Flybe becomes first budget airline to drop £9 debit card fees

Change comes as the Office of Fair Trading is considering legal action against travel firms that refuse to scrap debit-card charges.

The airline that pioneered charges for checked-in baggage has abandoned its £9 flat fee for paying with debit cards.

Flybe, Europe’s largest regional carrier, says it has removed the charge as part of "A fair, open and transparent approach to sales and service policies".

Until its removal today, the fee earned Flybe an average of £4.50 for each passenger flown. But the airline’s UK managing director, Andrew Strong, told The Independent: "I’m not looking to put up fares to offset the removal. People will choose us because we offer a better product."

Passengers should therefore find fares slightly lower.

Flybe introduced baggage fees six years ago. Initially the charge stood at £2; today, the fee for a small 15kg bag on a short flight is six times as much.

The change comes as the Office of Fair Trading is considering legal action against travel firms that refuse to scrap debit-card charges. After a "super-complaint" by Which? about surcharges, the OFT said it might take traders to court: "If individual traders do not make changes we consider sufficient in a timely manner, we will consider enforcement action to ensure compliance".

Europe's two biggest low-cost airlines, easyJet and Ryanair, have no plans to drop their charges. Ryanair collects £6 per passenger, per flight, for debit and credit card payments; the fee can be avoided by paying with the airline’s own-brand Cash Passport pre-paid card.

The airline describes the charge as an "admin fee" that "relates to costs associated with Ryanair's booking system".

Britain's largest no-frills airline, easyJet, takes a similar approach, saying its £9 flat fee "is charged on all bookings and contributes to the airline’s administrative costs".

Monarch dropped its debit-card fee last year, with a credit-card surcharge set at £10. But the Luton-based airline has just switched its credit-card charge to a variable fee, set at 4 per cent with a minimum of £5. While solo travellers spending £125 on a round-trip to Spain will be better off, a family of four on the same flight will pay a credit-card fee of £20.

Jet2 has a "booking fee" of 3.5 per cent for debit-card charges, with a minimum of £4.99, which can be avoided only by using a Visa Electron card.

British Airways has never levied a charge – but Bmibaby, part of its parent company IAG, has a minimum fee of £3.50 with a minimum of £4.

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