Are airlines pocketing your tax refund? Most likely.

planeSometimes you don’t make your plane. Sometimes it’s because you overslept (me), perhaps you have lost your passport (my brother), or maybe there is some other equally fascinating reason why you didn’t actually take off. If it’s your fault, it is unlikely you will be able to claim a refund, unless you have some pretty hefty travel insurance, right?

Well, actually, as we all know, particularly those who use our favourite Irish based airline, quite often the lion’s share of the fee can be made up of ‘taxes and charges’, the taxes part of this comprising Air Passenger Duty (APD). Now, in much the same way as VAT, the airline collects APD from you and pays it over to the Government periodically once the charging point has passed. The charging point being the moment you step on a plane*. Clearly, then, if you don’t board your plane, the airline automatically refunds the APD you paid as part of your ticket price, right?

Of course they don’t. They pocket the cash as a nice little earner- Which! estimate that Ryanair alone made over £5,000,000 out of this little scam alone in 2003.

Now the Air Travel Advisory Bureau (ATAB) are launching a petition to reclaim these taxes from the airline. The first step is to inform people of the scam, something we at Bitterwallet are more than happy to help with, but the second is to stamp out airlines’ ludicrous ‘administration charges’ that quite often wipe out any APD repayment due. Funny that.

APD was introduced back in 1994 and the current rates are £12, £60, £75 or £90 per outward (ie from the UK) flight depending on whether your destination is up to 2,000 miles away, 2,000-4,000 miles, 4,000 to 6,000 miles or over 6,000 miles away. The rates are doubled if you fly anything other than the cheapest available class.

Head of Research for Which! Travel, Rochelle Turner, said “Airlines should not be the automatic beneficiary of any unclaimed APD, and any administration fees that put people off claiming back the APD are unfair. We want to see all airlines either charge an appropriate fee for reclaiming the Air Passenger Duty on unused flights, or simply charge nothing at all.”

ATAB chairman Tony White said "It is a scandal that some airlines hang on to this money. It never belonged to them. It's a tax collected on the behalf of the Government. With a couple of exceptions, most of the UK airlines make it as difficult as possible to get your money back. If you don't actually fly, for whatever reason, you are entitled to get the APD refunded."

Because the airlines don’t make it easy for you to reclaim your APD, ATAB have produced a very handy step-by-step guide to help you reclaim your taxes, and also ask you to sign a petition to outlaw ridiculous admin charges on refunds.

So go get ‘em, tigers.

* one that takes off, presumably.


  • james D.
    What if I only paid £1 for my flight including all taxes and charges, can I still get my tax back? Ryan air would owe me a fortune.
  • The B.
    Hmmm. my holiday to Thailand last year was cancelled because of some Icelandic cloud or other and Thomson gave me a full refund bar.... the £30 they charged me to use my credit card for booking it. They said it wasn't their charge but a charge levied by Visa, so where does that fit in?
  • captain.cretin
    I have always managed to get this back, and even on long-haul flights, it often amounts to 30-60% of the total fare when you include the OTHER taxes they charge that are not payable if you dont fly. I have to praise CHINA SOUTHERN AIRLINES and CTRIP website here; due to the snow just before Christmas, I missed a connection at Amsterdam, the first of 3 connections!!! KLM sorted the next connection, and I emailed Ctrip about the problem and booked a new, final connection; they refunded my flight taxes promptly without being asked, the money was back in my account with 48 hours of missing the flight, despite the fact the cancellation was within 8 hours of the flight leaving. (I got back £64 out of the £88 the total flight cost) That is in stark contrast to some European airlines who have taken 2-3 MONTHS to return the money.
  • Tricky R.
    Government Tax Refund Administration Fee - Per Passenger £17 Unless you're flying outside Europe, its not worth your time - what a con!

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