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Complete guide to taxes and fees on airline tickets

Sept. 07, 2022
9 min read
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If you've ever looked at the price breakdown of a plane ticket, you may have noticed taxes and fees tacked on to the final fare price.

Some of these are required by the government of the country from which you are departing, such as the 7.5% excise tax for domestic flights and a segment fee that the U.S. government charges.

The second category of fees is surcharges imposed by the airlines.

You'll see these taxes and fees whether you use cash or redeem an award ticket; fees placed on award bookings can be especially high since airlines want to recover more than just the value of the redemption itself due to high fuel costs.

This guide examines these different ancillary costs of airline bookings so you're not caught off-guard the next time you book a flight.

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Government-imposed taxes and fees

Nearly all flights are subject to government-imposed taxes. KEVIN DIETSCH/GETTY IMAGES

When you book a flight with cash or miles, expect to pay various taxes and fees. These fees may be imposed by the country in which your trip starts, the country in which your trip ends or both.

The amount of these fees can vary significantly. For example, you've likely noticed a $5.60 fee for flights in the U.S.

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The U.S. Transportation Security Administration instituted this fee, known as the Passenger Fee or the September 11 Security Fee, in response to the 9/11 attacks to help offset the costs of additional security. You'll see the fare tacked on to all flights from the U.S., regardless of carrier.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES

"The fee is collected by air carriers from passengers at the time air transportation is purchased," according to TSA. "Air carriers then remit the fees to TSA."

TSA raised the fee to its current price in 2014, but the round-trip fee cannot exceed $11.20. Most countries have similar charges for flights, often referred to as a passenger service charge.

For example, the United Kingdom applies an Air Passenger Duty on all international flights departing from the U.K. based on the distance traveled and the fare type. As a result, these fees for flights from the U.K. can range anywhere from $16.50 to $218, depending on the route and ticket type.

In addition to passenger service charges, virtually all countries impose an air transport tax. In the U.S., there's also a federal segment fee and a passenger facility charge of up to $18, determined by the U.S. airport(s) from which you are departing.

Other charges you might come across on U.S. flights are only applicable to certain routes. For example, there is a 7.5% base fare for domestic travel from the continental U.S. to Hawaii.

If you're flying internationally from the U.S. with a layover, know that you'll be on the hook for the taxes and fees of each country you take a flight from. For example, take a look at the below round-trip flight on American Airlines, from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), with a layover each way at Heathrow Airport (LHR).

AA.COM

Although the base fare is only $1,100, the overall price includes more than $600 in taxes and fees; it includes a $5.60 U.S. security fee, $78 in German taxes and a $70 passenger service charge from the U.K.

AA.COM

Each carrier should provide a breakdown detailing the taxes and fees applied to your ticket. There's also $400 in carrier-imposed fees, which we will get to next.

Related: Everything you need to know about American Airlines AAdvantage

Carrier-imposed charges

British Airways is notorious for high fuel surcharges on premium-cabin tickets. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

In addition to government-imposed taxes and fees, you'll also see carrier-imposed fees.

In the case of award tickets, these fees come from the operating carrier, not the program you use to book your award ticket. However, you may or may not be liable for actually paying them depending on the loyalty program you use to book your award ticket.

This is where my warning comes in about these carrier charges being extremely expensive. I recently discovered this when attempting to book award travel through ANA Mileage Club.

As we've previously covered, one of ANA’s best sweet spots available for award travel is its 88,000-mile round-trip business-class award availability to Europe. This makes it a great option for booking tickets on other Star Alliance partners, such as Air Canada, United and Lufthansa.

The typical business-class award ticket to Europe through other programs — such as American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus — usually costs 115,000 to 154,000 miles round-trip. So, transferring points and booking through ANA is a seemingly fantastic deal.

In conducting a test for this story, I searched for award availability on ANA for a round-trip ticket from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Vienna International Airport (VIE).

ANA.CO.JP

You'll likely have to play around with your dates to find a round-trip flight with business-class fares on each segment. I eventually found a round-trip business-class ticket at the 88,000-mileage price tag for early 2023.

ANA.CO.JP

Although I was thrilled to find this, I was startled to see nearly $2,000 in taxes and fees tacked on to the base mileage fare; the fees were composed almost entirely of carrier-imposed surcharges.

ANA.CO.JP

For context, booking the same flight through United would cost 147,000 MileagePlus miles plus just more than $62 in taxes and fees.

UNITED.COM

So what's the reason for this discrepancy? Austrian Airlines adds fuel surcharges — one of the most common carrier-imposed surcharges — to its award tickets. ANA Mileage Club passes these carrier-imposed surcharges on to the consumer while United MileagePlus doesn't charge them.

This example is precisely why it's important to know which frequent flyer programs pass on fuel surcharges to their customers. Regarding Star Alliance award tickets, other programs that don't pass these on include Air Canada Aeroplan and Avianca LifeMiles.

However, that doesn't mean all ANA Mileage Club award tickets will have high fees.

Thankfully, many airlines do not add fuel surcharges to award tickets. Some of these airlines are TAP Air Portugal, SAS and United, among others. No matter how you book an award ticket with one of these carriers — whether through United MileagePlus, ANA Mileage Club or another Star Alliance program — you'll only pay the government-imposed taxes and fees.

For example, this business-class award ticket from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Lisbon Airport (LIS) costs 88,000 miles and $56.67 in taxes and fees after currency conversion.

ANA.CO.JP

It's also important to note that these surcharges depend on the route you’re flying and the class of service you’re booking.

Related: How to fly business class to Europe with no fuel surcharges

Additional award-booking fees

Air Canada Aeroplan is one of the few loyalty programs that adds partner booking fees. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Finally, it's also important to note the fees associated with the ticket itself; some airlines charge additional costs for award travel depending on how you book, including close-in fees and service fees for booking via phone.

Although most airlines have eliminated close-in booking fees for travel booked within a certain time frame of departure, some airlines still charge an extra fee for this.

Airlines may charge you extra to book via phone. For instance, United charges $25 for most United MileagePlus members (excluding Premier Platinum and Premier 1K elite members) and Alaska Airlines charges a $15 call center service charge plus a $12.50 booking fee each way for all of its partner bookings.

Additionally, some loyalty programs charge a fee for booking partner award tickets. Air Canada Aeroplan charges roughly $30 for all tickets booked with a partner airline. Likewise, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan charges $12.50 per partner award ticket booked.

Finally, some frequent flyer programs will impose change or cancellation fees to modify or cancel an award ticket. Thankfully, most U.S. airlines ended this practice during the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

Bottom line

Award fees for airline bookings vary from frequent flyer program to frequent flyer program. Some pass on carrier-imposed surcharges while others don't. Likewise, some airlines add fuel surcharges, while others do not.

Before you make an award booking, browse through different airline booking portals to find a flight with the right combination of minimal miles and minimal surcharges.

For even more information on how to best avoid extra surcharges on bookings, read:

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg, Kyle Olsen and Andrew Kunesh.

Featured image by Emirates A380 First Class. Photo by Brian Kelly / The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
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  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023