The Wall Street Journal answers a question my father has asked me for years: When you cancel a nonrefundable ticket, why do airlines get to keep the roughly 16% of the fare that was actually taxes and fees paid to airports, the government, etc?
Answer: Because that’s how the laws are written. International airlines will refund the taxes, fees and fuel surcharges (sometimes more than $200) on an international non-refundable ticket. However, in the US airlines keep all of that because they can. The Department of Homeland Security says that airlines should refund you the 9/11 security fee ($10), but the airlines say they shouldn’t because refunding such small amounts would make them incur costs (oh, that’s funny – keeping those fees on a nonrefundable ticket is making passengers incur a cost.)
This has always bothered me (and now that you know, it will now bother you) – thanks to the WSJ for bringing it to people’s attention. Nothing’s going to change (now is not exactly the time to ask airlines to start giving money away), but at least you know.