Which Airlines Don’t Charge Carrier Fees? Save $$$ On Your Award Travel
Wondering which airlines don’t charge carrier fees after you just got sticker shock on your “free” flight? There are some airlines that never add these fees to award tickets. Some add them all the time. Others add them in ways that are…well, confusing. Let’s look at which airlines don’t charge fees and also the “sometimes” airlines, so we can book in the “sometimes not” categories.
Be sure to bookmark our transfer partners guide so you always know which bank points transfer to which airlines.
Updated 11/9/2020 with Aeroplan program changes.
What Are Carrier-Imposed Fees?
Fees, taxes, carrier-imposed fees…you’ll hear names for several different costs added to your “free” flight with points & miles. Taxes cannot be avoided. Something we can try to avoid to reduce the cost of an award booking & maximize value is “carrier-imposed fees”. These are also called “carrier-imposed surcharges”. When booking a ticket, look at the price and find a detailed breakdown of each item you’re being charged for. These will be listed as YQ / YR in the fees (you can also check that here). We want to find a way to avoid these. Some airlines and their award programs will not add these to your ticket. These are who we want to book with whenever possible.
Which Airlines Don’t Charge Carrier Fees? The NEVER list.
Some airlines never add YQ / YR charges to award bookings. These are the golden tickets. A first class redemption on Emirates can have $1,000 or more in fees for a “free” flight. Aside from booking from countries that don’t add these fees, we can use airlines that don’t add them.
Knowing what points and miles currencies you can use for these programs is also important. This information is included, as well. For reviews on these programs, check out our guides to American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Capital One Venture miles, and Barclays Arrival Miles.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Air Canada’s Aeroplan went through a big overhaul on November 8, 2020. You can read our breakdown of the changes here. Previously famous for adding on carrier fees, these were removed in the new Aeroplan program. HOWEVER, there is now a $39CAD (roughly $30 US) booking fee for any partner awards. That’s a net loss for most awards, if there previously were no fees with that partner. There are no carrier-imposed fuel surcharges, etc. but you will pay that $39CAD for each partner award booking.
Avianca’s LifeMiles program is a favorite for booking Star Alliance awards. They never tack on YQ / YR miles to flights. You’ll pay the required taxes and that’s it. Looking to redeem your LifeMiles? Here’s a great guide.
Not at the top of most people’s radars, but Frontier Miles does make the list. They don’t charge YQ / YR on any award bookings. There’s a Frontier card from Barclays that earns 40,000 miles after $500 spend. Surprisingly, though, you can’t transfer Barclays Arrival miles to them.
Frontier Miles transfer partners: Marriott (3:1 ratio)
If you’re looking to fly around North America, JetBlue’s TrueBlue program can be a good option for avoiding YQ / YR on award bookings. With a myriad of transfer partners and credit cards that have good bonus offers regularly, don’t overlook TrueBlue.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
A favorite of many in this hobby. They’re good for positioning flights, they have the incredible Companion Pass, free bags for everyone on domestic flights, and they don’t charge carrier fees. Southwest Rapid Rewards also has multiple cards from Chase that make it easy to rack up miles.
Southwest Rapid Rewards transfer partners: Chase, Marriott (3:1 ratio)
Spirit Airlines Free Spirit
People love to hate on Spirit, but it gets people from A to B and doesn’t charge YQ / YR. It’s inexpensive and has a new credit card from Bank of America that offers 30,000 miles after spending $500. Free Spirit has a place on the list covering which airlines don’t charge carrier fees.
Spirit Airlines Free Spirit transfer partners: none
United Airlines MileagePlus
United’s MileagePlus program is easily at the better-known end of this spectrum. Yes, United can do some crazy things, but their program doesn’t charge carrier fees, has several credit cards, and takes transfers. Also, there’s the Excursionist Perk.
United MileagePlus transfer partners: Chase, Marriott (3:1.1 ratio)
Which Airlines Don’t Charge Carrier Fees? The SOMETIMES list.
Here is where things get a little tricky. This is the list of programs that will sometimes pass on the fees and surcharges, and other times they won’t. It will usually depend on what the partner airline is in this case. They will pass along the charges from some partners and not others.
Alaska Mileage Plan
Alaska’s Mileage Plan has a pretty simple way to know when the airline doesn’t charge carrier fees. Are you flying on British Airways or Icelandair? No? Then no YQ / YR fees. With personal and business cards from Bank of America, getting miles is possible, if you can get approved.
Alaska Mileage Plan transfer partners: Marriott (3:1.1 ratio)
American Airlines’ AAdvantage program has a simple way to know if they don’t charge carrier fees. If you’re flying on Iberia or British, you’ll get hit with YQ / YR. Any of their other partners won’t have these fees tacked on, so dream big. With Barclays and Citi both offering AAdvantage credit cards, it’s not hard to rack up miles.
AAdvantage transfer partners: Marriott (3:1.1 ratio)
ANA Mileage Club
ANA Mileage Club has some great uses for miles, but they add award fees to most bookings. It’s worth remembering that award fees out of Japan are quite low, even when airlines charge carrier fees. The airline doesn’t charge carrier fees on short-haul flights with United or LOT. Here’s the list of which airlines don’t charge carrier fees for any distance: Air New Zealand, Avianca, SAS & Singapore Airlines.
Mileage Club transfer partners: American Express, Marriott (3:1.1 ratio)
British Airways Executive Club
You think it’s a mistake that they’re included, don’t you? British Airways’ Executive Club is deservedly known for having huge fees on award bookings. There are a few scenarios where they don’t charge YQ / YR:
- American Airlines flights entirely within the Americas
- Flights on Aer Lingus, Alaska & LATAM
While Mark loves to call them Sky Pesos, and many people hate on the quirks of SkyMiles, there are good redemptions to be found. With a slew of Delta credit cards from American Express, it’s also not hard to come across SkyMiles. Oddly, they do charge fees Europe to US, yet not US to Europe. Here’s when they do NOT charge carrier fees:
- The partner airline doesn’t charge carrier fees
- Travel on these partner airlines: Aerolineas Argentinas, Alaska Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, GOL, Kenya Airways, Korean Air, Saudia, Vietnam Airlines, and Virgin Australia
Delta SkyMiles transfer partners: American Express, Marriott (3:1.1 ratio)
Flying Blue (KLM / Air France)
The new Flying Blue program has confusing award charts (or lack thereof). There are times when the airlines don’t charge carrier fees and times when they do. To avoid YQ / YR, choose flights on Delta or AeroMexico. To have low YQ / YR, Air France and KLM flights in economy class become options. If you’re looking to up your stash, there is a Flying Blue card from Bank of America.
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
HawaiianMiles makes it simple to know if the airline charges carrier fees: don’t book a flight on Virgin Australia. Admittedly, the YQ/ YR will be much less than what Virgin Australia itself charges, but it’s a fee nonetheless. If you’re looking to get some HawaiianMiles, Barlcays has a co-branded card offering 60,000 miles after $2,000 spend. The annual fee is $99.
Hawaiian Miles transfer partners: American Express, Marriott (3:1.1 ratio)
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Singapore’s KrisFlyer program has a lot going for it, such as friendly change fees. They also take transfers from numerous sources. Singapore Airlines tacks on YQ / YR fees for partner bookings if that airline charges the fees in its own program. They don’t charge fees on their own flights, though. That’s an important distinction.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club wraps up the list of which airlines don’t charge carrier fees in hodge-podge manner. They won’t add YQ / YR when booking on the following airlines: ANA (domestic in Japan only), Cyprus, Delta, Hawaiian, Jet, South African (domestic and short-haul only) & Virgin Australia (domestic only).
I honestly wish this was more straightforward. Knowing how to work through the “sometimes” list can get confusing. However, it can also save hundreds of dollars on your award bookings. Some airlines charge ridiculous YQ / YR fees on flights — including award flights. Knowing which airlines don’t charge carrier fees (or which ones have exceptions) maximizes award booking value.
Which one is your favorite to use? Is there one that needs added to the list? Let us know.
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