Travel Miles 101 is introducing a new series – Asked & Answered, where we answer your questions in depth about anything related to air travel and miles & points. If you’d like to submit a new question feel free to reach us through our site, on social media, or simply by emailing us at “answers (at) travelmiles101.com”. This article covers the UK Air Passenger Duty.
Today’s question comes from Sean & Katie from Richmond, IL and is as follows:
My wife wants to find out how to fly into or out of London and avoid the fees.
Excellent question! Before we continue with the explanation of the fees and how to avoid them, a few important things to note:
- this is applied to the entire United Kingdom and not just London, so this article applies to the entire country
- there aren’t high fees flying into the UK, but only when departing from the UK
What Fees Is An Airline Ticket Composed Of?
The price you pay for your flight and itinerary is made up of three different components:
- base fare
- carrier-imposed surcharges (fuel surcharges)
- mandatory government and airport taxes and fees
When redeeming miles, your miles always cover the base fare of the ticket but never the mandatory government and airport taxes and fees. Depending on what frequent flyer program you’re using, the program either will or won’t add on the fuel surcharges to the cost of your award ticket.
For example, when redeeming United Airlines miles, you’ll never pay the fuel surcharge on any award ticket – only the taxes and fees. Other programs, like Lufthansa Miles & More, do pass on fuel surcharges to members when they redeem their miles.
What is UK Air Passenger Duty (APD)?
Every passenger departing the United Kingdom, must pay a mandatory tax called Air Passenger Duty or APD. This tax is one of the many taxes and fees you’ll pay when departing the UK. It can also be significant – depending on what cabin you fly.
The current APD tax is as follows:
- Domestic Flights
- Economy Class: £6.50
- Business Class: £13
- International Flights (0 – 2,000 miles)
- Economy Class: £13
- Premium Cabin: £26
- International Flights (2,001 – 5,500 miles)
- Economy Class: £87
- Premium Cabin: £191
- International Flights (5,500+ miles)
- Economy Class: £91
- Premium Cabin: £200
For the UK APD, “Premium Cabin” refers to anything above Economy Class (so Premium Economy, Business Class, First Class, etc.). The flight mileage amounts do not refer to how far you fly and instead the different APD fees are measured by the distance from London to the capital of the country you are flying to.
As you can see, if you depart the UK in a premium cabin, you’ll pay a significant amount in just this one tax alone – which doesn’t account for the many other taxes and fees you must pay.
For example, here are the taxes/fees for an Economy Class ticket from London to Paris:
- United Kingdom Passenger Service Charge Departures (UB): $28.20
- United Kingdom Air Passenger Duty APD (GB): $15.80 (about £13)
And in another example, here are the taxes/fees for a First Class flight from London to New York:
- United States APHIS Passenger Fee Passengers (XA): $3.83
- United Kingdom Passenger Service Charge Departures (UB): $67.80
- United States Customs User Fee (YC): $6.97
- United Kingdom Air Passenger Duty APD (GB): $232.10 (about £191)
- United States Immigration User Fee (XY): $7.00
- US International Arrival Tax (US): $21.10
Ignoring all of the other taxes, as you can see, the Air Passenger Duty tax is significantly more on the longer premium cabin flight.
How to Avoid High UK Air Passenger Duty
Now that we understand the UK Air Passenger Duty tax, how can we avoid it? Since this is a mandatory government tax, it will always be passed on to you – whether you’re paying cash or redeeming miles for a flight.
You can’t avoid paying the UK APD because every passenger flying out of the UK has to pay it.
However, the only way to avoid paying a high UK APD tax, is to depart the United Kingdom on a short-haul Economy Class ticket to another European country and then book your long-haul premium cabin ticket from that country. Essentially, think of your flight out of the UK as a positioning flight.
You might think that this can get complicated. It can, but it doesn’t have to. For example, the UK’s neighbor, Ireland, has relatively low taxes and fees on all tickets – all you need to do is catch one of the many daily flights from the UK to Dublin, Ireland and then start your premium cabin journey from there. Flights between the UK and Ireland are served by many carriers and most flights are cheap – so using this trick is a great way to save money.
Example: Positioning Flight for Lower Air Passenger Duty
Let’s take a look at an award ticket example and how this trick would work.
- cost of a Business Class ticket from London to New York
- 88,000 miles + $317.70
- cost of an Economy Class flight from London to Dublin
- ~$30 on a low-cost airline
- cost of a Business Class ticket from Dublin to New York
- 88,000 miles + $40.80
As you can see, the price difference is significant. Many people often use this trick to save hundreds of dollars.
Remember that if you use this trick, that these are two separate tickets and you need to have an extra-long connection or preferably an overnight – just in case something goes wrong, because if your positioning flight out of the UK is delayed or cancelled and you miss your onward flight on a separate ticket, you’re out of luck and will need a new ticket.
Make The UK Your First Stop On Your European Trip
Many people visit multiple countries when they plan a trip to Europe. Another way to avoid paying the UK Air Passenger Duty is to simply visit the UK as your first or second stop in Europe, before continuing on to your final stop from which you will fly back home.
For example, if you want to visit London, Paris, and Rome, you should visit London first or second and then fly back home from Rome or Paris. You can book a simple Economy Class flight from London to Rome or Paris and from there book your premium cabin award ticket.
All in All
The UK imposes a tax on all departing passengers called Air Passenger Duty and the higher your cabin of travel is, the more you’ll pay for the APD tax. Since there is no way to not pay the tax when flying out of the UK, you should always depart the UK on a short-haul Economy Class flight to pay a much lower APD. While it can be a hassle to book a separate flight before your actual flight home, think about visiting another city in Europe for a day or two, and you just may enjoy it.
Be sure to send us your questions and we will do our best to answer them and provide in-depth solutions!