The joys of fuel surcharges

One of the most frustrating aspects of airline pricing is fuel surcharges. I’m sure you’ve all seen airlines advertising $300-400 tickets to Europe, which turn out to be $800+ after taxes and fuel surcharges. Airlines are unbundling everything nowadays, and that apparently includes fuel (though purchasing it isn’t really an option).

Anyway, for international flights it’s not unusual to see a fuel surcharge be just as high as the actual base fare, but a reader forwarded me this fare, which just takes it to an extreme:

That’s right, that’s a Singapore Airlines ticket from New York to Tokyo for $48.50 each way, so the roundtrip fare is $97. Unfortunately that’s leaving out $782+ (!!!) in fuel surcharges along with the other taxes, for a grand total of $999.

Now, Singapore Airlines isn’t advertising this as a $97 fare so there’s nothing inherently wrong with this since you won’t see the fare breakdown unless you’re specifically looking for it, but this is one of those interesting fares that I figured was worth sharing.


  1. Last week’s $815 nonstop EWR-TLV deal broke down to $220 for the ticket plus $595 in taxes and fees. 😛

  2. Is this a way to avoid paying commissions on the airfare? Reduce the actual airfare to $48 or whatever and add on the fuel surcharge as a non-commissionable fee?

  3. Wow, this seems like quite an accounting trick since I am SURE the full value of the fuel surcharge is a write off.

  4. @ Eric — I suspect that may be the case.

    @ Andy — That’s actually the standard security tax which applies to every ticket out of the US, as strange as the name is.

  5. I started accruing Singapore Air Kris Miles and was shocked to find a 90-min round trip on an A320 on Singapore Air’s subsidiary Silk Air would cost $275 for my “free ticket”. At some point I believe that this became bait and switch. In fact, the Singapore authorities recently required all airlines to advertise total fares. This does not extend to “free” tickets so the scam continues unchecked. I intend to use my miles to redeem on partners of Singapore Air.

  6. Isn’t this really tax evasion on the part of the airline? Other taxes are based on the fare, and they are practically eliminating it.

  7. To be honest, I had to do a double take at that fuel surcharges. But as you said, as long as they aren’t advertising the flight as a $97 rt, there really isn’t an issue. Still makes for a good head scratching moment.

  8. This reminds me of BA’s NA-India fiasco a year or two ago where they were advertising $50 (or was it $0?) fares + $450 in YQ and then saying it was a “mistake” because the base fare was next to nothing.

    Christopher Elliott tore the FTers a new one for getting all upset — I took the time to write him a nice letter explaining how BA should be on the hook for that because a *normal* person wouldn’t understand the fare breakdowns and couldn’t be held accountable for knowing that this was a true screw-up because the base fare was pretty close to $0.

    “Normal” is significant here, because when these types of things are argued in court, it’s the “reasonable man” standard that we are held to. No reasonable man could be expected to understand fare breakdowns and what not, or for that matter, really even know that he needs to look for them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *