Say you want to fly to the US. Did you know that you’ll pay less in fuel surcharges if you use your Qantas Points on an American Airlines flight rather than a Qantas flight? With Velocity Points, some airlines are subject to high carrier charges, but others have no additional fees on top of the airport taxes.
Choosing the most optimal routes and airlines is one strategy to minimise the taxes, fees and fuel surcharges on flight bookings. (Choosing where you fly to or from is important as well, but that’s covered in a separate guide).
Airport taxes are more-or-less fixed, but carrier charges can be tacked on at an airline’s whim. And they can often add hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in extra fees to your reward seat booking.
Velocity Frequent Flyer
Among the two major frequent flyer programs in Australia (the other being Qantas), Velocity generally has lower taxes and fees attached to its bookings. However, a few major partner airlines attract carrier charges – Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and Etihad.
The good news is that these carrier charges are transparently listed on Velocity’s website. The highest carrier charge is US$320 per sector for Etihad First Class on flights over 4,000 miles. Virgin Australia’s carrier charges are AU$10 for domestic flights and go as high as $70 for international short-haul Business Class.
So which partner airlines don’t have carrier charges with Velocity Points? Those are:
- Virgin Atlantic
- Air Canada
- All Nippon Airways
- Hawaiian Airlines
- South African Airways
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Thankfully, Qantas reduced its carrier charges in 2019 and are fairly reasonable now. Domestic flights incur an extra charge of $14. It costs up to $350 extra for a one-way Business or First Class reward seat between Australia and Europe.
But Qantas Frequent Flyer is a big program with many partner airlines. Unfortunately, most of them levy carrier charges, and Qantas passes them on. There’s also no easy way to find out what those charges are without doing a search. But a select few don’t incur carrier charges (or have reasonable charges). These include:
- American Airlines
- Fiji Airways
- Japan Airlines
Conversely, Emirates is now known to have the highest carrier charges in the industry, costing hundreds of dollars per sector. But there are a few ‘fifth-freedom’ routes where Emirates doesn’t have carrier charges. These include:
- Singapore to Melbourne (that direction only – the return is significantly higher)
- Sydney to Christchurch (and return)
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Singapore Airlines does not apply any carrier charges to its own flights, potentially saving hundreds of dollars compared to booking the seat via Velocity Frequent Flyer. The downside is that it’s usually harder (and far more expensive) to acquire KrisFlyer miles over Velocity Points.
If you have lots of Velocity Points, one strategy is to convert them to KrisFlyer miles (1.55 to 1) to save on the carrier charges and potentially access more award seat inventory.
Power up your points balance with this deal.
Summary of other major international programs
1. US airlines lead the pack in low fuel surcharges
The three US legacy carriers, American, United and Delta – plus the Avianca LifeMiles and Air Canada Aeroplan program – all avoid adding on fuel surcharges in most cases. However, the notable exception is AAdvantage subjecting redemptions on British Airways and Iberia to an extra cost.
The most common way for travellers from our region to get their hands on points in these programs is through buying miles promotions. Our pick is Avianca LifeMiles or Air Canada Aeroplan for Star Alliance and American Airlines AAdvantage for Oneworld. Each program does have its quirks so you’ll need to read more about them.
2. British Airways Avios: stay away from BA
BA’s frequent flyer program is famed for adding high fuel surcharges, especially to its own flights. The best value is found on its partner airlines. Here are some of our tips for booking the best-value award flights with your Avios points:
- Focus on domestic redemptions on partner airlines: within Australia on Qantas, the US on American Airlines, Japan on Japan Airlines, and Europe on Aer Lingus.
- Qatar Airways redemptions with Avios no longer attract significant carrier charges.
- If you want to make a redemption on an Iberia-operated flight, your fuel surcharges will be lower if you redeem your Avios through Iberia Plus rather than British Airways. You can transfer your Avios between British Airways and Iberia at 1:1. However, note that to transfer your Avios to an Iberia Plus account, that account needs to be open for at least three months. It must also have previous points activity.
How to find carrier charge prices
Carrier or fuel surcharges are shown as a co-payment when you are searching for flights as a points redemption on a frequent flyer program website like Velocity or Qantas Frequent Flyer. You can look there for the exact amount of fuel surcharges added. Or you can get a pretty accurate estimate of these surcharges by searching on Google’s ITA Matrix.
On the Qantas website, look for the squiggle (~) in the cash co-payment section to see the carrier charge. In the example below, $1,138 of the overall $1,232 co-payment is actually just an Emirates carrier charge. If Emirates abolished carrier charges, you’d theoretically only have to pay $94 on the side for the ticket!
Many of us have been in the situation where we have found an available reward seat that suits us ideally. However, we’re also slugged with high fuel surcharges. Knowing that there are some better options with lower fees can help direct your searches to those airlines.
Have you tried reduce your surcharges when redeeming award seats? This is a dynamic guide, so please comment below and we can add it in!
All images courtesy of respective frequent flyer programs. The featured image depicts an Emirates Business Class reward from Melbourne to Singapore (AU$1,229 taxes) and Singapore to Melbourne (SG$85) at the time of writing.