I always tell people new to the game that earning the points or miles is the easiest part of the equation. Understanding how to best leverage your miles and points into luxury travel and not pay an arm and a leg in taxes, that’s usually the crux of the problem. We’re not going to cover off finding the award availability here but I’ll break down one of the hardest parts of the equation, how to decide which airline(s) to fly so that you aren’t paying $800 in taxes for an “award” flight to Europe.
What Are Taxes Comprised Of?
For the most part, the taxes that you pay on an award flight are very comparable to what you would pay on a revenue ticket. Typically in Canada, that means that you are paying for things like airport improvement fees, security fees, GST, and other inescapable taxes. You may also notice things like US customs, immigration, and agricultural fees if you are flying to the United States. Each country has its own set of taxes that they levy on all passengers landing in their country.
Those taxes and fees don’t bother me and are just a fact of life. The one “tax” that’s on there that is purely a money grab is the “Carrier Surcharge”. This used to be called “Fuel Surcharge” until government regulations required that these “fuel surcharges” needed to be tied to the actual cost of fuel. This happened in and around 2012 and since that time, airlines tiptoed around that regulation and now call their cash grab “carrier surcharge”. You will often find people in the miles and points game refer to fuel/carrier surcharge as “YQ” as this is the code that most airlines use to file these taxes. I’ll be referring to Fuel/Carrier Surcharge intermittently though this article as “YQ”.
Avoiding YQ as an Air Canada Altitude Top Tier Member
There are a few ways to avoid fuel surcharge, chief among them is to avoid the airlines that charge it (which we’ll cover later). Another method to avoid YQ is to be an Air Canada Altitude Elite Member. Altitude Prestige 25K and above members receive a YQ waiver on Aeroplan Award Redemptions on Air Canada operated flights for travel within Canada and between Canada and the US. Those lucky few that make it to Super Elite receive a YQ waiver on all Air Canada operated flights when booking an award redemption, including international awards.
I’m going to assume that most of you are not Altitude Top Tier Members but you may know someone that is. A fun fact is that your Altitude Top Tier Member friend could book an award flight in your name and the ticket would be exempt from YQ. Getting the Aeroplan miles into your friend’s account is another matter. Definitely not impossible but it also carries some inherent risk.
Star Alliance Airlines that Do Not Charge YQ
The other and most common-sense approach to avoiding fuel surcharge is by avoiding airlines that charge it.
Now there are many blogs out there that claim that X, Y, Z airline doesn’t charge YQ but have they actually gone through the work required to prove it out? I don’t know the real answer but I expect that many of them are regurgitating previously posted information.
I didn’t want to do that so I am following up my previous post on Star Alliance Partners that don’t charge fuel surcharge and updating (to ensure everything was up to date) and adding something a little more visual.
Below is a mindmap of sorts that shows you which airlines charge fuel surcharge, which do not, and which have an “it depends” attitude around YQ.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Airlines in green represent airlines that do not charge fuel surcharge. Airlines in red represent those that do charge fuel surcharge. Airlines in yellow are oddly situationally based so watch out for those.
- The mindmap is ordered by geography, which is handy so you can understand what airline you should be trying to find award availability on based on your destination. For example, if you are travelling to Europe, go to the Europe branch and look for the airlines that are based in Europe that don’t charge YQ.
- Beside each airline, I list their hub airports and if there is a direct flight to a Canadian city, you’ll see a maple leaf.
- In the mindmap, each hub airport has a link that takes you to the Google Map of that airport so you can see exactly where you are flying to.
- To zoom in and out, simply press the CTRL key and use your scroll wheel on your mouse or use your keyboard and use the key combination of CTRL and + (zoom in) or CTRL and – (zoom out). You can also click the icon in the top right to go full screen.
List Format of Airlines and Their Associated Taxes
For those of you that want a simple way of seeing what airlines do and don’t charge fuel/carrier surcharge, fret not, the information is below. I have added screenshots of the tax breakdown for each airline and the routes that I searched. If the airline had a direct flight to Canada, that was what I used. If they did not, my next best option was direct flights to the US. Failing either of those, I searched for flights to major hub cities.
I include both short-haul and long haul (international) flights in my screenshots.
Airlines that DO Charge YQ (8)
Each airline sets their own YQ and it can be changed at any time so while it is true that some airlines charge more for YQ than others, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to try to determine that because airlines often don’t fly the same routes so it’s not an apples to apples comparison anyways. Suffice it to say, you should avoid these airlines.
- Adria Airways (JP)
- Air Canada (AC)
- Air China (CA)
- All Nippon Airways (NH)
- Austrian Airways (OS)
- Asiana Airways (OZ)
- Lufthansa (LH)
- Thai Airways (TG)
Airlines that Cannot Make Up Their Minds on YQ (3)
There are three airlines that I have found that sometimes do charge YQ and sometimes don’t. I haven’t had enough time to determine why this is, just that there are inconsistent results. The lesson here is to exercise caution when booking these airlines. The only positive thing here is that only LOT has direct flights to Canada and the US so the likelihood of it affecting you is somewhat slim.
- Aegean Airlines (A3)
- Croatian Airlines (OU)
- LOT Polish Airlines (LO)
Airlines that Do NOT Charge YQ (16)
Here is what you’ve been after, the list of airlines that do NOT charge carrier/fuel surcharges (YQ). If you can use these airlines for the majority of your trip, you will have a very small amount of cash outlay required to book your award travel, and isn’t that really the goal?
Personally, I obsess over deriving the most value out of my miles so I go out of my way to avoid airlines that charge YQ. Hopefully, you can make use of this list and do the same.
- Air India (AI)
- Air New Zealand (NZ)
- Avianca (AV)
- Brussels Airlines (SN)
- Copa Airlines (CM)
- EgyptAir (MS)
- Ethiopian Airlines (ET)
- EVA Air (BR)
- SAS (SK)
- Shenzhen Airlines (ZH)
- Singapore Airlines (SQ)
- Swiss Airlines (LX)
- South African Airways (SA)
- TAP Airlines (TP)
- Turkish Airlines (TK)
- United Airlines (UA)
While doing the research for this post, there were a few interesting things that I ran into because I had to validate all these fuel surcharges, specifically how difficult it was to find availability for certain airlines and/or routes.
While I’m sure you will run into your own patterns, here are some of the things I found:
- Air India routes between Delhi (DEL) and North America were very difficult to find
- Singapore Airlines routes between Singapore (SIN) and North America were very difficult to find.
- Air New Zealand routes between Auckland (AKL) and North America were very difficult to find.
In addition to the above, I ran into one WTF moment when I was searching for Ethiopian Airlines (ET) routing between Addis Ababa (ADD) and Toronto (YYZ). Not only was YQ applied on an airline that doesn’t charge YQ, but airport taxes were charged for France, Germany and Ethiopia.
It is notable that the routing is a direct flight (not non-stop) as it routes through Dublin (ADD-DUB-YYZ) but the only countries that could possibly charge taxes are Ethiopia, Ireland and Canada so why the airport fees were charged as they were, I have no idea.
What you should take from this is that errors do happen in the automated calculation of taxes so be diligent and check them over.
For the standard collector and member of Aeroplan, the idea that you might pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in taxes and fees make the program unattractive. Those in the know understand that there are ways to avoid a very unnecessary tax, fuel/carrier surcharge (YQ).
My hope is that you bookmark this post, share it with friends, and use the hell out of it so that you too can derive the most value possible out of the Aeroplan program.