How a $458 International Fare Becomes $1,165

I’m planning to visit the U.K. in a few months, so I’ve been looking through flight schedules to see what my options might be. Although I’ll likely pay with miles, I took a look at how the fare broke down. Now, I’ve always been aware that the fare itself is often significantly cheaper than the taxes and fees on an international flight, but I was still a bit surprised by what I learned.

As some background on the flight I chose, I searched for an eight-day roundtrip fare from Washington – Dulles International Airport (IAD) to London, Great Britain (LON). Delta assigned its partner airline, Virgin Atlantic, and set me up for an arrival at London – Heathrow Airport (LHR). I didn’t select any upgrades, and I didn’t opt for a “Pay with Miles” eligible trip.

Here’s how a $458 airfare becomes $1,165:


What started off as a $458 international flight ticket somehow became $1,165.

What started off as a $458 international flight ticket somehow became $1,165.

Base Fare (not shown) – The base fare for this flight was $458.

Carrier-Imposed International Surcharge This one got an asterisk, but the notation does little to explain what this fee — 100% of the base fare — actually covers. Depending on the flight, this fee can tack on additional $650 to your fare. It seems I’m not the only one confused with this ambiguous charge, either. After a little further digging, I found a story in the New York Times from February 2013 about how skyrocketed fuel costs mean more fees for passengers.

On international trips, the fuel surcharge is becoming an ever more critical part of the fare calculation, even in coach. So, for example, a recent round-trip coach fare on Delta between Kennedy Airport in New York and London Heathrow was $842, including $458 in a “carrier-imposed surcharge.”

U.S. Tax – I was surprised to learn that the U.S. Tax was only $35 for this flight. Also known as the “U.S. Ticket Tax” or the “U.S. Domestic Transportation Tax,” it’s a 7.5% tax on your base fare that applies to flights that occur within the continental U.S.  7.5% of $458 is $34.35, so I guess Delta just rounded up to $35.

U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Fee (APHIS)- According to, this $5 charge “applies to all flights originating abroad and landing in the United States, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.” Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, APHIS “protects and promotes U.S. agricultural health, regulates genetically engineered organisms, administers the Animal Welfare Act, and manages wildlife damage.” Even if you do not intend to fly with plants or animals, this fee is mandatory.

Passenger Facilities Charge – Delta added $4.50 to the total for “PFC-approved airports for facilities improvement.” They will add this fee up to four times per transaction, depending on how many people are booked on the same itinerary. Here’s what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says:

The Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) Program allows the collection of PFC fees up to $4.50 for every boarded passenger at commercial airports controlled by public agencies. Airports use these fees to fund FAA-approved projects that enhance safety, security, or capacity; reduce noise; or increase air carrier competition.

U.S. Custom Users FeeThis is a $5.50 charge to go through Customs at an American airport.

United Kingdom Passenger Service Charge – Wowza! This is an additional $74.40 on your total. Here’s how a contributor on MilePoint explains the fee (with a little dig at the British government):

It’s an anti-tourist tax levied by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on all flights departing the UK, provided that the passenger is not simply making a connection in the UK. You also will not pay the APD if you fly ATL/MSP/DTW/JFK/BOS/MIA-LHR and then use another means of transportation (car, train, ferry) to leave the UK. The UK does not collect any taxes or fees for flights landing in the UK, not even charges for immigration and customs!

The traveler offers some good suggestions on how to duck this hefty charge, but most of them are as expensive as just paying it.

United Kingdom Air Passenger Duty – More taxes from those with whom we are supposed to have a “special relationship,” the Brits! This time, the charge is $115.50. This is a tax imposed on passengers on all flights departing British airports. On this flight, the fee is 25.2% of the base fare. The British government groups nations into bands, and your tax is assessed based on the band of the country of your destination. Oonagh Shiel of Cheap Flights details the band system:

A (2,000 miles – includes Ireland, the Channel Islands, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Tunisia, Turkey, Italy and Russia (West of the Urals)) – £13 reduced rate; £26 standard rate; £52 higher rate.

B (4,000 miles – includes the US, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, Israel, Gambia) – £69 reduced rate; £138 standard rate; £276 higher rate.

C (6,000 miles – includes the Caribbean destinations of Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic and Cuba; South American countries such as Brazil, Belize and Colombia; South Africa, Burma, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, India, the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles) – £85 reduced rate; £170 standard rate; £340 higher rate.

D (Australia and New Zealand for example) – £97 reduced rate; £194 standard rate; £388 higher rate.

U.S. September 11th Security Fee – The U.S. government charges $2.50 per U.S. enplanement per ticketed journey for security costs not to exceed $5 one-way or $10 round-trip. These fees add up incrementally if you have multiple stops on your itinerary.

And that’s how I got to $1,165. Nearly all of these fees are out of an airline’s control. The “carrier-imposed fee” can be a brow-raiser but with the cost of energy in America today, it’s unsurprising that airlines pass the fuel costs on to travelers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s