United now charging UK Air Passenger Duty to those upgrading out of the UK

The UK has a hefty air passenger duty (APD), especially for those flying in first or business class. That’s why you might notice that when you book an award ticket with a flight originating in London, the taxes and fees are about $200 higher than they would usually be. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, check out my post about the air passenger duty and how to minimize it.

Anyway, while this has always been charged on award tickets, many airlines don’t charge the APD when upgrading (though I assume they’re still having to pay the tax in one way or another, so they might be taking a loss on that). American is one of the airlines that passes on the APD to those upgrading to business class out of the UK (London and Manchester) the Air Passenger Duty, while up until now United hasn’t.

Well, according to this integration newsletter it appears that United is now charging those that upgrade the air passenger duty:

Airport Taxes on Upgrades – U.K.
United is advising customers who request an upgrade on flights from the U.K. that it will collect the required British Airport Authority (BAA) tax based on cabin of service. Per the rules of the BAA, premium cabin customers are subject to a greater tax than those in economy class. United is mandated to collect the difference in taxes when upgrading a customer.

The APD is presently £130 (that’s $204USD with today’s exchange rate), so it really adds to the cost of upgrading.

While I suggest reading up on my previous post about the APD, keep in mind that you only pay it if your travel originates in the UK (be it the outbound or return journey). If you’re just connecting in the UK (for example, flying from Frankfurt to London to Washington without spending more than 24 hours in London), the APD doesn’t apply.

Has anyone been asked to pay it yet? If so, were you charged at the time the upgrade was confirmed?


  1. So it is advisable to spend (stopover) time in London on the inbound part of a trip?

    For Example:
    JFK-LHR (Stop and Transit)

  2. @ Dan — Interesting. Wonder where they arrive at that number…

    @ AMRivlin — The outbound is always irrelevant in terms of the APD, though on the return you would want to spend less than 24 hours in London to avoid the APD.

  3. I did pay:

    U.K. Air Passenger Duty: 102.90
    U.K. Passenger Service Charge: 54.60

    for my economy ticket, so I suspect this must be the difference between X and that.

    Very frustrating overall. I know UA probably used to eat this on our behalf, but the lack of communication around this is another thumbs down for the merger.

  4. Interesting explanation from UA – the BAA have absolutely nothing to do with APD. It’s a tax so it’s government imposed.

    Say thank you to HMRC for this exorbitant additional charge.


  5. The APD for economy is £65, so you’ll already have paid that at ticketing and just have to pay the additional £65. DL has been collecting this (and the French “solidarity” tax) on upgrades for a while.

    Lst week, I got hit with the APD uograding from premium economy on AF to biz with a DL SWU. This sucked, because AF and DL are both falling to collect the full £130 at ticketing, despite the guidance from HMRC being clear that premium economy needs to pay the full rate. Had to go back and forth with the reissue desk when they wanted to charge the wrong amount of APD, too.

  6. Interestingly, I think this doesn’t apply if you are upgraded at the gate. I upgraded an AA flight from LHR-LAX a few weeks ago, and my was only waitlisted – the agent told me that the tax would be collected when my upgrade cleared. My upgrade didn’t clear until about an hour before boarding, and the tax was never collected.

  7. This is a dumb question, but is the APD charged on domestic UK flights, either revenue or award?

  8. Corey: You were simply lucky that GAs forgot to collect APD. Last time I flew AA from LHR I showed up at the gate about 30 min before departure when almost everyone was boarded already. I asked for an upgrade to J using eVIP and yes the seats were available. However, the GAs told me that I still have to pay APD even though there will be no food for me in J because they did not load extra. At the end I decided to save $100 and stay in my 30B with 30A unoccupied.

  9. Sadly, United would be losing money if it paid the difference in departure taxes for every non-revenue passenger.

  10. @AMRivlin Yep, that’s what I do every time for just this reason. (I’ve even booked a cheap coach flight from LHR to AMS to turn around and connect back to a long-haul ex-LHR, saving $130 in tax.)

  11. On 7/8/12, I booked a MileagePlus eTicket in coach, no upgrade, w/United. We will spend 4 days in London on our return flight. Charges: UK Air Passenger Duty (APD) = $102.01; UK Passenger Service Charge = $83.68. These per passenger charges were imposed at the time of booking. Total for two = $371.38. There was no way to avoid this and us mileage credits.

  12. I booked a rt to LHR. Applied for upgrades using GPU and both upgrades cleared. I canceled the ticket before travel commenced. When I used the ticket for another trip it triggered the charge of $100 apd. After contacting United I was told that they have to charge the duty even though I did not take the flight. They also probably charged someone else for the duty as well. Crazy huh!

  13. United charged me $100 at the time I *requested* an upgrade, although no upgrade has yet been confirmed. Further more I am merely connecting at Heathrow (less than 3 hours) on a flight from Sweden to the US. According to your information above, transit passengers are not charged the UK Air Passenger Duty. I have disputed the charge.

  14. @ Stanley — Were you connecting on the same reservation? If so you definitely shouldn’t have been charged that fee.

  15. United charged me the APD this week for a flight that only connects through London (TXL > LHR > EWR). I called to dispute this but received a response that went basically like this “the computer did it, it must be right.” This was despite reading the agent the rules directly from the UK government website.

    I have disputed the charge with Chase.

  16. I see a new feature for an airline’s app. You indicate interest in upgrading after leaving UK airspace from LHR, then work through the details after you’re over the Atlantic.

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