My list of things I hate about the UK is fairly short. At the very top of that list is bacon rolls and ketchup flavored crisps. Immediately below that is their outrageous air passenger duties, in particular for premium cabin passengers.
When I book award tickets to the UK for clients in first or business class, I’m often asked “why the heck are the taxes so high? Are they charging fuel surcharges?”
While some airlines do charge fuel surcharges (like British Airways), all airlines have to charge their passengers originating in the UK the air passenger duty, which varies in price.
However, there are a few things to know about the taxes that can potentially save you hundreds of dollars depending on what kind of a trip you’re taking.
First let’s go over the cost of the air passenger duty. The air passenger duty varies depending on how long your trip originating in the UK is (0-2,000 miles, 2,000-4,000 miles, 4,000-6,000 miles, or 6,000+ miles), and whether you’re flying in economy or a premium cabin.
As of now, the cost of the air passenger duty is as follows:
0-2,000 miles: £12 for economy or £24 for premium
2,000-4,000 miles: £60 for economy or £120 for premium
4,000-6,000 miles: £75 for economy or £150 for premium
6,000+ miles: £85 for economy or £170 for premium
The air passenger duty apply to travel originating in the UK. It’s essentially a departure tax. You don’t pay this if you’re flying into the UK, but rather only when flying out of the UK.
As I said above it applies to travel originating in the UK, so let’s talk a bit about what that means. If you’re on a ticket and flying from New York to Frankfurt via London with a connection of less than 24 hours, you’re merely a transit passenger and not originating in the UK. Therefore you don’t pay the tax. The same applies if you’re flying the other way around.
However, if you were flying from New York to Frankfurt via London and stopped in London for 25 hours you’d be considered a passenger originating in the UK for that segment from London to Frankfurt, and would have to pay the departure tax of £12 for an economy ticket or £24 for a premium cabin ticket.
To hopefully make this a bit easier to conceptualize, let me put it in terms of an example.
Let’s say you want to fly from New York to Dublin via London both ways. Let’s look at the difference in taxes depending on whether you’re just connecting, stopping in London on the way out, or stopping in London on the way back.
As you can see below, you’re just connecting in London in both directions. You have no stop there of more than 24 hours, so you’re not charged the UK air passenger duty. The taxes on the itinerary in business class are $110.50.
As you can see below, you’re stopping over in London on the way out for more than 24 hours before continuing to Dublin. Therefore you have to pay the UK air passenger duty for the London to Dublin flight, which is £24 (because the flight is less than 2,000 miles). On the return you’re just connecting in London, so you’re not charged the UK air passenger duty. The taxes on the itinerary in business class are $139.20.
As you can see below, you’re just connecting in London on the way out, so you’re not charged the UK air passenger duty. On the return, however, you’re stopping over in London for more than 24 hours, so have to pay the UK air passenger duty for the London to New York flight, which is £120 (because the flight is between 2,000 and 4,000 miles). The taxes on the itinerary in business class are $319.80.
So hopefully that makes a bit of sense now. As you can see above, all the itineraries include the same four segments, but the taxes can vary by more than $200 depending on when and where you stop.
Let me share a personal example just to reinforce the idea.
On my recent round the world trip I was flying from Melbourne to London on Qantas, and then on a separate ticket from London to Los Angeles on Air New Zealand two days later. If I had left the ticket as is I would have been responsible for the air passenger duty for the London to Los Angeles ticket, which would have been £150 in business class. This is because on that ticket I was originating in the UK, meaning the tax would have been charged.
Instead I tagged on segments to Vienna for both tickets. So instead of flying Melbourne to London and then two days later from London to Los Angeles, I booked Melbourne to London to Vienna (with a two hour connection in London), and then two days later Vienna to London to Los Angeles (once again with a two hour connection in London).
Not only did that allow me to see a great new city, but I saved the £150 premium cabin air passenger duty just for adding two flights. That’s because on the second itinerary London went from being my point of origin to just a connecting city.
There’s one last thing worth clarifying — the above mileage zones are based on the total distance of your journey. In other words, if you fly from London to Frankfurt to New York (without a stop of more than 24 hours in Germany), you’re still charged the departure tax based on the distance between London and New York.
So what’s the takeaway here?
- If you’re going to have a stopover in the UK, do everything in your power to have it be before a segment of less than 2,000 miles. That’s to say that if you live in New York and want to visit London and Dublin, visit London first, so that you’re only charged the air passenger duty for London to Dublin instead of for London to New York.
- If you can plan a stopover of just under 24 hours in the UK by all means do it, assuming you’ll be able to make the stop worthwhile.
- If you do have to fly to the UK from a far away place, consider having a stopover of just over 24 hours in a different country. For example, even if my destination was London and I didn’t want to go anywhere else, I would probably do something like New York to London and stopover for as long as I wanted, then London to Dublin, and then back to the US via London again, which saves me about $200USD. I could have done a direct turn in Dublin and it would have still avoided the tax.
- If you’re going to fly to the UK one direction in business class and one direction in coach, fly the outbound in business class and return in coach so you can dodge the premium cabin air passenger duty, given that it’s based on your segment originating in the UK. American, for example, charges those passengers using systemwide upgrades to London the air passenger duty. So if you wanted to avoid that, only upgrade your outbound to London and not the return.