Avoiding Flight Fuel Surcharges in Canada

Jack Prenter, Founder of Dollarwise

Fuel surcharges have become the norm in air travel. As fuel prices rise and fall, so too can the surcharges, making them a significant factor in the overall cost of your air travel.

These surcharges, sometimes hidden in the fine print, are additional fees that airlines add to the base ticket price to cover the fluctuating costs of aviation fuel. 

Understanding fuel surcharges in Canada is crucial seeing how both domestic and international flights are often subject to these additional costs. These fees can vary widely depending on the airline, the route, and even the class of service you choose. For example, flying business class often incurs higher surcharges than economy.

The impact of fuel surcharges on your travel budget can be substantial. They can transform what initially seems like an affordable ticket into a costly purchase, especially for frequent flyers or those planning long-haul trips. 

Even those who utilize the full potential of membership rewards often find themselves at an impasse due to fuel surcharges taking a significant bite out of the reward’s value, sometimes even requiring additional payment to cover. 

So how can you minimize the financial strain of fuel surcharges in Canada and potentially even avoid them altogether? 

How to avoid fuel surcharges in Canada – 3 actionable tips?

What this guide mentions applies to reward programs and flight charts (using flight charts also requires you to pay all fees, taxes, and fuel surcharges).

The three flight charts in Canada are:

  • AMEX Fixed Points Travel Program
  • RBC Air Travel Redemption Schedule
  • CIBC Aventura Airline Redemption Chart

Research what flight program rewards options you have

First off, you’ll want to take some time to research which flight reward programs have surcharges attached and which don’t. This is the most important feature to look out for and one that can drastically lower the fees and taxes you pay for a flight ticket. 

Aeroplan’s Membership Rewards program is unique in the sense that they’re one of the rare few rewards programs whose flight rewards don’t come with any fuel surcharges in Canada.

On the other hand, Air Miles will require you to pay almost double (or more) in taxes and fees compared to Aeroplan. Here’s a quick example of the same itinerary for both rewards programs:

aeroplan-calgary-to-vancouver

Using Aeroplan’s rewards program to pay for a flight from Calgary to Vancouver would cost you just $45 in taxes and fees. You’ll also notice the tax + fee amount is the same for both Economy and Business Class. 

westjet-calgary-to-vancouver

Note: The image above shows ‘Westjet’ but the booking is from the Air Miles website.

However, if you were to use Air Miles for the same flight, you’d have to pay $82 – almost double what you’d pay using Aeroplan.

And lastly, we have Westjet and United MileagePlus:

Westjet’s fees for Economy are not too bad but if you want Business Class, you’ll have to pay $242.68. 

The United MileagePlus program is better in this regard and the fees + taxes are very low at just $27.51, but they don’t offer Business or First Class. 

Based on these comparisons, Aeroplan is the best option, followed by United MileagePlus (more on these two later). 

Depart from a border city

Another way to save on fuel surcharges is by, whenever possible, driving down to a US border city and using your flight rewards from there. This can be done using most flight reward programs, apart from Air Miles which can only be used for flights that either start or end in Canada. 

As for other flight rewards programs, you’ll be able to utilize the ability to pay just a dozen or two dollars for all the taxes and fees, if you drive down to a border town and fly from there. 

You might pay more for gas but the savings are well worth it. Check out some examples that support this surcharge-avoidance method’s validity:

For instance, a flight from Toronto to New York would cost you $84 and $108 using Delta and Aeroplan rewards programs, respectively. 

However, if you drive down to Buffalo, US, and book a flight to New York from there, you’ll pay just $12 with Delta (Aeroplan didn’t have a flight from Buffalo to NYC for these dates). 

Understand your points transfer options

Most rewards programs allow you to transfer your points to other reward programs. This allows you plenty of flexibility when it comes to choosing to redeem the best value for your points. Some transfer combinations can net you plenty of value and usually, the best way to achieve this is to hold onto your main rewards program points. 

Best airline rewards programs without fuel surcharges

Aeroplan

Aeroplan updated their rewards program in May 2023 which, fortunately for users, meant that they would no longer have to pay fuel surcharges on tickets bought with Aeroplan points.

This is true for most partner airlines but there are cases where you’ll have to pay a booking fee (usually $39). This is still pennies compared to the usual tax + fee combo that airlines usually include. In essence, no matter which airline or itinerary you choose, you’ll avoid fuel surcharges altogether if you use Aeroplan. 

Alternatively, you can transfer your Aeroplan points to other flight carriers & hotels, including:

  • American Express Membership Rewards – 1:1 ratio
  • Coast Rewards Points – 1:1 ratio
  • Shangri-La Golden Circle Award Points – 1:1 ratio
  • Accor Live Limitless Points – 2:1 ratio
  • Marriott Bonvoy – 3:1 ratio
  • Choice Privileges Points – 5:1 ratio
  • IHG Rewards Club Points – 5:1 ratio
  • Wyndham Rewards Points – 5:1 ratio
  • Hilton Honors Points – 10:1 ratio

As is evident from the list above, Aeroplan has some of the best points conversion ratios out there, meaning you’ll get the most value from your points by doing transfers, compared to other points-redemption methods. 

United mileageplus (marriott bonvoy)

United’s MileagePlus is similar to Aeroplan when it comes to most features but the one that stands out is the lack of carrier surcharges. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to get points for this rewards system in Canada unless you fly on United or Star Alliance carriers. 

There is one other way of doing it – transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy. You’ll get 10% bonus miles for each transfer at a points transfer ratio of 3:1. On top of that, you’ll get an additional 25% bonus miles by transferring points to any of Marriott Bonvoy’s airline partners in 60K points increments. 

Here’s a quick example of what you get if you transfer 120,000 points or more:

  • 40,000 base miles
  • 10% bonus miles (12,000 miles)
  • 25% bonus miles for transferring in two 60K increments (30,000 miles)

The total miles you’d get from such a transfer is 82,000 (by sending 120,000). This transfer would bring the ratio down to 1.46:1 (the more points you transfer, the lower the ratio will be, and the more value you’ll get from the transferred points). 

Marriott Bonvoy partners with over 40 airlines, so check them for deals and discounts. 

AMEX membership rewards points

Lastly, we have AMEX. While American Express is not an airline program, it’s still an excellent choice to maximize the potential that transferring your points to other airline programs has. The AMEX Membership Rewards program offers points transfers to 6 other airline programs:

  • Aeroplan:
    • 1:1 transfer ratio
    • Up to 30 minutes transfer time
    • 1,000 points minimum transfer amount
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia:
    • 1:0.75 transfer ratio
    • Up to 5 business days transfer time
    • 1,000 points minimum transfer amount
  • Asia Miles:
    • 1:0.75 transfer ratio
    • Up to 5 business days transfer time
    • 1,000 points minimum transfer amount
  • British Airways Executive Club:
    • 1:1 transfer ratio
    • Up to 5 business days transfer time
    • 1,000 points minimum transfer amount
  • Delta SkyMiles:
    • 1:0.75 transfer ratio
    • Up to 30 minutes transfer time
    • 1,000 points minimum transfer amount
  • Etihad Guest:
    • 1:0.75 transfer ratio
    • Up to 3 business days transfer time
    • 1,000 points minimum transfer amount

You can earn AMEX MR Points through any (or all) of the three AMEX credit cards – Cobalt, Platinum, and Gold Rewards by spending on travel, food, groceries, gas, and other purchase types. 

Fixed points travel program

Alternatively, instead of transferring your points elsewhere, you can use your AMEX MR points to pay for flights in their ‘Fixed Points Travel Program’. You can use the points to pay for any flights but keep in mind you’ll have to pay the taxes and fees yourself. 

Most expensive airline fuel surcharges (to avoid)

Certain airlines that often fly in and out of Canada are very expensive when it comes to additional fees and taxes (especially the fuel surcharge amounts). You should avoid them whenever possible if you’re looking to minimize the fees you’d have to pay:

Lufthansa

You may come across Lufthansa fairly often while booking flights to Europe and, in some cases, there’s no avoiding them if they are the only airline that offers flights to a certain city or area. 

A flight from Toronto to Paris will cost you just $66 in taxes and fees if you fly Air Canada, but $157 if you choose Lufthansa (plus it costs 11,000 points more). We used Aeroplan to showcase the difference. 

Air Canada

Air Canada + Lufthansa

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