Ask the traveller: flight charges

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The Independent Travel

Q: You reported that easyJet has increased its charges for paying for flights with a credit or debit card. How can I avoid such fees?

It's worth recalling that when easyJet began in 1995, there was no extra charge for either booking by phone or for paying with credit or debit cards. Since then, the low-cost airlines have introduced payment fees that are designed to make their basic fares look as tempting as possible. Ryanair charges £6 per person per flight, adding up to £48 for a round trip for a family of four; easyJet now levies a flat debit-card fee of £8, regardless of how many flights you buy. For a cheap £24 one-way flight, that's an extra one-third on the cost of your trip; but if that family of four has spent £800 on four return flights to Greece, the fee represents only 1 per cent of the total. The airline's credit-card charge has gone up to a minimum of £12.95, or £8 plus 2.5 per cent of the total, whichever is higher; for a £500 purchase the fee is £20.50.

You can avoid these fees by using the right kind of plastic, because the law requires airlines to offer some means of avoiding the charges. For easyJet, the "no-fee" option is Visa Electron – a card that is becoming infuriatingly difficult to obtain through most financial providers. But Virgin Money has a pay-as-you-go version that is attractive: after paying the £9.95 initial fee, you can keep it dormant and just transfer money across (free, using a debit card) when you need it to buy flights. You pay a 2.95 per cent commission on each purchase, but for the odd £48 return flight between Scotland and London, that amounts to only £1.42. Here's a short code for an online application: www.bit.ly/VirginVE.

To avoid the Ryanair charge, you need a pre-paid Mastercard – a much more widespread form of payment. You could, for example, use an Escape card in sterling and a FairFX one in euros.

Alternatively, just wait for the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to rule next month after Which? magazine complained about these charges. If the OFT upholds the complaint, then the low-cost airlines may have to adopt the model used by BA and most other companies: no fee for debit-card payments, with a small percentage charge for credit cards.

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