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Fuel surcharges or carrier-imposed charges. Together, those are arguably the two most hated phrases in the points and miles world. As much as we would like to avoid them altogether, often it is impossible to do so. When you've been in this hobby long enough, you're aware that there is no such thing as “free travel” with miles. It is one thing to have to pay $50 in taxes/fees when you redeem your miles for an award ticket. It is an entirely different matter to have to pay $500, or more.
Nonetheless, there are some positive aspects to these surcharges, as strange as that may sound. For one, they keep supply up as it drops the demand; fewer people are willing or able to pay them. They can also make seemingly unrealistic award bookings possible.
To that end, here are five instances beyond the obvious (i.e. ‘there are no other options available') in which it can make sense to book awards that incur fuel surcharges:
1. When the surcharge-heavy option cuts total travel time or connections significantly
Time is money. Therefore, if by paying an extra few hundred dollars you can get to your destination six hours earlier or you can get there on a non-stop flight instead of having to go through two connections, the extra hassles you are saving yourself from are likely worth more than what you would be paying in surcharges.
2. When the number of points or miles saved has a greater value than the surcharges you would pay
This often happens with Star Alliance awards to Europe. Let's say you have the option of redeeming 110,000 United miles and paying no surcharges for a Lufthansa first class award to Germany or redeeming 70,000 Aeroplan miles (transferred from American Express) and paying $426 in fuel surcharges for the same redemption. While having to pay an extra $426 is a lot, the 40,000 additional United miles you would have to redeem to avoid the fuel surcharges could provide significantly more value to you in the future.
3. When the surcharges are relatively low
Not all airlines that impose fuel surcharges impose the same amounts. British Airways, Emirates (booked directly) and Air Europa awards are among those that will incur the highest fuel surcharges and are often best avoided. Think at least $400 per passenger each way for premium cabin awards to Europe.
On the other hand, fuel surcharges for premium cabin awards with Singapore Airlines, Iberia and Air France/KLM to Europe are usually under $250 and sometimes much less. Depending on how many other options may be available, those are fuel surcharges rates that could be worth paying.
4. When you have a big family
For families of four or more, it is likely that the only way you will be able to get your entire party to fly together is by booking awards that incur fuel surcharges. In these cases, keeping your party together is likely worth more than whatever you will have to pay, particularly if there are small children involved.
This was precisely the case for an award booking I worked on a couple of years ago for a family of eight traveling from Australia to Europe. They were only willing to consider business class options and were well aware of the complexities of their request. Therefore, they did not mind at all paying over $500 per passenger in fuel surcharges with Singapore Airlines for the entire itinerary.
5. To be able to fly what is considered to be an exceptional product
It is impossible to fly on Singapore Airlines' A380 Suites without having to pay fuel surcharges. No one ever complains about them (although they are relatively small).
Among other extraordinary products for which fuel surcharges can come into play are Emirates A380 First Class, Korean Air Kosmo Suites 2.0 and Lufthansa First Class (on some aircraft).
While we all hate them with a passion, there are some positive aspects related to fuel surcharges. There are also some instances in which it makes absolute sense to pay them.
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