Years ago the UK started a tax to save the world, or line their pockets, adding a mandatory luxury surcharge to all airline passenger tickets departing the country. What they don't tell you, is that there are many circumstances in which you probably didn't need to, nor should you have paid it. That doesn't mean you didn't...
Let's Talk About The UK Departure Tax...
The UK Air Passenger Duty is a tax placed on every traveler whose itinerary starts anywhere in the world and returns from the UK and every traveler who departs the UK for travel anywhere in the world. The tax is steep for all cabins and those flying up front paying a whopping £142 each time, even on tickets using miles. There's one very notable exception to this, which is fairly common knowledge. Any ticket that starts outside of the UK, and only connects in the UK, does not need to pay. Most airlines know this, and do not charge the UK departure tax on those tickets. All good right? Wrong! Many still add the tax when they shouldn't, even on connections less than 24 hours! It gets even more complicated, and yes, worse, when multiple itineraries or airlines are involved.
Example: If I have a ticket using miles or money departing from London to New York, but a separate ticket from another carrier bringing me from lets say...Germany to London, I would be incorrectly charged the UK Departure Tax on my London to New York ticket. The ticket departing London has no idea that I'm coming from outside the UK, and therefore a £142 tax is slapped on. No one will tell you that isn't correct. Sometimes, even if your reservation is all one ticket and it's a connection less than 24 hours, they still incorrectly add the tax.
How Do I Know If I was Charged The UK Departure Tax?
The only sure fire way to look, is to go to your receipt, look through the endless little taxes and fees section, and find the "United Kingdom Air Passenger Duty", which will come to £13 or £71 for flights in economy, and either £26 or £142 for business or first class, in both cases, the higher numbers apply to flights over 2,000 miles. Checking your detailed, itemized receipt is the only way to know for sure.
So I've Been Overcharged, What Can I Do?
Before you rip your shirt in half and turn green, for the most part there's nothing sinister here. As I mentioned, if you book a single itinerary which just transits through the UK for less than 24 hours, you most likely never paid the tax, though it's worth a look. If however, you had a ticket to the UK which was separate from the ticket leaving the UK, you definitely paid the tax on the ticket leaving the UK. You were overcharged. Your best bet is to email or message the airline, with receipt of the two itineraries, yes, even though they may be different airlines or bookings, with the one into UK within 24 hours of the one departing the UK, and the one departing the UK, and then request a refund from the airline that charged you the UK Departure Tax. Spoiler alert, if you've already flown, you're going to face a tougher battle. Airlines don't pay the government when you buy your ticket, but they do when you fly, which complicates things for past travel.
Ok, So What About The Future?
You don't get charged the tax on flights coming into the UK, just departing. If you want to be a UK tourist, make your stop in the UK before the rest of your trip, not the end and then depart the UK within 24 hours of arriving from elsewhere. If the UK is home, there's very little to avoid this without first starting your journey elsewhere. We regularly see better, more competitive fares that originate outside of the UK, which transfer through the UK, so though it could mean added hassle, you could save money both on airfare and the UK passenger tax by finding a cheap flight starting elsewhere and booking a cheap one way to get there....