As Arthur Frommer pointed out in a blog post last week, the airline fuel surcharge is back. But is anyone really surprised? I’m certainly not, especially considering the rising cost of oil (now close to $80 a barrel) and the financial mess surrounding just about every major airline.
Frommer points out that the airlines haven’t given any public notice about the fuel surcharges. He regularly conducts test bookings, and hadn’t noticed anything until a friend told him about an increase due to fuel on a ticket to London.
The issue of surcharges for fuel is a hot one around the Friendly Planet Travel office. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to deal with these charges, particularly since the government has made it our responsibility (as the issuer of the tickets) to collect the surcharges from you, the travelers, whenever they are levied.
This is a very messy and unfortunate position in which to find ourselves. At our company, we take a lot of pride and satisfaction in creating high-value-for-your-money vacations, and anyone who has seen our Web site can attest to the fact that they are paragons of full disclosure.
If it’s a cost, it’s disclosed on the tour’s Web page. All but the fuel surcharges, that is. Oh, they are definitely included in tour prices when we create a tour and cost it, but that doesn’t mean those charges are stable and won’t go up.
As fastidious as we are about full disclosure and great pricing, you can imagine our chagrin when an airline sends us an e-mail to announce that a fuel surcharge is in the works. Sometimes the announcement comes retroactively, and the only thing we can do is send that dreaded notice that the airlines have already raised fuel and that’s that.
Sometimes we get a few days of grace in order to send frantic messages to our travelers to let them know they can avoid the increases by paying for their tickets immediately so that we can issue them. But the grace period is always short, and imagine those unhappy travelers who have full mailboxes, or who don’t check their messages each day, or who might be on an African safari and are out of touch. They don’t have any recourse.
And the fuel surcharge increases can be significant – usually around $100 or more per ticket. If you’re a family of four, that could add up to a big chunk of your vacation spending money.
I’m not even going to start on the subject of what these fuel surcharges mean to us. If we do get a grace period, the entire office goes into a frenzy of extra work to contact everyone, collect and process payments, and issue tickets.
And for the record, we don’t get a penny of that fuel surcharge increase for our efforts, either. It’s just our job to do this mountain of extra work, for which we not only receive no compensation, but get unhappy travelers, who usually can’t believe it isn’t somehow our fault.
While we have absolutely no way to avoid the surcharges when they occur, there are a few strategies that help to manage them.
- If you pay for your ticket at the time you book your tour, you are able to guarantee the cost of the ticket at the moment. If fuel goes up, you’re protected. If fuel goes down, well, you might have overpaid. But honestly, fuel goes up way more often than it goes down, so the odds are in your favor if you do opt to pay for your ticket when you book your tour.
- You can make a mental note that the cost of your trip could go up by another $100 to $200 per person, and budget for this at the outset. If the fuel increases, and you’re not willing to buy your ticket way in advance, you accept the higher cost, but aren’t blown away by the expense because you’ve taken it into consideration. If your budget for the trip doesn’t allow the possibility for an extra fee for fuel, you probably should not book the trip. You’ll do yourself a favor if you save up more money for your vacation until you can afford the extra cost.
The way it’s going these days, fuel surcharge increases are coming in waves, and if you’re traveling anywhere by air in the coming months, you’ll likely see the impact in the cost of your ticket. Whether you pay for your ticket in advance to avoid potential fuel surcharges or you budget for extra cost so you don’t let it ruin your vacation, please don’t blame us for it. We’re as blameless as you are. Honest.
If you would like to comment on fuel surcharges, how pricing is done on travel, or if you have any ideas for managing these increases in the cost of fuel, please leave a comment, or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.