you become more familiar with different rules, airlines, and routes — it should get a lot easier to figure out, whether you're flying to New York or London.

Keep in mind that the best value for your award flight might not always be tied to avoiding fuel surcharges. Some carriers may not have these charges, but they increase the amount of rewards needed to book an award flight. Remember to calculate the costs of each scenario to see what would make the most sense for you.

New, Higher Sign Up Bonus - Worth $1250 Toward Travel

Intro Offer

100,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Best offer ever! 100,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Typically need to spend thousands to reap rewards
Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Author Details

Ben Walker Ben Walker is a credit cards and travel writer at FinanceBuzz who loves helping others achieve their travel goals through financially-sound decisions. For nearly a decade, he has been using credit card points and miles for the sole purpose of traveling the world. Ben has been featured in The Washington Post, MSN, Debt.com, and Finder.com.