Fuel surcharges don't add up

Tracy Stewart, June 08, 2011
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. I have a question on the fuel surcharge airlines charge.  I was booking tickets to travel in July on Spirit Airlines from Chicago to Myrtle Beach. On the return flight, there are 2 options listed: one is a non-stop and one has 1 stop in Atlantic City.  For the non-stop flight there was a fuel surcharge of $40. However, the route w/ the stop over had no fuel surcharge.  Is there a reason for this?  Logically it seems the surcharge would be at least the same (if not more since the route has to fly a longer distance to reach the same destination).  Is it just a clever scheme to get more people to fly a route that might have a lower capacity?  Finally, do you know if other airlines practice this as well?

    A. You bring up a great point regarding Spirit's fuel charge. It appears that Spirit is just charging a flat rate for fuel between two cities regardless if there is a connection or not. Ironically, there are some city pairs where no fuel charge is added at all (regardless if it is a nonstop flight or a connection). It is probably a competitive move to keep prices in line with other airlines.

    For example, between Detroit and Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Spirit is competing with both Delta and American for nonstop flights so they want to keep their prices as low as possible. But between Chicago and Myrtle Beach, there is no other nonstop competition so they can charge a fuel surcharge. This may not be uniform across their schedule, but we suspect they are choosing whether to add it or not based on competitive reasons rather than on all flights.

    Really doesnt make you feel like you are genuinely paying for fuel when you catch on to their tricks! Thanks for pointing this out!

    There is no other North American airline at the moment that we know of that sets apart the fuel surcharge the way Spirit does. Some airlines do raise their fees, however, because they are building in the fuel surcharge without you knowing what it is. Spirit has always been a market leader in terms of testing out new fee add-ons. Perhaps others will be soon to follow!

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