Airlines reduce fuel fees on overseas flights

October 15, 2008 6:32:14 AM PDT
With the price of a tanker load of jet fuel falling, major airlines are reducing some of the fuel surcharges that they tack on flights between the United States and Europe, according to carriers and experts who track air fares. When base fares and other tariffs are added, the reduced surcharges can trim up to 18 percent from the cost of a ticket to Europe, said Tom Parsons, chief executive of the discount travel site Bestfares.com.

Combined with a stronger dollar, "Europe is starting to look like a bargain compared to those who visited Europe in summer," Parsons said.

However, the surcharges on some routes have remained unchanged, and the cuts don't apply to every ticket sold on every flight.

Consumers have been griping because the price of oil has fallen more than 45 percent from its peak in early July, yet U.S. airlines have clung to their fuel surcharges. In recent weeks, foreign carriers including Air France, KLM, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and -- on Tuesday, U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic -- have announced surcharge reductions.

U.S. carriers got in the act over the weekend, according to Parsons and Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com.

On some tickets on routes such as Dallas to Paris, U.S. carriers have cut roundtrip surcharges from $330 to $280, although Seaney warned the reductions apply only to discount tickets sold to vacationers.

"Some people will get the $50 decrease, but business travelers will never see that break because it requires a Saturday night stay," he said Tuesday. "This is a competitive realignment, not a rollback."

Parsons and Seaney said some surcharges on flights from Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco to London have been cut to $366 roundtrip from about $428 but remain higher than surcharges on round trips to many cities in continental Europe.

And the two fare gurus said there have been no changes in surcharges on trips between London and East Coast cities such as Boston, New York and Washington.

Tim Wagner, a spokesman for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, said American has matched some fuel-surcharge reductions started by other carriers on international routes. Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, said the same thing.

Officials for Delta Air Lines Inc., Northwest Airlines Corp. and Continental Airlines Inc. either weren't familiar with the surcharge reductions or didn't respond to requests for comment.

Seaney said Delta had cut its average surcharge on round trips from the United States to Asia from $379 to $305, which he said was better than the tinkering on trans-Atlantic routes.

While fuel prices have been falling, airline analysts have sounded louder alarms that a global financial crisis could undermine demand for travel in the months ahead.

The airlines "have traded a fuel crisis for an economic crisis," Seaney said.


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