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.

Vancouver to Los Angeles Aeroplan Award fees

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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.

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.

Interesting Findings

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.

Conclusion

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.

Jayce is the founder of PointsNerd, and avid traveller and a teacher by nature. He prides himself on flattening the learning curve through step-by-step guides because everyone needs to start somewhere.

12 COMMENTS

  1. LH pro-tip: flights to india or asia from germany have no YQ, and flights from canada/US connection through germany to asia get much lower YQ compared to other flights.
    ORD->FRA in J, YQ=$791.80
    ORD->FRA->PEK in J, YQ=$514.60
    FRA->PEK in J, YQ=$0

  2. I really don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I looked up Zurich to Montreal via Swiss in the aeroplan app and it still showed the carrier surcharge. Any guidance would be appreciated!

    • Hi Ellen,

      It’s very likely that while you are looking for the right route, you are looking for the right carrier. Only Swiss Airlines (LX) offers no fuel surcharge. Air Canada also flies this route and definitely does charge fuel surcharge. You also have to be careful that you aren’t looking at a connecting flight. For example, if you saw something like YUL-FRA/MUC-ZRH, you would very likely be flying with Lufthansa (LH), who also charge fuel surcharge. Hope that helps. Cheers

      Jayce

  3. One thing to note if you’re doing a complex itinerary like a (now defunct, sorta) mini-RTW.. the total fee you’ll pay is not simply the sum of the fees quoted for each segment of your journey.
    In fact, it might be a lot LESS.

    My itinerary is YYZ-LAX-ICN-NRT-BKK-SIN-PER-SIN-BKK-IST-TXL-ZRH-YUL-YYZ. This includes flights on AC (YYZ-LAX and YUL-YYZ), NH (NRT-BKK), and OZ (LAX-ICN, ICN-NRT). (I took care to fly SQ, TK, and LX on the other legs).

    Somehow, the total taxes and fees I was charged (excluding the Aeroplan telephone booking fee..) was only $429.16, which was less than half of what I thought it’d be by looking at each flight in isolation. In fact, LAX-ICN alone I was quoted $212.30!

    • You’re absolutely right Joe. When you add up the YQ on all the legs separately, that’s the worst-case scenario of what you might be faced with for YQ. In my experience, you never pay that amount and it tends to be a lot less.

      Now how airlines figure out how to charge those taxes is a bit of a mystery and something that I might look more deeply into at a later date, but for right now, I don’t have the answer.

      Jayce

      • I booked mRTW trip in Asia recently before the changes and taxes/fees for the trip was exactly the total of all the individual segments.

    • Perhaps beyond the scope of this article but country restrictions on the application of YQ is also worth considering. For instance AC YVR-MEL has $355 in YQ but MEL-YVR has $15 owing to the Australian restrictions on charging YQ on departing flights. Think Japan and Brasil also have similar rules.

  4. HI Jayce, Perhaps worth noting that if a multi stop flight is later changed by the carrier to use an Airline that normally charges YQ, the charge is not retroactively billed to the traveler. I recently had some segments of my Mini RTW change to Austrian airlines via VIE and no YQ was applied. Gus

  5. Hello Jayce,

    Came here at a reference by Prince of Travel – and find your blog very useful!
    What is the case with YQ in a case of a codeshare flight?
    For instance – there is YYZ-LHR flight that is marketed as TAP – but operated by Air Canada. Tap doesn’t charge YQ, while AC shamelessly does..
    Thanks.

    • Hi Alex and welcome to the blog!

      You’ve asked a very interesting question and one that is quite nuanced in its answer. YQ is decided upon by the marketing airline, the airlines that shows up in your search when you go to Expedia, Travelocity, or any other Online Travel Agency (OTA). The operating carrier, the carrier that actually flies the plane, need to concur with the collection of YQ. If they do not, YQ is not charged. In your example where there is a YYZ-LHR flight that is marketed as TAP but operated by AC, TAP would determine whether or not to collect YQ. TAP does not collect YQ, therefore there would be no YQ charged on your ticket.

      Now this only really occurs when you are talking about a revenue flight because on award flights, the marketing and operating carrier are one in the same. In your example, TAP cannot offer up award space on an AC flight because only the operating carrier has that right.

      In short, you cannot try to find a codeshare award flight to get out of YQ because … well, they don’t exist.

      Hopes that makes sense and helps. Cheers

      Jayce

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