U.S. DOT Complaint – JAL Does the Right Thing

I enjoyed my week in Dubai (location of Emirates’s hub)

This evening I received unexpectedly good news from a rather surprising source.  Two months ago, I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation over JAL’s unannounced imposition of significant fuel surcharges on Emirates award flights.  Today, JAL responded with news that may help more passengers than just me.

JAL’s Surprise Fuel Surcharges – Emirates Award Flights

In November, I wrote about how I transferred SPG points to JAL in order to book an Emirates first class award flight (the plane with the shower!!).  Travel aficionados would deem this a worthy use of points because:  1) JAL has a distance-based award chart that requires only 105,000 JAL miles for Emirates first class award flights with flight distances between 8,000 and 10,000 miles, and 2) previously, JAL did not impose fuel surcharges on Emirates award flights.  Unfortunately I was one of the first travelers to discover that JAL had abruptly, and without notice, started imposing fuel surcharges on Emirates award flight.   Thankfully there are a few strategies you can use to minimize these fuel surcharges.

Given that I had already transferred 85,000 SPG points to JAL prior to discovering JAL’s change in policy, I was stuck.  I could not reverse the transfer and I could not make a booking without paying an additional approx. $515 USD in fuel surcharges.  I went ahead and booked the Emirates first class flight (and paid the fuel surcharges).

U.S. Department of Transportation Complaint and JAL’s Response

I did not stop there.  I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Filing a complaint was a shot in the dark because I am not aware of any other instance where a consumer has received their requested remedy after filing a U.S. DOT complaint, especially for a complaint related to an award booking.  Here is the text of my complaint:

JAL started imposing fuel surcharges on Emirates award tickets without providing any advanced notice. The fees increased from approximately $20 to $820 for a one-way ticket. The DOT should require JAL to give advanced notice before imposing this change, and refund all surplus fuel charges imposed in the interim.

The U.S. DOT acknowledged receipt of my complaint and forwarded it to JAL.  Three weeks later, JAL responded that it had begun reviewing my complaint.  On January 31, 2018, JAL completed its review:

We have reviewed your letter concerning redemption of Starwood points through JAL Mileage Bank to book award travel on Emirates.  Upon becoming aware last November that Emirates is applying a fuel surcharge to award travel, JAL promptly updated the Emirates fee information on its website and otherwise began advising our JAL Mileage Bank members of the surcharge.

We understand that you transferred Starwood points and/or made a booking through JAL on Emirates prior to the applicability of the fuel surcharge.  While JAL’s website and our agents advise that the fees applicable to award travel are subject to change, as a courtesy to you, our valued Mileage Bank member, JAL agrees to return the transferred miles back to Starwood points or refund the fuel surcharges.

Upon verification, 105,000 miles were transferred and used to issue ticket ending ***. If you wish to have the 105,000 miles returned, then the ticket will need to be refunded. 

If you wish to travel as booked, we will refund the fuel surcharges in the amount of USD515.00 back to the original form of payment which will be processed once your journey has been completed. . 

Please kindly advise which you prefer. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Thank you for being a JAL Mileage Bank member.    

Incredible.  I will choose the monetary refund and keep the Emirates first class award flight.


I want to commend JAL for doing the right thing–I am very impressed.  I also want to point out that JAL made this decision on its own; the U.S. DOT merely forwarded the complaint to JAL.  If anyone else was “trapped” following a transfer of points to JAL and ended up paying this unexpected fuel surcharge, you may be able to request a refund.  Good luck.


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