Submit Commentary to Department of Transportation About Fuel Surcharges

Fuel surcharges have been a problem for many years, significantly increasing the total cost of airfares in many cases — and rendering award tickets redeemed with frequent flier loyalty program miles virtually worthless.

Submit Commentary to Department of Transportation About Fuel Surcharges

Ben Edelman — also known as FlyerTalk member bedelman, who hosts an Internet web site of resources related to travel and received attention when it was inaccessible for a period of time back in 2004 — and Xiaoxiao Wu have submitted a complaint against British Airways to the United States Department of Transportation, calling attention to the alleged misrepresentation of fuel surcharges in airline price advertising.

FlyerTalk member hillrider is rallying other FlyerTalk members in the British Airways Executive Club forum to support the complaint — but not all FlyerTalk members are convinced that fuel surcharges are really much of an issue, prompting a vigorously heated debate.

The question is this: are fuel surcharges deceptive to consumers?

When an airline advertises an airfare or publicly espouses how valuable are its frequent flier loyalty program miles but does not include fuel surcharges, I would agree that the advertising is deceptive in some form. The only saving grace, however, is that the fuel surcharges, taxes and other fees are usually clearly detailed when in the process of booking a ticket. This is the main differentiation between fuel surcharges and the deceptive practice of hotel properties charging a resort fee: the resort fee — more often than not a mandatory fee — is often not revealed until after you have already arrived at the hotel property; whereas the fuel surcharge is presented before the airline ticket is booked.

The Federal Trade Commission of the United States has already began taking action against hotel properties which charge resort fees in a supposedly deceptive manner. However, the case is not as obvious with fuel surcharges, as they are usually disclosed before the purchase of the ticket. Despite that, The Gate first reported almost a year ago that the United States Department of Transportation reportedly warned airlines in February of 2012 that it will begin enforcing its stance that fuel surcharges must accurately reflect the actual costs of the services covered — something which more and more FlyerTalk members believe the airlines are not doing.

In my opinion, the issue of deception enters the equation for fuel surcharges when it comes to the redemption of frequent flier loyalty program miles. A few years ago, I wanted to use my frequent flier loyalty program miles on a partner airline to travel from one European country to another, which included changing aircraft at a hub airport — only to find that the fuel surcharges would have cost me several hundred dollars. For not much more money, I could purchase a revenue ticket — which I did — and earn more frequent flier loyalty program miles…

…but then I thought to myself, why would I want to earn more frequent flier loyalty program miles? The ones I have now have just proven to be useless.

Summary

In all fairness, the frequent flier loyalty program miles are more valuable when travel originates in the United States on the airline of whose frequent flier loyalty program I am a member, whether traveling domestically or internationally. Still, I could not help but feel like I have been deceived in some way. My frequent flier loyalty program miles are usually used for international trips — but the fuel surcharges can potentially drastically reduce the value of those frequent flier loyalty program miles.

Think about it: when was the last time an airline touted the value of its frequent flier loyalty program miles and clearly disclaimed that on certain flights fuel surcharges could greatly diminish their value — or render them useless altogether?

Although that may not be the crux of the actual complaint to the United States Department of Transportation, it is the main reason why I believe there needs to be an overhaul of how airlines handle fuel surcharges in general. While it might not be an absolutely direct comparison, remember when hotel properties were implementing an additional energy surcharge to guests years ago? A class action lawsuit resulted in a settlement where guests received coupons worth up to $15.00 or so — whooptee doo — and energy surcharges were eventually eliminated.

Should fuel surcharges be included in the advertised base airfare of the ticket? Are airlines covering their costs — or could they actually be profiting from fuel surcharges? Similar to energy surcharges by most hotel properties, should airlines be forced to eliminate fuel surcharges altogether?

What do you think?

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