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Redeeming points and miles for free flights. There aren’t many experiences that feel as rewarding as this…
But, it’s not always perfect. And for programs where points or miles only cover the base airfare, you’re sometimes left with a high taxes and fees bill to pay – and a sour taste in your mouth.
Why does this happen? Well, it’s actually not the taxes and fees that are commonly the problem, but a 3rd charge you may have to pay – fuel surcharges, also commonly known as carrier surcharges.
Depending on your airline and your destination, this can be pretty expensive and really take a bite out of the value of your rewards.
Do all flights have fuel surcharges? No they don’t – it’s actually a mixed bag. It’s all up to the airlines.
So, here’s your guide to avoiding carrier surcharges – the airlines to use, the ones to avoid, and the best programs for avoiding fuel surcharges.
And while this will be focused on airline programs, the information found here also applies to rewards programs that have flight charts.
In Canada, these are:
- the Amex Fixed Points Travel Program,
- the CIBC Aventura Airline Redemption Chart, and
- the RBC Air Travel Redemption Schedule.
Why? When you use these charts, you also have to pay any taxes, fees, and carrier charges with them.
- Tips to avoid fuel surcharges
- Airlines that charge the most fuel surcharges
- Best reward programs for no fuel surcharges
4 tips to skip airline fuel surcharges
Alright, so how do you avoid these charges?
Here are our tips on saving even more on reward flights.
One thing to keep in mind? Other than 1 exception (as you’ll see in tip #2) these charges are unavoidable for flights within Canada.
Both WestJet and Air Canada have them, and there’s no way around them. However, they’re relatively small, and AIR MILES and Aeroplan both give their greatest value on flights within North America as well.
Tip 1: Research your rewards flights
When booking reward flights, leave no stone unturned.
Make sure you look at multiple airlines and check out alternative airports as well, both at home and your destination.
For an example, let’s look at some flights between Calgary and Houston, booked through Aeroplan.
Here’s a Fixed Mileage trip operated by Air Canada:
$201 in taxes, fees, and surcharges? Let’s see the details on those numbers:
And there it is. The top number is a carrier surcharge, adding an additional $69 to your trip.
With this in mind, United also flies this route. Let’s see what changes if we use them…
For the same dates, United could get us there (but there were no options on the way back):
That carrier surcharge bill got clipped in half, and would have gone to $0 if we were able to fly United both ways. And some of the other fees were decreased as well.
Here are the details on them:
Now, there’s one tip to keep in mind for Air Canada which we’ll get into in tip 2.
But first, let’s look at WestJet, since they fly this route as well. Here’s what they’d charge if you booked through AIR MILES:
WestJet also has high taxes and fees, similar to Aeroplan (although this total also includes the $15 booking charge AIR MILES levies).
Here’s the breakdown:
The carrier surcharges fee is a bit less than Aeroplan at $50, but it’s still there.
However, a quick perusal of the search results shows this Delta option that saves almost $50 for the same number of miles:
The way there has one stop in Minneapolis, but the way back is a direct flight, operated by WestJet.
The lesson here? With AIR MILES, you can book Delta flights operated by WestJet, and still save the carrier surcharges.
Tip 2: For Aeroplan, check the Market Fare tab on North American flights
If you’re looking to book an Aeroplan ticket within North America, Aeroplan waives the carrier surcharges on these flights only, giving you a cheaper taxes and fees bill to pay.
Using our previous example, here’s what the Market Fare equivalent looks like:
This trip requires more miles – 13,500. But look at the taxes and fees bill – only $73.80:
That carrier surcharge is gone, as well as a few other fees to boot.
So the question is, is spending the extra miles worth it? In this case, the answer is no.
Our previous example (using the United flight) would have cost $625.00. Deduct the taxes and fees bill of $140.47, and you’re looking at a mile value of 1.94 cents – pretty good for Aeroplan.
The Market Fare flight, however, only has a value of 1.43 cents, using the same flight cost of $625.
But it’s good to at least check Market Fare flights, as they do have sales and on occasion the miles required can drop below what a Fixed Mileage flight would require – making it an even greater deal.
To learn more about the difference between Fixed Mileage and Market Fare flights, Aeroplan has this great page explaining the differences.
Tip 3: Leave direct from a U.S. airport
For more savings, consider driving down to a border city, and fly from there on your rewards.
If your flight is within the United States, you’ll only pay $11.20 USD in taxes and fees, which works out to about $15 CAD.
Don’t believe us? Let’s look at some flights between Detroit and Seattle.
Here’s what Delta SkyMiles would charge:
There’s also the option of Alaska Airlines:
And American Airlines (although the flights aren’t direct):
How can you book rewards flights on these airlines? Not through AIR MILES, since it only allows bookings that either start or end in Canada…
You can find out more in the best rewards section below.
You could also book this trip using Aeroplan and fly on United. The taxes and fees bill is slightly higher, and the flights aren’t stellar, but it gives you an idea of how much less the taxes and fees are compared to the other Aeroplan redemptions we’ve looked at:
These taxes and fees are half of the Market Fare flight we saw earlier – and for only 25,000 miles.
This also works for travel anywhere, as U.S. carriers typically have low taxes and fees.
Tip 4: Know your transfer options
Depending on who you collect your points with, you may have access to transfer options to other programs.
But if you’re smart with your transfers, you can get around these.
The most expensive airline fuel charges
So what airlines should you try and avoid?
Here are the bigger ones with frequent flights into Canada that you need to be wary of.
It’s our largest airline, but it’s also our biggest culprit. Air Canada has some very high taxes and fees to pay.
They’re relatively small for flights within North America, but travel across an ocean and they skyrocket.
We’ve already compared Air Canada to United for flights within North America, so let’s look at airlines that fly across the Atlantic.
Here’s a trip from Toronto to Istanbul. The flights across the Atlantic are on Air Canada, with Turkish airlines taking over for the 2nd leg:
Ouch. $710 in taxes and fees, $580 of which are carrier surcharges…
Compare that to this itinerary, which only uses Egypt Air and Turkish Airlines:
That’s much better – we’re down to $91.56, an almost unbelievable improvement over Air Canada.
And if you’re thinking to check the Market Fare flights, the taxes and fees won’t change – carrier surcharges are only waived on flights within North America.
And since Air Canada doesn’t fly this route direct, it won’t be there either since only Air Canada operated flights can be booked with Market Fare flights.
British Airways is another large carrier that charges high taxes and fees.
That doesn’t mean their partners do though. For example, American Airlines has pretty low fees. Cathay Pacific is also lower, though not as low as some others.
You can learn more about British Airways Executive Club here.
Air Canada’s largest European partner is unfortunately a culprit as well. Many options you see for flights to Europe may involve Lufthansa, and they have the same huge rates as Air Canada.
However, depending on where you’re flying in Europe, you may have to take them for some part of your journey. Just try and make sure it’s not your flight across the Atlantic.
Sadly, our other major carrier is also here.
As we saw earlier, WestJet also has some carrier surcharges you’ll have to pay. For our Canada to U.S. flight, it was a little less than Air Canada, but still pretty expensive.
What about a flight to Europe? Here’s the price breakdown for a flight from Toronto to London:
Again, it’s not as much as Air Canada, but it’s still another $320 you’ll have to pay with either WestJet Rewards or through a flight chart like the Amex Fixed Points Travel program.
Best rewards programs for no fuel surcharges
So what programs are best for getting around huge fuel surcharges?
Here are the top options in Canada for you to consider, and the credit cards associated with each program.
It may seem strange to see Aeroplan here, but Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance and they have quite a few partner airlines that charge low taxes and fees that can be booked through Aeroplan.
We’ve also seen that for expensive long haul flights inside North America, the carrier surcharges are reasonable even when flying on Air Canada operated flights.
Our examples above proved that both Air Canada and Lufthansa operated flights should be avoided when flying across the Atlantic Ocean, and Austrian Air, ANA, and Asiana operated flights are all less than stellar in this department as well.
But there are many more airlines that have low fees on reward flights. Here are the key ones that fly into Canada and the U.S. you can use to avoid a high taxes and fees bill:
- Air China,
- Air New Zealand,
- Brussels Airlines,
- Egypt Air,
- EVA Air,
- Swiss Air,
- TAP Portugal,
- Turkish Airlines, and
It’s not all of them, but it covers the more common ones.
Now, if you’re thinking, “I don’t live in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver where all these airlines fly and I still need an Air Canada flight to get to one of these airports.”
No problem. Just make sure your flight across an ocean is operated by the low-tax carriers, and you’ll be fine. You’ll still see a carrier surcharge bill, but it will be far less than if you had flown Air Canada for the majority of your trip.
Top Aeroplan credit cards
Related: Best Aeroplan Credit Cards In Canada
Amex Membership Rewards points
It’s not an airline program, but if you collect American Express Membership Rewards, you can transfer your points to 6 different airline options.
What are they? And at what rates do they transfer points? Here they are:
Aeroplan is here, transferring at a 1:1 ratio. So too is British Airways Executive Club, which also transfers at a 1:1 ratio.
And while British Airways has high taxes and fees, you can redeem their points on American Airlines, and any other airline that is part of the OneWorld alliance, which has low fees on reward flights.
There’s also Delta SkyMiles, which transfers at a 4:3 ratio. And while not ideal, not only does Delta have low fees, but so do all OneWorld alliance as well, which includes Air France and KLM.
Fixed Points Travel Program
Or, instead of transferring to an airline partner, you can also use Amex’s Fixed Points Travel Program. Book any flight on any airline and use points to cover the base airfare. You have to pay any taxes, fees, and carrier surcharges.
How can you tell what you’d have to pay? Simply make a booking through Amex travel, and click on price breakdown on the first flight you want to book.
Here it is for the WestJet flights we looked at from Calgary to Houston:
$144 is less than what we saw earlier, which means Amex isn’t passing on the fuel surcharges.
However, on our WestJet flights from Toronto to London, the fuel surcharges are back:
If you collect Amex Membership rewards, this can also be a great way to book a flight.
You can find more details on how everything works in our Membership Rewards guide.
Amex Membership Rewards credit cards
Note: Points collected with the
The only U.S. airline program that issues credit cards in Canada is the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
While they only operate flights in Canada to Alberta and B.C., they also operate out of a few key border cities like Detroit and Seattle.
You can use your miles on 18 other carriers, many of which also charge low taxes and fees on rewards flights.
Some of these airlines include:
- Korean Air,
- Qantas, and
Alaska Airlines credit cards
United MileagePlus (via Marriott Bonvoy)
While on the surface it may seem similar to Aeroplan, United MileagePlus has one key difference – they don’t charge any carrier surcharges, regardless of airline.
Let’s look at some Lufthansa & Air Canada flights.
Here’s a flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt, operated by Lufthansa and Air Canada, and booked through Aeroplan:
Woof. Almost $792 in taxes and fees.
So what about United?
You saw that, right? Only $197 in taxes in fees, or about $600 less, on the same flights for the same amount of miles…
Yes, United can be worth it. Basically, you won’t have to worry about which carrier you fly with.
But, other than flying on United or Star Alliance carriers, there’s only one way to get United MileagePlus miles in Canada – transferring from Marriott Bonvoy.
Marriott Bonvoy points transfer at a 3:1 ratio to MileagePlus. When you transfer to United, Marriott also gives you 10% bonus miles on top.
To make things even sweeter, when you transfer to any of their airline partners in 60,000 points increments, you’ll get another 25% bonus miles on top of that.
So say you transfer over 60,000 points, you’d get:
- 20,000 base miles,
- 10% bonus miles from transferring to United for another 2,000 miles, and
- another 5,000 miles from Marriott as part of the transfer.
That’s a total of 27,000 miles from transferring 60,000 points, cutting the transfer ratio down to 2.2:1.
Marriott Bonvoy has over 40 airline partners you can transfer points to. So check them out here and see if there are any others you could make use of.
Most other major U.S. Airlines are here, including Delta, American, Alaska, and Southwest, as well as top international carriers like Emirates, Air France, KLM, and Qantas – all of which have low taxes and fees.
Marriott credit cards
There’s only one Marriott personal card in Canada, the
However, Amex Membership Rewards will let you transfer your Amex points to Marriott Bonvoy at a 5:6 ratio.
These cards are:
We want to hear from you
There you have it – tips and strategies to lower those taxes, fees, and carrier surcharges bill.
You’ve got the airlines to avoid, the ones to fly on, and general tips to help get the most out of your airline miles.
Have any tips to share? Are there carriers we missed that charge low taxes and fees?
Let everyone know in the comments below and share the knowledge.