Before we get into this… What’s YQ I hear you ask!? It is airline ticketing slang for “carrier-imposed surcharge”.
This surcharge is a tax that the airline adds to boost its bottom line. It’s particularly evident on points tickets. As I discussed in my post about the secret benefits of points tickets, airline ticketing is immensely complex. When airlines price tickets (be it for points or cash), there are millions of these tickets floating around in the distribution chain. Repricing them because some factor has changed is a timely and complex affair.
Enter carrier-imposed surcharge. Having YQ allows the airline to blanket add a fee to any of their tickets extremely easily. In the good times, this fee is usually pure profit. The taxes are paid for in cash and the points cover your actual fare. The YQ portion is really extra cash going to the airline because they’ve decided they want it for whatever reason.
Recent changes affecting YQ
Just yesterday whilst researching a future trip, I noticed Virgin Atlantic had raised YQ to a pretty extreme level. I found some tickets in Premium that had £240 in YQ charges plus an additional £300 in taxes & fees. Even more shockingly, the YQ had risen to £700 for Upper Class on some routes. That made the Upper-Class flight I was looking at 135,000 points PLUS around £950 in YQ, taxes and fees. These are probably some of the highest fees I’ve ever seen and absolutely wipe out any value of the points ticket in comparison to the cash equivalent. British Airways have also introduced similar rate hikes as well. I expect to see more of this across the board.
I expect these changes reflect the recent turmoil in the oil market. One of the airline’s largest expenses is fuel and they have whole departments whose sole job is to track and hedge for fuel prices. There are other possible reasons too, but only the airline’s own revenue management team would know for sure.
Be aware of this fee
The first step to admitting there is a problem in any situation is acknowledging it. You are never going to be able to get a good deal if you don’t look at the options and compare them all impartially. Knowing there is a sting in the tail when it comes to YQ is the first step to avoiding getting bitten by this animal. Some taxes and fees are unavoidable, but YQ fluctuates a lot and when it’s high, it makes sense to just avoid it as much as possible. Trying different routes and dates is a good way to avoid this additional fee. It may never go down, but history does indicate that airlines have a habit of raising it to sky-high levels and then reducing it later down the line.
What to do about it
Right now, beyond avoiding the fee where possible, there isn’t a great deal that can be done. The airlines set the terms and they change them on a whim. All we can really do is sit tight and hope it goes down in the future. One thing you can do though is comparing your options when looking for a trip – that’s something we’re always on hand for.