Understanding the UK Air Passenger Duty (and how to minimize it)

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.

Scenario 1:

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.

Scenario 2:

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.

Scenario 3:

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.
Does that make sense? Any questions?

Comments

  1. Beth says

    Confused on takeaway #3.
    Are you saying
    1) you’d just book the extra London-Dublin legs but not fly them, or
    2) you’d add those legs and actually fly them to save the $200?

    If you really only wanted to go NYC-LHR RT might not be worth the extra flight time/connections to save the $200.

  2. lucky says

    @ Beth — You would actually need to fly them. Agree it might not be worth it, but if you’re into earning extra miles or spending some time in a new city essentially for “free” (or at a cost savings), it could be worth it.

  3. Mark says

    One minor correction–the distance that the charge is based on is *not* the distance to the final city in that leg, but rather the distance to the capital city of the country in which it resides. As such, there is no difference in fees between flying LHR-BOS or LHR-LAX, even though the second flight is much longer. This has actually been a point of contention with many Caribbean countries–people flying there from the UK have to pay higher taxes than if they went to Hawaii, even though Hawaii is much further.

  4. says

    Here is a tricky one. I flew LCY-DUB in coach and then DUB-ATL in business (less that 24 hour stop). Now I understand that the distance is calculated LON-ATL (or rather LON-WAS) but do I pay the tax for coach or business?

  5. deltaGOLDflyer says

    Hi Ben. How hard do you find it is to use BA miles on FINAIR. I am looking at ORD-HEL-GOT and don’t see much ever for low level biz seats! Thanks.

  6. jorgeluis500 says

    Another great post
    The takeaway could also be:
    Don’t fly into/through the UK, connect in Amsterdam, Paris o Frankfurt instead :S

  7. lucky says

    @ deltaGOLDflyer — Finnair is, in my experience, very stingy with premium cabin award availability. So I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but it’s definitely one of the toughest OneWorld airlines to get longhaul business class award availability with.

    @ Planereality — I know I’ll get shot for saying this, but it’s the bacon. I hate bacon with a passion.

  8. bluto says

    Very useful post.

    Though, your anti-bacon bias is making me consider asking for a refund of my subscription fee.

  9. lucky says

    @ bluto — Hey, I’m just trying to cut all the fat out of the blog and lean out the content a bit. ;)

  10. thrashsoundly says

    Here’s another option to throw out there if you really want to visit London. Since the fee is an origination fee, fly to London and then open jaw to another location like Paris and then if you need to, use London as a connection on the way back. Thanks for the breakdown on the fees!

  11. chemist661 says

    For the FT London DO, I flew into LHR and out of Brussels. I wanted to go to add Brussels on my itinerary. Bought an one way train ticket London-Brussels that cost $62. Saved quite alot of $$.

  12. jmd001 says

    From AA, I “bought” two award seats into LHR. Later, separately, directly online from BA, I bought a pair of economy seats from LHR to Milan (LIN) on a flight that leaves about 3 hrs after arrival at LHR.

    Is there any way to get back the £12 I assume I paid for each of the BA tix?

  13. lucky says

    @ jmd001 — Unfortunately I don’t think so, since it’s based on the itinerary you’re flying on for any given ticket.

  14. beachfan says

    Great post lucky!

    Now if you could compare YQs, that would be great. Have you noticed how much higher BA’s YQ is for US based passengers than UK passengers?

  15. Askia says

    If I want to go IAD-LHR, do a 2-3 day stopover in London, then Chunnel to Paris, is their a way I can fly back from Paris to IAD and therefore avoid the origination fee? Thanks.

  16. lucky says

    @ Askia — Since you don’t have any flight originating in the UK, you wouldn’t have to pay the tax.

  17. LIH Prem says

    Excellent post and examples and the comments enhanced it even more. Nicely done.

    -David

  18. ML says

    Really useful post, thanks!

    One clarification question: when you tagged on the Vienna segments, I assume that you tagged it on the same original ticket? So in other words, if you were to add a ticket from a separate airline, say, Ryanair, to your itinerary such that you technically aren’t passing through the UK for more than 24 hours, your original airline would not have any way to refund you the fee, right?

  19. Stu says

    Thanks for the interesting update, and excellent analysis; but I’m a little confused. Over the past few years I’ve flown BA F awards (each originating in the US and connecting in London) on two occasions. Once to/from DXB, and once to JNB–both had fees that were pretty close to $1,000 per ticket. Has the fee calculation formula changed since last year? Or did BA just hit me with their through-the-roof fuel surcharges?
    Stu

  20. lucky says

    @ Stu — A majority of the amount you paid is fuel surcharges, which is in addition to taxes and the air passenger duty.

  21. says

    I heard that Paris, has high taxes, does this concept apply to that city too? If it’s different can you elaborate in another post?

  22. tlukec says

    Thanks Lucky – very useful. I wasn’t aware it was only for pax originating in the UK, not traveling to the UK.

  23. lucky says

    @ Mike — There are indeed several European countries/cities with high air taxes. Paris is definitely another one of them, though it’s only about a third as bad as the UK. I’ll get into more detail on that in a future post.

  24. meremale says

    I believe Germany also has just included some sort of airport/departure tax recently to be in line with UK.

  25. says

    @meremale – yes it was introducted from 1 January 2011

    “Tax rates are EUR 8 for passengers travelling up to 2500 kilometres, EUR 25 for passengers travelling between 2500 and 6000 kilometres, and EUR 45 for passenger journeys over 6000 kilometres.”

  26. John says

    Any tips for those London based? Is the only option to book a ticket into another city (e.g. Brussells) and then do Brussells-Destination-London?

  27. Jason says

    fantastic post, thanks a ton for this!
    Very interested to hear about paris and germany and their similar taxes as well in a future post maybe!

  28. pjoalfa says

    Once upon a time I bought AA tix to London, and separate BA tickets beyond (don’t remember where) simply because it was literally hundreds of $ cheaper buying from BA direct than BA through AA. Anyway, long story short- I called AA and had my ticket annotated with the BA ticket number proving “transit” and AA refunded my UK tax. This was ?? 3 or more years ago? Can this still be done?

    This is particularly important for those of us with tons of AA miles or SWUs to burn as LHR is by far the best availability for premium award/upgrade space to Europe on AA. Paying for Y to AMS or wherever else in Europe is peanuts if bought from whatever carrier directly compared to what it adds to a through ticket.

  29. jmd001 says

    pjoalfa–

    You are saying that AA refunded the tax you paid to BA for tickets on BA???

    I would have thought you would have needed to call BA and have the AA ticket number added to the BA record. Then BA would refund the tax to you.

  30. pjoalfa says

    @jmd001 Sorry if I wasn’t clear. The hefty tax was on the AA MIA-LHR r/t ticket in business, by showing AA that I had a connecting BA flight from somewhere in the EU getting me to the return out of LHR, they refunded the tax due on the return LHR-MIA. I did not attempt to get a refund on the BA ticket as it was only the £12 for economy and I’m quite sure BA would have wasted far more than £12 of my time to deny it in the end. ;)

  31. Askia says

    So do I want to book a ticket that goes IAD-LHR-CDG, get off at LHR and just don’t use the LHR-CDG portion? And then just ride back CDG-LHR-IAD? Thanks.

  32. John-Paul says

    Great article, Lucky! Thanks! One correction though… You mentioned that “all airlines have to charge their passengers originating in the UK the air passenger duty”, but this is not the case. All airlines have to remit the tax, but the airlines themselves have the choice of whether they want to pay the tax or pass it on to customers to pay. For example, those using miles plus copay on UA ex-LHR don’t pay the tax out of pocket, but AA do require it for ex-LHR upgraders. In both cases, HMRC collect the tax, but in the former UA pay it out of pocket whereas customers pay in the latter.

  33. Boraxo says

    Interesting analysis but fails to consider other factors:

    (1) Connections may be difficult on the return depending on your point of origin. For example, we are flying BA and returning from Rome and can’t get a connecting flight from LHR-SFO that leaves the same day. So we are doing the opposite of what you recommend, alas at considerable cost.

    (2) In general I would agree that C is far better than Y on the night flight from the US rather than the day flight back. But some who value the food and space while they are awake might prefer the opposite. And of course there are those of us (like me) who refuse to fly TATL in economy in either direction!

  34. Mitch says

    @Boraxo: Remember, anything under 24 hours in the UK is a connection. If you have a group travelling, it might be worth taking a late flight in from FCO and booking a hotel in London and taking the LHR-SFO flight the next day.

  35. Mitch says

    There are other, interesting (and economical) ways to get places from which you can make your return journey if your award ticket allows an open jaw:

    (1) EuroStar from LON to PAR or BRU starts at £39 one way.

    (2) Train and overnight ferry from LON to AMS starts at £68 (and with a group can be had at a lower per person rate).

    (3) Train and ferry to DUB from LON starts at £32

  36. Elizabeth says

    We are planning to take the QM2 from NYC to Southampton and flying straight to IAH same day. Would we be subject to the departure tax as we will only be in the UK a few hours.

  37. Jackie says

    I flew into MIA to LHR, stayed in the UK for 23 hrs, then had a flight LHR to Chicago. AA charged me the departure tax saying I have to connect through to another international destination, not back to the States. Doesn’t this fall into the same 24 hr category??

  38. lucky says

    @ Jackie — Unfortunately as American told you, the UK was your destination, regardless of how long you were there. Since you were flying out of Miami and back to Chicago there’s no other way to argue you were in transit (if you were to say you were flying from Miami to Chicago via London that would be illegal, since you can’t connect in an international city to fly domestically), so the UK tax would have to be charged. Sorry!

  39. Heels05 says

    I just booked a trip to London next month and was curious which of these taxes was more accurate. And if I ended up negotiating to what I should be charged or slightly better?

    Here is my itinerary.

    CLT – EWR on US F
    EWR – FRA on LH F
    FRA – LHR on LH C

    LHR – FRA on LH C
    FRA – BOS on LH F
    BOS – CLT on US F

    I booked with US miles and the cost came to $368. I thought that sounded slightly high so I called back and changed my LHR-FRA flight to coach. At first she didn’t want to lower the cost any, saying since I had any segment in First the whole trip priced that way. I asked for a breakdown though and when she got back she said it had priced wrong. My new total price was $147. Does $147 sound about right for this trip with the new coach segment?

    Thanks

  40. Luke says

    I heard the fee is €45 to all of the USA, but Boston is under 6000km, so isn’t Boston €25? I would save about $30 in taxes by flying FRA-BOS vs. FRA-JFK/EWR?

    Or does this go by the distance of the capital city in the destination country (i.e. Washington DC) like the UK tax does?

  41. hobo13 says

    Ben,

    I haven’t seen this specific scenario answered.

    Say you are flying LHR-BRU-BKK, but LHR-BRU is in Y, and BRU-BKK is in C. Do you owe the Y tax or the C tax? I can surely ride in coach for an hour to save $100+!

  42. lucky says

    @ hobo13 — My understanding is that it’s based on the class for the longhaul sector, so you’d still be paying the premium APD.

  43. Johnnyboy says

    Where do trains fit into this complex tax puzzle? If I fly lax-lhr and then catch a train to Paris is there a tax on trains departing london?

  44. lucky says

    @ Johnnyboy — Nope, it’s only an air passenger duty and doesn’t apply to trains.

  45. says

    So if I have this right just keep it under 24 hours i dont have to worry about the tax? Found SIN-BKK(TG)BKK-LHR(BR)LHR-ZRH-BOS(LX) all in J. LHR stop is 7pm to 12PM.

  46. TTT says

    If i fly from IAD to LHR on any given tuesday and come back wednesday(the following day which the 24 hour rule would apply) I should only have to pay a minimal tax correct?

  47. lucky says

    @ TTT — You would still be responsible for the whole APD unfortunately since you’re not transiting the UK but rather it’s your actual destination. You’d have to continue to a third country in order to technically be in transit.

  48. Alan says

    Lucky, if I include LHR in an open jaw ticket of United, for example:

    NRT-LHR(stopover), DUB-FRA-ORD(destination)-NRT,

    will I be only charged the APD between UK and Ireland or still the amount between UK and US? Thanks.

  49. says

    @ Alan — If you do an open jaw and only arrive in the UK and don’t depart from it, then you wouldn’t be charged the APD. That being said, the bigger issue is that you’re not allowed an open jaw mid-itinerary on a United award ticket. The open jaw has to be at your turnaround point, meaning either the US or Japan in this case.

  50. Sam says

    What happens if the first connecting flight is 25 hours after arriving into Heathrow…is the departure tax payable

  51. Jessica says

    Are these taxes included in your ticket price… For instance in August im flying to London im stopping in dublin on the way there and on the way home. My way home is Heathrow to Dublin and then Dublin to NY. Is the tax included in my ticket price or will I have to pay at the airport?

  52. Jessica says

    Are these taxes included in your ticket price… For instance in August im flying to London im stopping in dublin on the way there and on the way home. My way home is Heathrow to Dublin and then Dublin to NY. Is the tax included in my ticket price or will I have to pay at the airport?

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