Questions of Cash: 'Why was I handed check-in charge at the last minute?'


Q. We booked and paid for a holiday to Prague through Lastminute.com. When we arrived at Manchester Airport's bmibaby check-in, we were told we needed to pay another £40 as a "passport fee" and for airport check-in. We were told by bmibaby staff to take up any complaint with Lastminute.com, who told me I was not entitled to a refund. I made further complaints by letter and email, without success. The Lastminute.com website made no mention of the extra fees – which made it more expensive than if we had booked direct with the hotel and bmibaby. There was no online check-in option on Lastminute.com's website. ND, by email.

A. Lastminute.com has fully refunded the £40 and apologises. It says: "BMI has been applying Advanced Passenger Information System charges to their customers, but not all were notified of these extra charges. Lastminute.com is in the process of amending the site to accurately reflect any check-in charges that may be applied."

Q. I have three pension plans: a Virgin Stakeholder pension that has grown 28 per cent; a Sun Life Assurance personal pension plan that has grown 30 per cent; and a Prudential (previously Scottish Amicable) free standing AVC that has grown 75 per cent over seven years. The Sun Life plan has just closed to new business. Should I take this as a bad sign and move out? I am allowed to put more money into the Virgin scheme: I'm not sure about the AVC. AC North Lincs

A.Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at advisers Hargreaves Lansdown, says: "The fact your pension won't accept new business is not of itself a bad sign. However, it should prompt you to review your pension arrangements. What matters is how well your money is invested, whether the fund is the right type of investment choice for you, and how much you are paying for administration. Conventional investment theory says that the younger you are, the more investment risk you should take: whereas the closer you are to retirement, the more conservative you should be with your investments. Moving your pension savings away from Sun Life could involve penalty charges, so you need to find out how much you are paying in charges and what penalty you would pay if you move. The Virgin plan has the virtue of simplicity, but doesn't offer much in investment choice. Look at whatever scheme is available through your workplace as well.

Q. I had a Mint credit card with a maximum spending figure of £350. I hardly used it and cancelled it 18 months ago. In November last year I was sent a bill for £35 for card protection insurance, which went to an old address and was delayed in forwarding. I phoned to say that I did not want the insurance and had cancelled the card, but I was told this made no difference and the card protection was automatic. Initially I refused to pay this, but then I received a demand for the balance plus £10 interest. I have now had further demands of £40.53 for late payment. I have paid all these demands, but now received another demand for £12 for the late payment of the £40.53. This has become an expensive farce and I have had no reply to my letters asking for an explanation. I am worried I will get demands for the £35 every year. JB, by email.

A. Mint cards are issued by RBS. The bank says that you signed up for credit protection insurance when you took out your Mint card in 2003. RBS adds it warned you when you cancelled the card that you also had to cancel the insurance, which was arranged through a separate contract, but that you were late in carrying out the insurance cancellation. It has cancelled some of the late payment charges in order to leave your account with a zero balance.

Q. I have a Virgin MBNA credit card. At the beginning of September I left my monthly payment to the last moment. The minimum payment was due on 2 September and, when I realised I was short of time, I logged on to the MBNA website and paid £400 by debit card on 1 September. The amount was cleared from my account on 2 September. But on the next Virgin MBNA statement I was charged £12 for late payment and issued with a default notice – which presumably affects my credit rating. So where was the money? AM, by email.

A. Credit card statements specify a minimum period that you must allow prior to the payment due date. In the case of your MBNA card, this is two days before the due date. MBNA says this remains the case even when making a payment via its own website, although you appear to have assumed the payment would be made instantaneously. According to MBNA, it takes two days for the payment to arrive. It explains: "The payment is sent via the banking system and two days is industry standard for this process. The money has to be requested by MBNA from [the reader's bank] account: clearing and reconciliation must then be factored into the timescales. However, payments can appear in advance of the money actually being credited to the account. This is why [the reader's] bank balance availability appeared on 2 September, but did not arrive in his [MBNA] account until 3 September. This made him one day overdue on his payments. We recommend that [the reader] sets up a minimum direct debit to ensure that no further late fees are incurred. As a gesture of goodwill and without liability, we will refund the £12 charge. There has been no impact on [the reader's] credit record."

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk

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