A Nova Scotia man is questioning why Air Canada charged him almost $800 in extra fees, including a fuel surcharge of $697, for a flight he booked with Aeroplan miles.
Geoff Ardern originally booked a flight earlier this year but was forced to cancel because of his health. When he re-booked his business-class seat to Manchester, England from Halifax it cost him 75,000 Aeroplan miles plus hundreds of dollars more.
Booking a similar business class flight and paying for it would cost about $6,300, while an economy flight would cost about $1,100, or 60,000 Aeroplan miles plus fees.
In the booking for the ticket he eventually used, Ardern had to pay a total of $781.30, of which $697 showed up as a fuel surcharge, he said. The Tax and Fee Summary on Ardern's booking document showed the $697 was for "combined taxes, fees, charges and surcharges." The $697 is listed as XT.
"You can't figure out from that fare calculation what that means," said Ardern, who said he called Air Canada to inquire why he was paying so much.
"When fuel surcharges went on, they went on somewhere near when oil was $100 a barrel and now it's sitting at $40 a barrel," he said.
"To me, it's just gouging," he said.
Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC News there was a link on the online ticket explaining the breakdown.
Fitzpatrick said in 2008, the airline incorporated fuel surcharges into base fares for North American travel, meaning within Canada and between Canada and the U.S. For other travel, the airline "has rolled fuel surcharges into what is now called a carrier surcharge, which is then included in the Air Transportation Charges," Fitzpatrick said in an email.
"These charges are collected by airlines to partially offset certain volatile, unpredictable or fluctuating operating costs and fees, and certain fare premiums linked to peak travel periods," he said.
CBC News asked Aeroplan for more information about how much the extra charges would be when travelling economy on the same route Ardern flew, as well as how much fees generally are when flying between Canada and Europe on business class using Aeroplan.
Aeroplan spokeswoman Christa Poole said carrier-imposed surcharges are determined by each airline and depend on factors such as the route and class of service.
"The surcharges, where applicable, may vary from less than $100 to several hundred dollars and may also vary for economy class flight rewards versus business or first class Flight Rewards," Poole wrote in an email.
Airline passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs said the term fuel surcharge is simply a euphemism for charging passengers more money.
"People have gotten used to it, but it remains what it is — another charge imposed by the airline," he said.
"I don't think that the name fuel surcharge is adequate in the circumstances, but the airline could also have called it 'CEO Salary Charge' or 'We Rip You Off Charge,' but sadly the airline can charge whatever they want and we have to respect that it is a free market," he said.
Pierre Jean Mayol, Aeroplan's head of travel products, said the extra charges are not unique to Air Canada.
"All loyalty programs in Canada have amounts of surcharges that are determined by carriers," he said.
"It's a standard industry practice so it's something the carriers are determining at their sole discretion and it's something we are contractually and legally obliged to apply on the reward tickets."
Mayol said there are two levels of Aeroplan rewards and while both have advantages, one of them has no surcharges. He advises Aeroplan members to review both levels and book their flights according to which one meets their needs.
However, he acknowledges that surcharges are a sore point with Aeroplan members, calling it "a member irritant."
Advice to save money
Booking a flight with reward miles takes time and research, said Avery Campbell, whose firm Awarding Canada aims to help people use reward miles without having to pay hundreds on extra fees.
Campbell says that carriers such as Air Canada, Lufthansa and Austrian offer the most seats for reward miles.
But there's a tradeoff.
"They're the ones that you're going to be paying those really high fuel surcharges on," he said.
He said carriers like United, Swiss International to Europe and EVA Airlines are among those that do not have fuel surcharges.
A previous version of the story said that United Airlines, Swiss International to Europe and EVA Airlines have fuel surcharges. They do not.Dec 22, 2015 11:16 AM AT