Belfast Telegraph

Airlines scrap surprise surcharges

By Martin Hickman

Headline air fares are set to rise after 12 airlines - including Ryanair and easyJet - agreed to scrap fees for paying by debit card.

Under a deal with the Office of Fair Trading announced yesterday, the carriers will incorporate debit card surcharges into their advertised ticket prices, rather than adding them at the end of online booking. They will still be able to impose surcharges for credit cards but have promised the OFT they will make those fees more transparent.

Aer Lingus, bmi baby, Eastern Airways, easyJet, Flybe, German Wings, Jet2, Lufthansa, Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Thomson and Wizz Air have agreed to the deal. The Office of Fair Trading had been investigating the fees since March when consumer group Which? made a super-complaint.

Eight of the airlines - Eastern Airways, easyJet, Flybe, German Wings, Lufthansa, Thomas Cook, Thomson and Wizz Air - have already made changes to their pricing and websites.

The others will change their advertising practices by August 1 and complete the changes over coming months. Customers should not have to face surprise fees for using a debit card, which was the "online equivalent of cash", the OFT said.

Clive Maxwell, its chief executive, said: "It is important that the cost presented when they search for a flight is realistic and that they are not surprised by extra charges." He added: "We made it clear from the start that we would use all of our enforcement powers, including court action if necessary, but are pleased to have reached agreement with the airlines before court proceedings were required."

The fees can present a substantial hidden extra just before a payment is processed on airline websites: Ryanair currently charges a £6 'administration fee' for debit cards.

Sarah Brooks, director of financial services at Consumer Focus, welcomed the news. "Nothing is more frustrating for consumers than seeing a good online deal disappear on the final screen before booking," she said.

Which?'s chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith said: "It's good news - as long as the airlines don't use this as an excuse to push up their prices."