Originally levied as fuel surcharges, airlines began imposing their own additional fees a decade ago. While industry regulation has ensured that these fees can no longer be referred to as “fuel surcharges,” it’s not quite clear what these mysterious – and highly variable – charges are for.
Even the most clued-up of travelers can struggle to decode the pricing of their plane tickets. Various add-ons contribute to the final cost, but, what’s not always clear, explains the Wall Street Journal, is the breakdown of fees imposed by carriers upon their passengers.
These fees, which the outlet reports were initially imposed a decade ago as fuel surcharges, are often rolled into government taxes.
However, these charges, writes the outlet, are “truly arbitrary.” While they aren’t related to the distance traveled, these surcharges can “vary wildly by direction of travel.” In some cases, they can add up to more than the base fare and are subject to market fluctuations.
Citing two examples, the outlet reports that, “A $638 Virgin Atlantic round trip between New York and London breaks down to a fare of only $93, a carrier-imposed surcharge of $320 and government taxes of $225. A British Airways basic economy ticket lists the fare at $13 and “taxes, fees and carrier charges” at $545 for a total of $558.”
Because of industry regulation, carriers can’t describe these mysterious fees as “fuel surcharges,” but it’s not always evident what these charges are for.
“Some carriers have said the surcharges partially cover costs beyond the company’s control … A curious traveler has to drill down to see the breakdown between airline charges and government or airport assessments. It’s not always obvious that an ‘international surcharge’ goes to the airline,” reports the outlet.
But many carriers don’t provide clarity as to the breakdown of these fees and this lack of transparency leaves passengers none the wiser.
These fees have been common among European carriers for years, but airlines like American, Delta and United have been reticent to take up their enforcement. However, things are slowly changing in the U.S., with many now beginning to tag them on to the purchase price.
Commenting on the uptake of this practice, Jay Sorensen, a frequent-flier program consultant and president of Wisconsin-based IdeaWorks Co., said, “I look upon these as loyalty killers. They grease the bottom line, but they have a chilling effect on loyalty.”