‘Fuel Dumping’ is a term given to an aircraft which disposes fuel mid-air prior to landing. This is often in the case of an emergency landing, whereby the aircraft needs to lighten it’s weight.
However, that’s not quite the ‘Fuel Dumping’ term we’ll be talking about today. Instead, we’re going to be talking about the fuel dumping term that can turn your £1,000 flight into a £200 flight. It involves intentionally pairing two separate flights on the exact same airfare ticket in the hope that the fuel surcharge is either significantly reduced or removed all together.
What Is A Fuel Surcharge?
A fuel surcharge is a component that makes up an airline ticket. In the early years of commercial aviation only the base fare and tax components of a flight ticket were included in it’s price. However, in 1973 the industry faced an oil crisis that forced them to add this third competent to the cost of airline tickets. The fuel surcharge was designed to combat the volatile nature of oil prices.
Airlines were no longer able to factor the fuel cost in the base fare and so creating this third component allowed them to specifically cover the cost of oil at whatever price it was indexed. A couple of years later the crisis ended, however controversially airlines decided to keep the fuel surcharge component of a ticket. To this date you’ll find fuel surcharges that are anything from £10 – £1,000 depending on the airline and airports you are travelling between.
How To Find A Fuel Dumping Fare
Find A Candidate Fare
A good candidate fare consists of a very low base fare and a high fuel surcharge. This is because even if you manage to dump some or all of the fuel surcharge you will always have to pay the base fare and tax. If the base fare is very high then there is less reason to dump the flight. Even after removing the fuel surcharge there would still be a significant amount to pay. Google’s ITA Matrix website allows you to review the price breakdown for any flight.
Once you have managed to find a flight with a low base fare and a high fuel surcharge you must then find out if the flight is actually ‘dumpable’. Unfortunatly, not all flights are.
Understanding Fare Rules
The fare rules determine what a particular flight can and can’t do. For example, how many stops are permitted, the minimum stay and the costs associated with the charges. The ITA Matrix website allows you to view the fare rules by clicking “rules” beside the flight details. To find out if a particular flight is ‘dumpable’ you’ll need to look at the combinability section. If “END-ON-END COMBINATIONS” and “SIDE TRIPS” are both permitted, then you have likely found a dumpable flight.
However, within each of these rules there maybe certain restrictions. For example, “END-ON-END COMBINATIONS PERMITTED WITH FARES WITHIN AREA 1” means you can combine this flight with another flight only from North America (Area 1 is the industry’s code for North America).
So you’ll be completely wasting your time if you attempted to dump this flight with a smaller flight in Europe or Asia, because only North American flights are combinable with this particular fare.
Finding The Strike
Now it’s all about adding the extra flight onto your itinerary that is set to cause the fuel dump. This is commonly known as the ‘strike’. The strike flight should be short and inexpensive. Otherwise it’s set to defeat the purpose of the entire fuel dumping practice.
The strike can occur anywhere in the world with any airline (unless the restrictions say otherwise) so searching for it can take a lot of time. As a specific rule of thumb try and aim for strike flights that are less than 60 minutes long. It’s also important to remember that some dumps are OTA (Online Travel Agency) specific.
It’s therefore recommended to conduct your search using a flight aggregator tool such as Momondo. By using the multi-destination search option you’ll be able to input three separate legs.
Positioning Your Strike
There are a number of places you can position the strike in your itinerary. The most common are: -before the main flights (1x) -after the main flights (3x) -inbetween the main flights (2x) -both before and after the main flights (1/4x) Typically, 1x strikes have the most successful results often achieving a 100% fuel dump. The downside to the 1x is that because this flight takes place before the main flight, you typically MUST fly it. If you don’t show up for your 1x strike, then the remainder of your ticket is automatically cancelled.
Booking Your Fuel Dumped Ticket
Should you decide to book a fuel-dumped ticket, you must understand the risks that are involved. Fuel dumping enthusiasts who regularly fly these types of tickets, minimise the amount of human interaction involved with their booking.
Calling the airline’s customer service department for a date change or a refund is only asking for trouble. A knowledgeable airline employee will notice the irregular itinerary, so it’s highly recommended to simply book your tickets, check-in online and fly.
Many newcomers to this practise are often concerned about the consequences of being caught by an airline. In theory, if an airline notices your fuel-dumped ticket, they could deny you boarding unless you paid the full ticket fare.
How A Fuel Dump Occurs
There are three main courses in which a fuel dump will occur;
Because the fuel surcharge component of a flight was added after commercial airline reservation systems were created, the possibility still remains that glitches and errors can occur. Airlines are aware that errors can occur on their both complex and outdated systems.
However, the cost of constantly finding and fixing them far outweighs their potential losses. These glitches typically occur when more than 1 airline is present on the same ticket. Searching for open-jaw flights can also significantly increase the chances of a self-dump.
Sometimes the OTA can be the cause of an error fare. Discounted tickets are usually the unintentional consequence of a missing fuel surcharge.
A glitch on the OTA systems can simply cause this to occur with very little understanding why. The main indication as to whether a fare is an OTA glitch is whether or not it can be replicated elsewhere.
Ticket prices are both decided and published by humans. Which can at times cause fares to be published incorrectly.
Fuel Dumping Websites & Forums
There are many websites and aviation forums that feature sections on fuel dumping. However, the strikes are often kept a closely guarded secret. Fuel dumping costs the aviation companies a vast amount of money, so many employees are dedicated to spending time navigating to find the latest fare, and close the dumping possibility.
For that reason many will talk in code and ask that you don’t share any vital information on any fuel dump you find. My personal favourite and perhaps the most extensive flying forum is Flyer Talk. To learn more about fuel dumping or keep up with the latest fuel dumping news it’s worth signing up.