Depending on where you go, these taxes can constitute up to 50 (!) percent of your total airfare.
According to a new study by financial insights company ValuePenguin, Americans paid more than $3.5 billion in airfare taxes in 2014—and that’s just taking into account the top 15 international destinations for U.S.-based travelers. Depending on where you go, these taxes can constitute between five to 50 (yes, 50!) percent of your total airfare. In other words: it’s not chump change. Here’s a quick primer on the worst offenders, where that money goes, and how to avoid paying it in the first place. (Because yes, there is a travel hack for that.)
The Countries to Avoid
Unlike the taxes you pay on your wages, airfare taxes generally don’t increase in proportion to your ticket price; they’re fixed for every destination. (There are a handful of exceptions, like the U.K.’s Air Passenger Duty Tax, which nearly doubles if you book a first class seat.)
Of the 15 most popular destinations for American travelers, ValuePenguin found that the U.K. charges the heaviest entry tax at $209; Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are also big offenders, charging $158 and $146 in taxes respectively.
Where The Money Goes
Whenever you pay airfare taxes, you’re paying a fee to both the country you’ve departed as well as the one you’re entering. For U.S. travelers, the exit tax is always between $62 and $64, and that money helps fund things like airport infrastructure costs and the TSA, which raked in a whopping $3 billion on these taxes in 2015 alone.
ValuePenguin found that most countries use their airfare taxes similarly, but there are a few outliers that might make you feel a bit better about where your money goes. Jamaica, for example, helps bolster tourism with its aptly named Tourism Tax; the Dominican Republic uses airfare taxes to develop infrastructure, often to help you more easily enjoy the country’s pristine beaches; and the Netherlands uses a portion of its funds to compensate residents who live directly under busy flight paths, since they bear the brunt of the noise pollution associated with airports.
How to Evade Airfare Taxes (No Lawyer Needed)
There are a few hacks you can use to cut down on the amount of airfare taxes you pay.
First, consider your airport options, as taxes vary within a given country. Flying out of Cologne instead of Frankfurt, for instance, will save you about $30; you can pay $17 to fly out of Manchester or $60 to fly out of London’s Heathrow. (Of the three London airports, Heathrow and Gatwick have both recently raised taxes; if you need to stay in greater London, Luton is still more affordable on this front.)
Also be wary of connections.
Again, Heathrow comes in with the heaviest levies; connecting there will automatically add $80 to your fare. Frankfurt and Paris are other common connection points that come with a price tag of more than $40, while a stopover in Amsterdam’s Schiphol is just $26, according to ValuePenguin’s findings.
This may also affect how you think about airline loyalty. American Airlines often flies through London thanks to its relationship with British Airways, so AAdvantage fliers often pay that $80 connection tax. Delta, on the other hand, routes most of its international flights through Paris or Amsterdam, while United uses Frankfurt as a common connection point thanks to a partnerships with Lufthansa.
One caveat worth noting: If you’re paying for a fare with miles or points, you’ll still have to put down your credit card for taxes. So if what you’re after is a (basically) free flight, you’ll still have to pay attention to this one pesky charge.
For ValuePenguin’s full findings, including a wealth of details on the particularities of airfare taxes in the top 15 travel destinations, head to valuepenguin.com/taxes-raise-international-airfare.