Simon Read: Rip-off card charges come under scrutiny

Being forced to pay through the nose for using a plastic card is one of those modern little annoyances I thought we had to just suck up and accept. But now Which? plans to put in a super-complaint about the rip-off surcharges which will force the Office of Fair Trading to examine the practice.

Which? named low-cost airline Ryanair as one of the worst examples of a company making excess profits from charging for debt and credit card transactions. The consumer body claims that processing a debit card transaction costs only 20p yet Ryanair charges a fiver per ticket per person, which means a family of four flying to, say, Dublin and back, would have to stump up an extra £40 on top of their flight charges.

But the airlines aren't the only guilty ones. Every time I've bought concert or football tickets in recent years the final cost has suddenly shot up when the agent or ticket seller has whacked on its spurious plastic card transactions charges. I don't mind paying a quid or so for the convenience of paying by plastic, but when the charge escalates to £20 or more for four tickets, that smacks of being a blatant rip-off.

Research from Travelsupermarket shows the practice is getting worse. Since last year easyJet has increased its minimum credit card fee from £4.50 to £4.95 while Flybe's fee has climbed from £4.50 to £5.50.

Jet2 has increased its minimum debit card fee by two-thirds, raising it from £2.99 to £4.99. Meanwhile some airlines – such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and BMI International – make no extra charge for debit card transactions.

"Card surcharges are just another opportunity for low-cost airlines to generate revenue," says Bob Atkinson of Travelsupermarket. "The charges bear no relation to the actual cost of the transaction." There seems little excuse – other than profiteering – for the excessive surcharges. And firms which have increased their fees are simply guilty of ripping us off even more.

Which?'s super-complaint is set to be sent to the OFT at the end of March. Let's hope for quick action to cut this outrageous rip-off.