Travel

More For Your Money: Keep an eye on fuel surcharges

Travelers to Europe this year are discovering unwelcome ride-alongs: new and heftier surcharges for flights and cruises. They may even pay more to get to their U.S. gateway airport. Blame the rising price of oil, driven by widening world demand and Mideast turmoil, for much of this pain.

In the last few months, British Airways has twice raised its fuel surcharges, and other European carriers also have raised theirs. Some cruise lines are adding or increasing daily fuel supplements. In the U.S., cabbies are clamoring for higher fares, and cash-strapped governments are charging more to ride local transit.

Here's a look at what you may find as you head to Europe:

Flights: "A fuel surcharge is a fancy way of making an airfare hike," said Rick Seaney, chief executive of the travel website FareCompare.com. U.S. regulations require airlines to include any such surcharge in the advertised fare.

"Summer airfares to Europe are running as high as I've seen in four or five years," Seaney said, with Dallas-Paris round trips, for instance, going "in the high $1,800s."

Fuel surcharges for transatlantic trips can run into the hundreds. Depending on the flight, the surcharge can be higher than the base fare. A Los Angeles-London round trip in April, recently priced on British Airways' website, totaled $738, including the $243 base fare, $276 fuel surcharge and $219 in taxes and fees.

What to do?

"The best strategy for a consumer is to play the seasonal pricing game," Seaney said. "Try to go off the beaten path."

Transatlantic fares usually stay low for flights through March or April before zooming upward in late spring and summer, the peak travel times, he said.

Cruises: Citing higher fuel prices, Cunard Line in February increased its daily fuel supplement to $9 from $6 for each passenger. The charge, applied to new bookings made on or after Feb. 28 for voyages departing April 14 or later, is capped at $300 a person a voyage.

Swan Hellenic Discovery Cruising and Voyages of Discovery, British lines that focus on small-ship trips, imposed a daily $6-a-person fuel supplement for certain new bookings made Feb. 1 or later. Some other European lines have such a charge too.

Although most major cruise lines that market to Americans are not collecting fuel supplements, that could change.

"If recent spikes in oil prices continue at the same velocity, a fuel surcharge is possible" even though companies would prefer not to impose one, analyst Robin M. Farley of UBS AG, a financial services firm, wrote in a recent industry update.

Taxis and airport shuttles: Chicago taxis in January began collecting a $1 fuel surcharge, up from 50 cents; under local law, the surcharge increases and falls with gasoline prices. In New York City, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a taxi industry association, last year asked the city for a 19% fare increase; as of late February, the request was pending, said association spokesman Michael Woloz.

In Los Angeles, the Board of Taxicab Commissioners on Thursday is scheduled to perform its regular twice-yearly review of fares, said Tom Drischler, the city's taxicab administrator, who declined to speculate on the outcome. About two years ago, the city did away with fuel surcharges for taxis and instead now builds the cost of fuel into fares, he said.

At SuperShuttle International in Scottsdale, Ariz., which has airport shuttles in Los Angeles and across the nation, the run-up in oil prices is "very much on our radar," said Dorthina Davis, vice president of franchise development. "We're on pins and needles." But as of late last month, she said, none of the company's franchisees was imposing fuel surcharges.

Public transit: Citing budget gaps, both New York City and Los Angeles County in the last year have raised fares for buses and subways, as have many other urban areas. In U.S. cities, the average cost of public transportation in January was up nearly 8% from the same month last year, as measured by the U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index.

jane.engle@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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