With Virgin Blue’s newly launched Velocity
joining the ranks of frequent flyer programs, it looks like counting points for
that tropical holiday is the way to go. But beware: free flights may not be so
free after all. Both Qantas (and affiliated Jetstar) and Virgin Blue charge
taxes, levies and surcharges on top of frequent flyer tickets.

So what kind of
extra price are we talking about? Last week, Crikey reader Deb Richardson
told us she’d been charged more than $270 for redeeming
three frequent flyer tickets with Qantas (23 June,

Crikey rang Qantas to get a better idea of the surcharge structure and
was told that charges vary depending on the length of the journey,
which airports are passed through and which branch of Qantas (domestic,
Jetstar, Qantas Trans Tasman, etc) is used. Which doesn’t really tell
us much, given that there doesn’t appear to be a freely available list
of what these charges are, or information about how the fuel surcharge
is calculated.

What we were able to glean is that yesterday, for a domestic Qantas Sydney to
Melbourne flight (one way), the extra
charge for a frequent flyer ticket was $50.95. The booking agent, after much
searching through her computer, said this included a fuel surcharge of $34.18,
although you wouldn’t be able to tell this from the internet booking form. The other $16.77 includes airport charges,
baggage taxes, a head tax, GST and any other levies charged by Sydney or
Melbourne airports.

By comparison, the Virgin model is simpler – and in this case, cheaper. For any journey taken with Virgin Blue,
whether you pay with money or frequent flyer points, the airline charges $39
(including GST) for each leg on top of the ticket price. This is comprised of a
$19 fuel surcharge and $20 for the various other taxes, fees and

Both airlines saythat it is the
responsibility of the individual frequent flyer program member to be informed
about taxes, surcharges and levies but, from our brief
experience, this is easier said than done.

Even so, Australian airlines still obfuscate
less than their American counterparts. In the US a ticket buyer can find their credit
card slugged with even more hidden – or at least obscured – charges. According to
one blogger, the additional, unquoted fees for American flights include a September 11 security fee, facility use charges and fees for posting
boarding passes.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey