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Firms face legal action over card payment surcharges

Airlines and travel companies have been threatened with legal action over 'misleading' credit and debit card surcharges, it has emerged.

The warning follows a 90-day investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) sparked by a super-complaint from independent consumer body Which? that highlighted consumer anger about the increasingly widespread use of such fees.

But yesterday the OFT vowed to press the Government to ban surcharges for all debit cards and it called for credit card charges to be factored into the headline price.

The Northern Ireland Consumer Council welcomed the news, saying Ulster air passengers were charged £22.4m last year alone for using credit and debit cards.

Its chief executive, Antoinette McKeown, added: "Making a payment for goods or a service is an intrinsic part of the transaction and therefore the price should be included in the upfront cost; in other words, we should not have to pay for paying."

Some airlines such as Ryanair said all "optional" fees are avoidable and the OFT findings did not affect the way in which it ran its business.

The OFT singled out the airline sector - where UK customers spent £300m on surcharges in 2009 - as frequently adding charges for card transactions at the end of a drawn-out purchase process.

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The watchdog said air, rail and ferry customers often have to click through several web pages before a payment charge is added.

Refusing to name and shame the worst offenders, the OFT nevertheless pointed out that easyJet charges £8 per debit or credit card transaction after customers pass through eight web pages, while Ryanair adds £6 per journey after four pages.

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