As international airfares soar, Americans stay in USA

"Many dream trips to Europe and Asia this past year have been postponed," says FareCompare.com CEO Rick Seaney. "Amazingly, the base airfare cost is lower than the fuel surcharge on some transoceanic tickets."

On Sept. 25, for example, online travel agent giant Orbitz said the cheapest round-trip airfare — leaving from New York's JFK airport on Nov. 11 and returning from London's Heathrow airport on Nov. 18 — was $170, plus $479 in surcharges and taxes.

Northwest nwa Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo Shannon says, "With record oil prices, we have no choice but to try to offset these extraordinary costs with fuel surcharges."

Last month, for a flight departing Sept. 29 and returning Oct. 6 on the 50 most-traveled international routes, the most expensive fuel surcharge for the cheapest non-stop fares was $525. American amr included that surcharge in its $1,280 New York-Tokyo and $1,300 Chicago-Tokyo tickets. In September 2007, American's cheapest non-stop tickets on those routes had a $150 fuel surcharge.

American's fuel surcharges vary on each route depending on flight length and competition — "the same reasons fares vary," says American spokesman Tim Wagner.

That's not always true among foreign airlines. Air France charges $165, and Lufthansa charges $105, on every one-way U.S. flight, regardless of length.

The fuel surcharge is "designed to only partly cover the increased cost of fuel," says Jennifer Urbaniak, a spokeswoman for Lufthansa, which flies to 18 U.S. cities. Fuel costs this year are expected to be about $2.5 billion more than last year for the German carrier, she says.

Airlines could raise fares to cover expenses instead of implementing a fuel surcharge. But carriers "get a marketing benefit out of blaming oil companies for high fares," Seaney says.

Air Canada said last month it was making prices "more transparent" by removing fuel surcharges for North American flights. The surcharges ranged from $20 to $60 per one-way flight.

On Sept. 12, FareCompare.com studied the fuel surcharges for nearly 620,000 round-trip, transoceanic fares of 70 airlines. The study showed that:

•The 70 airlines' average fuel surcharge per flight was $349. The average surcharge ranged from $200 for German airline Air Berlin to $1,162 for Malaysia Airlines.

•The average fuel surcharge per flight ranges from $311 to $335 for the six big U.S. airlines flying abroad — American, Continental, cal Delta, dal Northwest, United and US Airways. lcc

•Flights to and from Tel Aviv, Israel, had the most expensive average fuel surcharge: $500. Frankfurt, Germany, flights had the least expensive average fuel surcharge: $258.

Surcharges are necessary, says aviation consultant Michael Boyd, because a lot of fuel is burned on an international flight. At the recent price of oil, about $94 a barrel, a Boeing 777 burns about $80,000 of fuel on a one-way flight from Newark to Shanghai, he says.

No love for surcharges

Many fliers are unsympathetic.

"The fuel surcharges are the biggest joke," says Dave Christensen, who lives in Seward, Alaska, and works for a management consulting firm. "It's kind of like paying one discounted price for an all-you-can-eat buffet but, before you can get in line, you also have to buy a plate, knife, fork and spoon at an extra, inflated cost."

The surcharges and high fares, as well as a weak U.S. dollar against many countries' currencies, has caused a drop in U.S. originating passengers for some airlines.

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