Aeroplan as many well know implemented fuel surcharges (YQ) a year or so back, which definitely catapulted them into one of the top programs to a mediocre ones. Their award chart is not necessarily stellar either, so it simply sucks the happiness out of your redemption, when you redeem for a RTW only to find $800 in fuel surcharges. Loyalty Lobby has a very good post on why airlines love YQ and basically one of the reasons is that they can make more money from award tickets. Aeroplan’s YQ is supposedly, they are collected “on behalf of the ticketing carrier,” which essentially means it’s going to Air Canada. And of course, it doesn’t convince me (and I’m pretty sure) that in the accounting of all the revenues the money doesn’t actually pay for fuel. That’s of course why the community calls them scamcharges.
I) Fuel-Surcharge Free Airlines
Of course, the best thing you can do with an award is to avoid carriers that avoid fuel surcharges. The following carriers have NO fuel surcharge, listed by class of service (roughly). I have omitted airlines that do not release award space in certain classes (e.g. SQ F). I find this organization for planning awards easier rather than listing by airline because then when you’re planning a trip it’s much easier to see what airlines you need to get to not have YQ. None of the airlines here that consistently release award space (in premium classes) are particularly outstanding (if you compare to ANA, Asiana, Lufthansa, or even Thai). In addition to the list I’ve summarized how I feel about the airlines.
Entered Star Alliance after the two rounds of surcharges that Aeroplan put. I have this theory that Aeroplan will not put surcharges on new airlines until there are lots of bookings. Oh, and I have no justification at all but EVA and Shenzhen Airlines’ entry into Star Alliance would suggest so.
Service to Central and South America – generally not recommended as seats are domestic recliner style, which can get very tough on longer flights to Montevideo, Buenos Aires etc.
EVA joined Star Alliance on June 18th 2013. Aeroplan has yet to put fuel surcharges on EVA and hopefully there won’t be a change!
I think these are the two airlines that release First, Business, and Economy class seats. Obviously, neither of the two airlines have a great in-flight product (Air China is trying), but it’s not bad. United has most business class seats as fully-flat, and Air China releases very good amounts of space on some routes (such as Beijing to/from Los Angeles or Houston). The new Air China first aren’t half bad either.
Intra-Asia only – flights to/from Shenzhen and other Chinese domestic cities. Useful for the route network but nothing special. Seats are domestic first style, but having said that are probably nicer than average for a 737.
These airlines basically do not release long-haul premium class space. Singapore basically release only economy for long-haul and intra-Asia business/economy. Good option if you’re set on flying economy as they are one of the top airlines of Star Alliance. Swiss only releases business class on North American routes around one week out it is pretty hard to get, but availability is better on Asian routes. Air New Zealand has good herringbone business class but they release next to no business class space (given that NZ Airpoints are fixed-mile redemption based) on North American flights. Air New Zealand availability on Auckland to/from Shanghai is good, to/from Tokyo-Narita is decent but award space to Hong Kong is scarce.
Turkish has rather poor service, amazing business lounge in Istanbul-Ataturk, generally good food onboard. They are getting the leased Jet Airways 777-300ER’s and selling the closed suites as business class on the London-Heathrow to Istanbul route so if you can get that that is the best business class seat in the world. I have never seen a long-haul SK trip report so I can’t comment on their in-flight product although their lounges have very IKEA-like decor.
Intra-Europe only – they are a good deal if you are looking to redeem Aeroplan within Europe to Greece or Croatia, but otherwise Swiss, Scandinavian, Brussels or Turkish have far superior networks for connecting itineraries.
Also another transatlantic option on the Brussels to/from New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles routes which have the new staggered business class fully flat seats.
Aeroplan is actually supposed to charge YQ on South African but because they doesn’t have fuel surcharges on some fares, then it doesn’t show up (for example Johannesburg to London-Heathrow). Shhhh!
Rather crappy product soft and hard product. Dry airline.
So would I recommend booking tickets to avoid YQ? In most cases. definitely. Obviously if you are trying to keep costs as low as possible then, you would book with non-YQ Airlines. If you’re booking either economy class or business class tickets, then most likely you’re not missing out on that much if you book with one of the airlines mentioned above. You’re saving a lot of money. The biggest issue I find is that people don’t like going through the US to avoid YQ, but again it’s saving a few hundred dollars for connecting in the US. Definitely depends on how much you value the hassle.
With first class tickets, however, it becomes more complex. Obviously you need to decide yourself but here is what I would do.I would say that if you’re willing to redeem for first class, you should be willing to fork over a few hundred dollars to experience for example the new Asiana First Class Suite over United Global First if both airlines have availability on your dates.
Generally, for international awards, Aeroplan will almost always price YQ based on the a paid fare, so you can usually find the YQ of an award even if you don’t have enough miles. You can check this out from ITA Matrix in the fare breakdown, which will generally equal the YQ that Aeroplan puts on. For example, you can see that a sample one-way business class itinerary (which is a not-so-good value here, but just for reference purposes) from LAX-NRT on NH is 84,000 Aeroplan Miles and 303.80 in YQ, and $333 CAD in total Airport Taxes and Fees (inclusive of YQ). This matches exactly with the fare breakdown on ITA Matrix (YQ highlighted in red box)
II) Reducing Fuel Surcharges
This is important in two ways. That means a paid fare with a small YQ will equal a ticket with a small YQ.The first, is that airlines that charge lower YQ will have lower fuel surcharges on award tickets. For instance, that means taking LOT instead of Lufthansa will result in a smaller surcharge (if of course the airlines with no YQ don’t have space). The aeroplan award engine will tend to show options that have YQ on the top, so you should check all the options before you book. If we look at the award results for October 21st,
LOT has a much lower surcharge than Lufthansa, so even though you are dinged, it isn’t very high. There is a $400 difference between flying LOT and Lufthansa!
The other interesting thing to keep in mind is if your destinations aren’t fixed, cities/countries that regulate fuel surcharge, that means those cities will be cheaper. The most obvious example is flights departing GRU which have no YQ at all, because the Brazilian government prevents excess fees on top of the base fare. That might be useful to keep in mind, but most people aren’t going to book a trip just to save the fuel surcharges from GRU (although I might if I was flying BA F or SQ F, but that’s another story). Some more “realistic” would be choosing Hong Kong instead of Tokyo, because Hong Kong regulates fuel surcharges.
If you price out online on the award engine, a simple one-way business class ticket on NH will incur $306.80 in surcharges. However, as I just mentioned, ending in Hong Kong will cause the surcharge to be reduced even though you’re adding in an additional segment simply because of government regulations! Of course you generally should not be redeeming one-ways on Aeroplan, I just used them because the YQ numbers are much simpler (versus dividing by two to find out each segment, etc.). Thus, the LAX-HKG (connecting in NRT) on the exact same flight with an additional segment to HKG will incur lower surcharges.
This award prices with only $141.20 of YQ. Strange, isn’t it?As I’ve said fuel surcharges are generally not really used for fuel but rather a surcharge to earn more money with the award programs when you’re booking an award ticket.
Here are the key points to take away from this post: first, try to find as much as possible airlines that Aeroplan (currently does not collect fuel surcharge on! If there isn’t space on your preferred dates, then you (as your flexibility will permit) to fly to destinations or choose airlines that have lower fuel surcharges. Of course, redemptions aren’t always about saving those few hundred bucks in fuel surcharges, but it’s very important to remember that you can redeem Aeroplan tickets without getting those ugly three digit figures of YQ.
Tomorrow morning I will be talking about how to construct a mini-RTW, so stay tuned for that!