British Airways Gets Sued For Outrageous Fuel Surcharges

by on November 11, 2013 · 18 comments

in British Airways

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One of the most frequent complaints lodged against British Airways by frequent flyers is the fact that the carrier imposes ridiculously high surcharges on tickets – both paid and award – that end up driving up airfares and especially awards to prohibitively expensive prices. Well, apparently one group of four flyers was fed up and filed a lawsuit against British Airways claiming that these surcharges are unfair and not based, as BA claims, on the price of fuel.

British Airways fought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but on Friday, US District Judge Raymond Dearie in Brooklyn ruled that the plaintiffs, who are members of BA’s Executive Club frequent flyer program, had sufficient cause to sue and that the surcharges were not substantively based on fuel prices. In fact, in his decision, Dearie wrote that the rise in surcharges in the five-year period from 2007-2012 did not appear to be directly related to changes in fuel prices at all, especially since the airline admits that it doesn’t use fuel surcharges as a hedge against fluctuations. Score one for the consumer.

According to the suit, the plaintiffs claimed that British Airways unfairly added hundreds or thousands of dollars to award tickets as a means to boost revenue and compensate for “free” tickets. One piece of evidence was the fact that one flyer paid more in surcharges on a first class award than an economy ticket would have cost if purchased ($854 to be exact). One of the other plaintiffs booked two roundtrip economy award tickets and paid $1,437 in extra fees and charges, the majority of which were fuel surcharges.

British Airways Avios just got even more useful.

Will this be the end of pesky BA fuel surcharges?

British Airways tried to argue that the complaint wasn’t valid based on the deregulation of the Airline Deregulation Act, but the judge dismissed that

If you want to read the whole decision for yourself, you can find it here: British Airways Lawsuit Decision

So we’ll see how this pans out – it would be a real coup if those outrageous fuel surcharges on British Airways – and the ones that American also charges on flights into and out of Heathrow both on its own flights and on partner BA’s – were brought into line with those charged by United and Delta, which are closer to $150-$300. Even better would be if that forced Virgin Atlantic to lower its fuel surcharges as well so that flying award tickets to/from London once again became reasonable.

However, on the other side of that equation, I suspect that if fuel surcharges are cut down to size, we might see British Airways join the devaluation club – of which United and Delta became charter members this past week – and raise the mileage requirements on awards across the board, making those distance-based gems like high-priced short-hauls much more expensive.

All in all, I think flyers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want to pay those exorbitant and seemingly irrational fuel surcharges, but if we get our way with those, I suspect we’ll have to start using a lot more miles on BA and possibly American redemptions. Bottom line is, though this might be a battle won for consumers, chances are we’ll end up paying for it in the long term.

For more information, check out my post on Which Airlines Have the Highest Fuel Surcharges.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • jonathanwthomas

    Good! I’m so sick of the taxes and surcharges making up 2/3 of the ticket price. If they succeed in this – the next thing that needs to happen is Air Passenger Duty in/out of the UK to be reduced.

  • Sam Wolfe

    Brian, are there any thoughts on BA eventually being ordered to return the ‘fees’ to customers? I’m not demanding them, just curious what a possible outcome may be. I haven’t read the FT thread and will shortly, but wanted to hear your (well-informed!) thoughts…

  • Joshua Gould

    I experienced that recently. I booked a trip home on BA for Christmas. If I used my Avois it would have cost £460 opposed to paying £720 for a regular economy ticket. I ended up paying the £720 as I figured it would be best to save the points for a more costly trip in the future.

  • Jon

    As long as AA does not react by raising THEIR award redemption costs, I’m happy to see this lawsuit.

    But I am NOT looking forward to award devaluation across the board for the sake of a single destination.

  • Nick D

    I’m glad someone is finally doing something about it!

  • jmw2323

    one way or another, the consumer will be screwed

  • Dieuwer

    Fuel surcharges to and from Brazil are illegal and airlines flying Brazil seem to do fine. One more sign that these “fuel surchages” are a scam and should be outlawed across the globe.

  • Yankees

    I have made peace in mind that BA points in my currency for shirt haul domestic. Good point TPG cause this might just cause a devaluation.

  • Suzanne Gwinn

    Thank Goodness! I hope they change this. This is the only direct flight to Europe from PHX and I refuse to fly on BA because of the horrible fees. It would be awesome to just get on a plane and have that be our only flight (or two max) instead of one to the east coast and then on the to our European destination.

  • Allen

    “we’ll end up paying for it in the long term.”
    We already are.
    Also, it looks like this will turn into a class action law suit, so we might be getting some money back from BA.

  • Wandering Aramean

    Dearie didn’t actually pass judgement on whether the YQ tracked fuel prices or not. The ruling simply meant that if the claimants can prove that claim then they be able to win the case. Getting past this phase in the process is actually generally trivial if there is anything resembling a properly written suit and even a glimmer of reason behind it. The next steps are where there is real potential for things to happen one way or the other.

  • Chris

    “…those charged by United and Delta, which are closer to $150-$300.” United doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on award tickets. Are you conflating this with government-imposed taxes (namely the UK APD)?

  • HK

    Good to see the lawsuit in process. Those charges make Avios and AAdv miles useless for most international travel.

  • clvus

    I’ve never had the desire to buy into the BA/ American FF program ( Virgin too come to think of it) because of these ridiculous charges.
    United charges $5 tax SFO to LHR.

  • tivoboy

    I’ve been saying for years (okay, since about 2008) that this is all just accounting malarkey, to reduce the overall “revenues” against which any tax authority could charge taxes. “our revenue on that SFO-LHR flight was only 76$, but our COST to deliver the services was 676$ in fuel costs, etc.” so what happens, taxed revenues cost down dramatically. Was this creative accounting on the part of the airlines, or were the governments looking aside during a period when they wanted to give the airlines every chance possible to remain flying and offering an economy benefiting service? Only time will tell

  • Noosa beachfront accommodation

    Good article. Thanks for sharing. I guess we are looking at a air fare increase.

  • John

    totally agree with this rip off, was trying to book a long flight using my miles and the BA charges seems to be higher than direct fee paying booking, despite paying 40,000 miles.. this is beyond rip off

  • David Stephens

    Just googled to see if there were any updates on this? I couldn’t find any recent news. Anyone know how this was resolved?

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