Saving with the Air Passenger Duty Child Exemption
With so many fare sales for off-season travel to Europe, I often find myself browsing on Google flights, checking fares and routing options over different dates. One of the most recent sales I caught was between San Francisco (also LAX) and London, with flights starting at $369. This is already an excellent deal for round-trip travel between the U.S. West Coast and England.
But I could have actually overpaid had I not realized that there is an air passenger duty child exemption that can save a traveling family $100s!
Searching Fares to London: Kids Are Much Cheaper?!
I noticed something odd when I changed the Google Flights search from a single adult to one adult and two kids, then to two adults and three kids: the per person price was less in both cases than the original single adult. It wasn’t just the fare times 3 or 5.
The specific ticket I was most interested in, a nonstop Virgin Atlantic outbound and a one-stop KLM inbound, cost $375 for one adult.
However, when I first changed this to one adult and three kids, the total rang in under $1,000. This surprised me, as I expected it to be over $1,100.
I noticed a couple other things: first, the ability to book through Delta disappeared as a click-through option. Instead I was left with KLM and Air France. I decided to see how this would play out, so I clicked through to book with KLM.
The fares booking through KLM clearly showed very different prices for the child tickets versus the adult ticket once I filled out the information and moved further along in the process. The total price was indeed going to be $922 for three people, effectively $307 per person. This is a phenomenal deal between San Francisco and London.
Then I spotted it: a link to a page about the air passenger duty child exemption. That is what is going on here.
The Air Passenger Duty Child Exemption
One of the more nasty fees in the award travel world is the huge air passenger duty levied on flights departing London. This, in combination with the enormous surcharges levied on British Airways flights, makes awards on Britain’s flag carrier really sting.
It turns out that the air passenger duty is levied on revenue fares as well. It’s just buried in the fare details. Thus, a $375 all-in price necessitates a very cheap base fare when there is an awesome sale like the one that interested me.
What’s cool is that there is an air passenger duty child exemption that waives the APD entirely for children through age 15. The link I followed during the KLM booking process described the more recent expansion of the air passenger duty child exemption to include youth ages 12 to 15. The original exemption was only applicable to younger kids, but youth have qualified for a few years now.
The APD exemption can literally save you $100s on tickets for your family. You may need to request a refund manually, but as of August 15, 2019, KLM automatically removes the APD at booking. This is why the price dropped in the Google Flight search.
Some Other Airlines Drop the APD At Booking
I later tried another dummy booking through United, following the LAX-LHR sale which was even better than the one from San Francisco. One adult and two kids can travel for just $806.25 round-trip, which is incredible! The base fare here is only $131.
Unlike Delta’s booking, United supports the APD exemption at time of booking. You can even check the breakdown in the fare details. Notice the $100.80 air passenger duty for the adult, which isn’t present for the two kids.
A family of five can therefore travel for less than $1,400 round-trip. This itinerary would require ~91,800 Ultimate Rewards points, assuming you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is a far cry from the 300,000 Ultimate Rewards require for 5 economy award tickets. The worst part is that you would still pay the air passenger duty for the adults on award tickets!
Requesting an Air Passenger Duty Refund
Wondering if you overpaid for your tickets? You may want to check if you visited the United Kingdom in the past few years. The APD was abolished for kids under 12 in 2015 throughout the UK, and then for youth ages 12-15 in 2016. You might be entitles to a refund of the APD, depending on when and how you booked your tickets.
The issue is that not all carriers supported automatic APD removal or refunds initially. It took KLM until this summer to add the functionality. Delta still doesn’t seem to support it. With others, you’ll be refunded at time of flight.
If you think you paid APD for your kids and shouldn’t have, I’d contact your carrier or travel agent. You might still be able to be refunded.
Air Passenger Duty Child Exemption on Award Tickets?
It occurred to me later that it might be possible to have the air passenger duty child exemption applied to award flights as well. This should be the case, as this is a tax levied by the UK. It shouldn’t matter which type of ticket you’re booking. I was actually turned off by the recent Delta award sale because each ticket required $180 in taxes and fees. Had I known about APD maybe this would have been the better play.
What I was most curious about is whether airlines automatically remove the APD at time of award booking like KLM and United do with paid tickets. I did a quick search with United to test.
A United award between SFO and LHR costs 60,000 miles and ~$176.05 in taxes and fees for a single adult. Over $100 of the fee is the APD. Keying in an additional two kids, there is a noticeable price drop when you search the return leg. United is averaging the fees per ticket. The taxes per child award are $75.25, and the details show that the APD is removed.
Just like with cash tickets, you can expect the APD to not be present, or have the ability to refund it, on award tickets.
I’m so glad I’m now aware of the air passenger duty child exemption, as we could have overpaid significantly had I booked the tickets with Delta. Who would have collected the APD erroneously. While I hate that hotels require you to key in kids ages to search for rooms, this is an important reason to make sure you key in the correct ages when searching for airline tickets.
The good news is that you can still request APD refunds if you’ve flown to the United Kingdom sometime in the past few years. I’d check your previous ticket details. If the price for the adult (16+) tickets is the same as the child tickets, it’s likely you overpaid for your vacation to Europe.
Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.