Airlines told to play fair on hidden card costs

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The Independent Online

In a crackdown on "rip-off fees", the business watchdog yesterday told entertainment and travel firms to drop debit card charges and levy proportionate ones for credit cards.

Passengers booking with budget airlines can be stung by fees approaching £50 to cover processing costs which come to a fraction of that amount. Although many firms now waive debit card charges, some airlines and ferries charge £5 per transaction when the processing cost is as little as 20p. The OFT launched its 90-day investigation after the consumer group Which? complained that the charges were unfairly penalising consumers and hindering competition by making it hard to shop around online.

The OFT focused on investigating the travel sector – airline, ferry and train companies – but said its conclusions applied to all credit and debit charges made by businesses. It complained that the airline sector, which charged £300m in payment fees last year, often added charges only at the end of a drawn-out booking process.

The watchdog refused to name and shame the worst offenders, but said customers passed through eight web pages before easyJet added an £8 charge, while Ryanair levied £6 per journey only after four pages.

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the OFT's consumer group, said: "We will take enforcement action against any businesses that do not respond to today's announcement."

Ryanair insists customers can avoid "administration fees" if they used MasterCard Pre-pay. The OFT said very few people held such cards.

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