Qantas closes frequent-flyer loophole

Qantas will slash fuel surcharges for economy seats on international flights by as much as two-thirds to close a loophole in its alliance with Emirates allowing frequent flyers to avoid hundreds of dollars in fees.

Qantas will slash fuel surcharges for economy seats on international flights by as much as two-thirds to close a loophole in its alliance with Emirates allowing frequent flyers to avoid hundreds of dollars in fees.

The move to align fees between the two airlines has resulted in Emirates increasing its fuel surcharges for a one-way economy flight to Europe from $75 to $230, and to Asia from $30 to $145.

Since the alliance began on March 31, savvy travellers have avoided hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges by redeeming frequent-flyer points on Emirates rather than Qantas, which had higher fees.

To remove the discrepancy, Qantas will reduce fuel surcharges for one-way economy tickets to Europe by $150 to $230 to match Emirates. The biggest cut will be to the fuel fees Qantas charges for economy flights to the Middle East, which will drop by $200 to $115.

Qantas and Emirates emphasised that the change in the make-up of fares will not alter the overall cost of tickets. Fuel surcharges are an expensive irritant for frequent flyers because they have to pay them even when they use points to buy tickets.

Qantas would not put a figure on the hit to its revenue from the changes. To mirror its partner, Qantas will now charge different fuel fees depending on the class of seat, instead of its previous policy of a flat charge for all passengers. While Qantas surcharges for business-class tickets to the Middle East will fall from $315 to $155, those to Asia will rise from $175 to $190 and to Africa from $260 to $380.

The surcharge for one-way business-class tickets to Europe will remain unchanged at $380.

The changes to Qantas' levies will apply only to routes which are part of its alliance with Emirates, which encompasses Europe, Asia, North Africa and New Zealand. The airline said its passengers who redeemed their points for an economy-class seat on an international flight would see an average fall in surcharges of about 30 per cent across the alliance's network.

Closing the loophole has been high on the agenda of talks between Qantas and Emirates over the past month. Travellers wanting to fly economy from Australia to London return had been able to escape paying as much as $610 in fuel surcharges by redeeming their points on an Emirates flight rather than Qantas.

Qantas and Emirates cannot raise the total cost of a ticket much higher than their rivals because it would make them uncompetitive. But they can try to recoup the cost of fuel by imposing fuel surcharges on passengers who use frequent-flyer points to pay for their fare.