Last week, I called AA to reserve 4 tickets to Bali for next summer, on the only dates I have seen that work for a trip that makes the most of the weekends on either end of it. I had put the outbound trip on hold a couple days before and had no problem getting the 4 seats we wanted on US Airways and Cathay Pacific, with the Hong Kong-Bali segment in coach. All was well although I thought the taxes the agent quoted me were high for Asia, where departure taxes usually range from zero to not very much. Yesterday it finally ticketed at the cost I had been quoted but I didn’t really look at it. Today I checked the receipt that was emailed and something seemed really screwy. What’s wrong with this picture?
So I called AA back and asked them to explain the fare being charged on our award tickets. The agent seemed confused by it and put me on hold while she talked to someone in the tariffs department. After a couple minutes she came back and said there is a new fee (she said it’s called Q580) for transiting Hong Kong and that everything is applied correctly. She did agree with me on the fact that since it is applied as a fare it’s triggering additional fees – $35 in U.S. taxes and $16.50 in Passenger Facility Charge or XF fees. So this $12 per person is costing our family $254. Is that the end of the world, for what we’re getting? Of course not. But do I want to give away $250 for nothing? Um, no thanks!
So I did a little more digging. One really cool thing about United’s award search is that all taxes and fees are spelled out. I can’t force an exact routing but I can get close enough. I plugged in SAT-HKG continuing on HKG-DPS within 24 hours which resulted in a SAT-ORD-HKG-SIN-BKK-DPS. Taxes?
This is the correct tax amount, and something fishy is going on. Small but still fishy. Since we are going directly from Hong Kong to Bali we don’t have the Singapore fees and should only be paying $5.60 per person for that direction. But of course we’ve booked tickets to come back as well. Not from Bali, we’ll take care of that with a separate ticket. Our return is HKG-LAX-PHX-SAT. Easy to reproduce with United, and here are the taxes:
As expected, the award taxes on our trip should be $44.20 per person for a total of $176.80, not $430.80! So what’s really going on? I finally used the correct search tool for finding stuff on flyertalk (it’s called google – you can use my affiliate link for a free trial) and found that Cathay Pacific is charging a surcharge that AA has silently started passing on. The thread is here, and it turns out that if your outbound trip is not on Cathay you would be better off booking two one-ways even if you have to pay the booking fee twice, since those taxes are not collected on the fare if you’re only flying to the U.S. on a ticket with a fare charged.
Again, it’s not a huge deal but it’s totally not welcome to see a fare being charged on your award tickets! Nor is it welcome that AA is happy to add surcharges on award tickets without notice.