When booking a “free” flight, the last thing you want is to pay a ton of cash—in addition to the miles and points you’re using—when booking award flights. But, some programs add heavy fees and surcharges when trying to book a “free flight”. Here’s a look at the programs that don’t add these fees, so you can save money on your upcoming reservations.

What Are Award Fees and Fuel Surcharges?

The most egregious of fees when using your miles to book “free flights” will be fuel surcharges or “carrier-imposed” fees. The industry shortcodes for these fees are YQ and YR. Look at this example of an Emirates business class fare for a flight from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Dubai (DXB).

Screenshot of all fees and charges for Emirates business class flight IAD-DXB

The total price you would pay for this one-way flight is $4,858.20. Of that, $605 of that is carrier-imposed surcharges. That means booking an award flight on this flight through some programs could cost you $605 more than if you booked the same flight through a different program. It all depends on which programs pass along these surcharges when you book award flights using their miles.

These Aren’t Taxes

To be sure that we’re clear, these are not government-imposed taxes or mandatory fees. All award flights booked with all airline programs will have mandatory taxes — even if the program doesn’t add surcharges. You will pay things like airport departure fees, taxes, post-9/11 security fees in the U.S., and the like. These taxes cannot be avoided.

What we want to avoid is these optional, “carrier-imposed surcharges” that some programs tack onto award flights.

Airline Loyalty Programs that Don’t Add Surcharges to Award Flights

Air Canada Aeroplan

One of the major announcements in the overhaul of Aeroplan in 2020 was the elimination of surcharges on award bookings.

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here

Avianca LifeMiles

There are some great sweet spots when using Avianca LifeMiles. Part of what makes this program so popular is that you can book award flights without the huge surcharges assessed by other Star Alliance programs like Lufthansa.

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Brex Rewards, Capital One Miles, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here

Be aware that there is an award booking fee — which can add $25 per ticket when using your LifeMiles.

Allegiant Allways

There are no extra fees tacked onto redemptions with the Allegiant Allways loyalty program.

  • Alliance: none
  • Transfer partners: none
  • No partner redemption options

Frontier Airlines Frontier Miles

Frontier Miles don’t expire, and this is also one of the programs that won’t add surcharges to your award flights.

  • Alliance: none
  • Transfer partners: none
  • No partner redemption options

JetBlue TrueBlue

JetBlue TrueBlue points are worth an average of 1.4¢ when redeeming them, and the good news is that you won’t pay a ton of fees on your redemptions.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Rapid Rewards is the easiest airline loyalty program to use, and its points don’t expire. Another positive of this program is that it doesn’t add fees to award bookings.

  • Alliance: none
  • Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy
  • No partner redemption options

United Airlines MileagePlus

Despite its lack of an official award chart (see our unofficial United award chart here), the United Airlines MileagePlus program has several strengths. Among these: it’s one of few major airline programs where you can easily accumulate lots of miles and yet book awards with surcharges and fees.

Photo of United logo on the side of a plane; the airline is one of the new transfer partners for Bilt Rewards

Airline Loyalty Programs that Sometimes Add Surcharges to Award Flights

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska Airlines joined Oneworld in March 2021, and the Mileage Plan program is a favorite of many. Depending on which airline you’re flying, you may pay surcharges.

  • Alliance: Oneworld
  • Transfer partner: Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here
  • When you pay surcharges: flights on British Airways and Icelandair
  • When you don’t pay surcharges: all other partners, including Alaska’s own flights

Remember that you will pay a partner award fee of $12.50 per direction when using your miles to fly on flights with anyone but Alaska Airlines. Below is an example of a one-way flight from New York-JFK going to Paris (either CDG or ORY) using Alaska miles. Note the wide range of cash surcharges on some award flights while others have next to nothing since these programs don’t add the fees automatically.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is one of the programs that sometimes adds surcharges to award flights, as the vast differences in prices show from this screenshot
Alaska Airlines MileagePlan award booking options from New York to Paris; some have surcharges, while others don’t.

All Nippon Airways (ANA)

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Transfer partner: American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here
  • When you pay surcharges: ANA flights and any partners that add surcharges
  • When you don’t pay surcharges: short-haul flights with LOT Polish and United Airlines, as well as all flights with Air New Zealand, Avianca, SAS, and Singapore Airlines

American Airlines AAdvantage

American Airlines completely overhauled its AAdvantage program in 2022, and the fact it has numerous credit cards makes it easy to rack up miles for award bookings.

  • Alliance: Oneworld
  • Transfer partners: Bilt Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here
  • When you pay surcharges: high surcharges on British Airways and moderate charges on Iberia
  • When you don’t pay surcharges: all other partners, including AA’s own flights

Delta Air Lines SkyMiles

While there’s no official award chart, we have put together an unofficial Delta award chart here. The fact Delta has many different credit cards means it’s quite easy to accumulate SkyMiles.

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here
  • When you pay surcharges: Delta, Air France, KLM, ITA, and Virgin Atlantic flights originating in Europe, plus flights on Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air Europa, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui, China Airlines, and TAROM
  • When you don’t pay surcharges: when the flight itself doesn’t have surcharges, plus flights on Aerolineas Argentinas, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, Korean Air, Saudia, and Vietnam Airlines

Flying Blue (Air France & KLM)

There are some great sweet spots in the Flying Blue program, but it’s one of the programs that tends to have high award surcharges on many flights. There are some flights without the big fees, though.

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Brex Rewards, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here
  • When you pay surcharges: everything except for Delta and Aeromexico flights
  • When you don’t pay surcharges: Delta and Aeromexico flights

Here is an example of the exact same Air France flight in business class from Dubai (DXB) to Paris (CDG).

Screenshot of Air France flight award booking option DXB-CDG using Delta miles

The above is booking with Delta SkyMiles, while the below option is booking with Flying Blue. Note the differences in award surcharges for the same award flights between these programs.

Flying Blue is one of the programs that adds surcharges to award flights, as this screenshot of a flight from Dubai to Paris shows

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Singapore Airlines publishes its award charts here. The program is famous for its Spontaneous Escapes (reduced-price awards), and using KrisFlyer is the only way you can book Singapore Airlines’ famous first class.

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Brex Rewards, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here
  • When you pay surcharges: any partners that add their own fees
  • When you don’t pay surcharges: Singapore Airlines flights and any partners that don’t add these fees

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

There are some great things about Flying Club, and overlooking the program can be costly. That being said, its system of when you will and won’t pay surcharges is a bit complex.

  • Alliance: none
  • Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy
  • List of redemption partners here
  • When you pay surcharges: long-haul ANA flights, international flights with Virgin Australia, long-haul flights with South African, and all flights with Virgin Atlantic, Air France, KLM, SAS, Singapore, and Air New Zealand.
  • When you don’t pay surcharges: flying on Delta and Hawaiian Airlines, plus domestic flights on ANA and Virgin Australia, and domestic and short-haul flights with South African

How to Use this Information to Your Advantage

Any airline programs not mentioned should be considered “program adds surcharges to award flights”. So what do we do with this information? Here are some recommendations:

  • Diversify your points and miles. This gives you the greatest flexibility in booking because you can compare award costs for not only how many miles you might need but also the cash component on that ticket. This is where flexible/transferable points become so valuable.
  • Compare all options to get you there. You should be doing this anyway, but make sure you are comparing multiple award booking programs to find your best options. This is where diversifying will help you, since you have more options to get from A to B.
  • Choose partners carefully. The Alaska Airlines example above shows just how much the surcharges on award flights can vary across programs and even within the same program. If costs are less when flying airline A vs airline B, consider that against other things like how long the connection times are, non-stop vs connecting flights, etc.
  • Understand what your miles and points are worth. We have a guide to average redemption values for what your points are worth. Compare this to increased cash costs for award fees. Maybe you could pay 10,000 more miles but save money on the cash part of your fare. Knowing what your points and miles are worth can help you decide which you’d prefer to spend.

Sometimes, you’ll just have to pay those fees. It’s not the end of the world, as long as you can afford the cash portion of the ticket. If you’ve considered all of the above, searched numerous frequent flyer programs, and just can’t find a ticket that gets you where you need to be without paying surcharges on the award flights you need, then accept it and make your reservation. It’s not the end of the world. We all have to pay these fees sometimes, despite our best efforts.

Bottom Line

Some frequent flyer programs are much better than others when it comes to not adding fees and surcharges to the booking process for award flights. United MileagePlus, Avianca LifeMiles, and independent airlines in the U.S. are the best when it comes to not adding fees. Other airlines made it into our “sometimes add fees” list, and we talked about when you will and won’t pay surcharges in those programs. We hope this helps you keep more cash in your pocket when booking future award travel.

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