Airlines urged to copy rival and axe debit-card charges

CONSUMER campaigners have called on airlines to follow the lead of a holiday carrier that has abolished charges for booking flights by debit card.

Which? welcomed the move by Monarch, which operates Glasgow-Florida charter flights and European flights from English airports.

The airline previously charged 3.5 per cent of the ticket price for payments by debit cards other than Visa Electron.

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It has also replaced a 5 per cent charge for paying by credit card on European flights with a flat-rate 10 fee per booking.

According to Which? - formerly the Consumer Association - several major airlines, such as British Airways, KLM/Air France and BMI, not do charge passengers for paying by debit card. However, it said some, including Ryanair, Flybe and BMI Baby, levied a charge per passenger, per flight for most debit and credit card payments.

Which? has lodged a "super complaint" with the Office of Fair Trading over "excessive" card surcharges. Head of research Rochelle Turner said: "Over 42,000 people have told us they want to see an end to excessive card fees, so it's great to see that Monarch is scrapping charges for debit card payments, and making credit card fees transparent and upfront.

"While low-cost airlines are some of the worst offenders when it comes to excessive card surcharges, this murky practice is becoming ever more widespread, from cinemas to hotels and even some local authorities.

"The cost to businesses for taking payment by debit card is a matter of pennies, so there's simply no justification for excessive fees. We'd like to see others follow in the footsteps of Monarch and stop using processing costs to boost their profits."

Monarch Group chief executive Conrad Clifford said: "In these difficult economic times, there is absolutely no justification advertising one fare and then stinging consumers with hidden excess charges.

"When I joined Monarch six months ago, the first thing we undertook as a new management team was to examine the way we charged customers for using credit cards. The move today is a result of that review process and the new charging structure will go into effect immediately. "

He said the airline was negotiating with credit card companies to reduce fees further.

Other airlines defended their charges.

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A Ryanair spokesman said: "We do not levy any credit or debit card payment 'surcharges'. The fee relates to the costs associated with Ryanair's booking system.""Our administration fee is avoidable by all passengers who use the widely available and recommended MasterCard Prepaid card."

A spokeswoman for Flybe said it was "fully compliant with all UK regulations with regards to its payment options and charges, and offers a free-of-charge booking option when using an Electron card."

EasyJet, the biggest operator in Scotland, increased payment charges for most debit cards from 5.50 to 8 per booking in April.

A spokesman said: "Credit card charges are in place to not only reflect the cost of the actual transaction with the relevant card authority but also to offset the significant infrastructure costs we incur."

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