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Our super-size surcharges campaign continues

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What a week! We had a giggle at Ryanair calling us ‘clueless clowns’ and watched airlines defend their ‘admin’ charges. But it’s not just airlines getting under your skin, the culprits include dentists and theatres.

Last Friday you joined us in standing up to unfair surcharges. We had high hopes that you’d feel as strongly about this as we do but we were overwhelmed by your support.

You’ve given us great feedback about who the goodies and baddies are – and highlighted other areas we can look into. So we thought you’d be keen to hear what happens next…

What happens to your pledges?

We’ve received over 17,000 pledges of support. We’ll be using your pledges as evidence in our super complaint to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to demonstrate the number of UK consumers affected by this issue. We’re submitting it at the end of March. If you still haven’t pledged your support you can do so here:

It’s not just about airlines

You might have thought the super complaint is just about the airlines as this has been the focus of our pledge.

But it goes further than that. The surcharge super complaint raises issue with any industry charging unfair card fees – anything above 1-2% if paying by credit card and anything above 20p if paying by debit card!

Low cost airlines are often the worst offenders. But you’ve given us plenty more to add to that list. You’ve told us about dentists, cinemas, theatres, and even local councils stinging you with charges when it’s time to pay.

Your concerns about surcharges

Commenter Stephen Hicks raised concerns over how retailers will make up their losses if the OFT find the surcharges are unfair. ‘Ticket prices would rise to compensate, but at least we would not feel ripped off,’ he said.

Richard told us ‘it is easy enough – make all companies quote the actual cost to the customer at point of sale’. We’re definitely behind you on that one.

Dave Darwent told us that we’re just touching the surface of this issue. ‘Which? is missing a fantastic opportunity here to really help smaller traders: the Super Complaint should be about the BANKS charging these fees and forcing the retailers to have to pay for telephone and electricity services too.’

The digital community has rallied together to get our pledge promoted in all the right places, too. A big thank you to Martin Lewis for flagging it in your latest email and Travel Supermarket and Money High Street for embedding it on your sites. We’ve even made the embed code available so you can put it wherever you like (sorry Ryanair, you can’t stick it there).

We’re keeping track of all your examples to explain the breadth of the issue to the OFT. Please keep your ideas and personal experiences coming in. You never know, it might become the focus of our next investigation.

ferrybad says:
24 February 2011

My most recent example of the excessive credit card charges occurred only yesterday. I booked a ferry crossing with P&O Dover to Calais and all through the process the basic cost was quoted as £78 return – a good price. When I paid for the trip, surprise, surprise, the total became £82. Yes, the extra had been added because I had chosen to pay by credit card. That’s a charge of over 5% – outrageous!

Andy Hill-Smith says:
24 February 2011

Booking fees. In addition to credit card charges, most theatres, ticket agencies, etc. charge a ‘booking fee’ which is like being charged for the privilege of being allowed to buy something! As with all such charges, it should be included in the up-front price of the ticket rather than sneaked on at the end.

Nikki: further to my post on 24th Feb 11:27 am about the complaint submitted to thomascook about a £12 debit card fee, the response I received is below.
My questions to Thomas cook: “…specifically I would like to know; 1) how much of my £12 is a direct cost to you, in terms of the fee you as the merchant pay to Maestro or the card issuing bank when you process the transaction. 2) You say that the charge for using a Maestro card is per person, per flight, in my case 4 * £3. Does that mean that you make 4 transactions on my card, incurring a cost for each transaction? ”
Their reponse: ***Thank you for contacting flythomascook.com. The reason the charge is specified as per person per flight is to keep consistency across our website with prices being shown in the same way. This makes it very clear what is being charged and also allows the customer to calculate the actual price, including a card fee, before making the purchase. To have the prices as they are, was a decision flythomascook.com took to bring us in-line with our competitors within our market who charge similar prices.****
So in summary they didnt answer my questions, and the justification is “Well, everyone else is doing it….”

Hi Jo, thanks for passing that on! I tweeted it at Thomas Cook and they say they’ve passed on to flythomascook for a response. http://twitter.com/#!/ThomasCookUK/status/40782172923105280

So hopefully they will get back to you soon, or come and join in the debate here…?

What is just bad as credit card charges, perhaps even worse, is the On Line Boarding Pass Scam. One major low cost airline applies a charge of up to £40 each passenger each way if customers have the temerity to turn up at the airport without a boarding pass. This is quite simply extortion. A company executive suggested on television that it was a punishment for not following the rules. When did businesses, apart from banks, start punishing customers. How about a campaign on this type of behavior?
On the topic of voting with one’s feet; where I live there is really very little choice since these low cost cuckoos have pushed all the others out of the nest.

Jasmine66 says:
8 March 2011

There’s no way out of avoiding having to pay for your on-line check-in – as your boarding pass is an essential part of your trip, surely they should not be allowed to charge you for doing the work for them.
I previously used an electron card and now have FX card to avoid the card charges on Ryanair, and never book a case with them – play them at their own game I say.
How long before Ryanair change the free payment method again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Once everyone start using a pre-paid card they will probably change the goal-posts again.
Mr O’Leary needs to be brought into line.

Have you seen the This Life cartoon in today’s Metro newspaper? It shows a man at the Ryanair check-in desk. The operator behind the counter tells him “There’s a surcharge for booking using lowercase letters.” Made me smile… but don’t tell O’Leary, he may get ideas…

Anyone has submited a complaint to Thomson airways ? I’ve just booked two tickets and I was charged a “Credit Card Levy” of £38.70. I just think it’s too much ! Any advice?

All of the complaints about unfair charging by airlines are really annoying — very few people actually need to fly anywhere, so give it a miss! Charges for theatre tickets can usually be avoided by reserving them by phone then posting a cheque (for as long as that lasts). That works at our local venues – Bristol – at the moment.

You miss the point ChrisB, which is the underhand way these companies are trying to boost their profits. It doesnt matter whether it is an airline or a company making widgets. Charge a fair price up front and stop aggravating your customers by slapping on excessive charges at payment stage.

We’ve used a local company who are a ticketing agency as opposed to an actual airline. They charge a fee for using your card when you book a flight with them which we’ve estabilished is regular practice. However, when making just the one booking, they apply this card charge twice, one for each leg of the journey. How does this work? Surely it is just the one transaction taking place as I am paying one fee for the return trip, surely this isn’t right? Can anyone help explain how they might try to defend this?

fat sam says:
1 March 2011

My point is that if you are told about the charges in advance you can’t complain unless you are obliged to pay. You do have an option and whether that’s a concert or a flight the decision to purchase lies with you.

Fair enough if you’ve been charged where you’d not been given an option. Recently, I was charged by T-Mobile for the privilege of leaving them (requesting a PAC). This charge wasn’t mentioned anywhere. Fair play to T-Mobile. Within 15 minutes of sending them a polite email they called me and issued a refund.

My previous mortgage lender charged me for redeeming my mortgage. I knew in advance they would charge but their charges had increased since I’d taken up the mortgage. I argued that they should only charge me the £75 Redemption Fee I’d signed up for. They agreed and issued a refund for the difference, £175.

In these instances, I think people can complain because these are charges that, according to the service provider, you are obliged to pay and you don’t have a choice (well you do if they told you in advance but in these examples they didn’t).

Who should pay for banks’ investment in designing and operating systems that check every day for those who have gone overdrawn? The ones who maintain their accounts in the black – or the ones whose accounts go into the red through their own fault?

An overdraft is not your money.

Jo says:
2 March 2011

To your first point, fat sam, just because retailers disclose their fees upfront does not make them fair. Not if there is systematic ripping off of consumers across the industry (and more retailers will jump on the band wagon unless this is addressed, that we can be sure of). The measure of fairness is the consumers opinion and how many people actually complain, not the level of disclosure before purchase. What really bugs me is the implied lack of respect for customers, and the time wasted for the consumer trying to figure out what is really the best deal overall (with respect to buying flights online for example). I guess when you consider the broader economic environment, desperate times call for desperate measures and in their quest to win business against fierce competion (which must exist particularly in the airline industry at the moment) they choose to sacrifice customer satisfaction.

Dave says:
3 March 2011

I’ve just looked at some info about this on a US website. There it says Visa and MC will not let merchants charge a surcharge for using a credit card, the obvious point being that it discourages credit card use. The merchant (it says) may offer a discount for cash but cannot charge customers for using a credit cards. If this is true, why are those conditions not applied by the credit card companies in the UK? The commercial reasons are just as valid

Because we Brits continue to put up with it voting with our wallets instead of our feet and so long as the Brit public do so retailers will continue to apply whatever charges they can get away with. Its simple economics.

Ah, yes fat sam – voting with your feet/wallet is usually the best way to go when you find a service doesn’t do what you need it to. I think the problem with surcharging is that it has become so ubiquitous that it’s often difficult to find a company to shift your business to!

That’s why we’ve put in the super complaint – we don’t use these powers often but in this situation there is little that consumers can do on their own to put an end to the practice.

Because of these charges by my local travel agent I paid a large sum by cheque only for them to not pass on the money and became insolvent! It should get sorted out i.d.c.

Tony says:
7 March 2011

I have just booked a package holiday with Thomas Cook. Although this is for a date 2 months ahead I was required to pay in full at time of booking and was told that if I used a credit card there would be a 2% surcharge – not applicable with a debit card. There was also an obligatory £5 per person charge for “ATOL protection cover” which is separate from any other travel insurance. What a wheeze!! they keep your money for 2 months and still want you to pay credit card charges!.. They should pay us interest!!

Tony says:
7 March 2011

Also booked a cross channel ferry with Norfolk Lines and only at the last minute did they attach a “Fuel Surcharge” which put nearly 50% onto the original ticket price. Also most airlines & ferry companies charge premium rates for phone enquiries and some airlines including Aer Lingus try to charge a booking fee for seat allocation. Ryanairs “extras” are so expensive that I was able to get a cheaper flight to Spain with a scheduled airline.

Fellmog says:
22 March 2011

Road Tax! They charge for credit card payment (although they do warn you). It’s a legal requirement to tax your car so it doesn’t seem right.

helen says:
23 March 2011

I went to the postofice to pay mycar tax early for a change,she filled out the tax disc then asked me to put in my card,i did,she then said “oh its a credit card,you will have to take cash out of your credit card to pay the tax” I told her no as the cash withdrawel fees were ********** said that the postoffice does not accept credit cards to pay tax [WHO KNEW THAT?] as they would be charged for it.Needless to say I told her to cancel the tax,that I would pay it online,she was not happy!!

Alan says:
23 March 2011

Sunday booked a holiday with Thomson and was told that there was a £57 charge for using a credit card. Seemed a bit high but the person in the store said that they charge 2% but the card company charges them 4% per transaction. Doesn’t using a credit card make the issuer responsible over a certain amount but using my debit card I loose this backup.

Andy says:
24 March 2011

Just to mention that we go to Centerparcs in the winter and Cornwall in the summer and both charge a credit card surcharge yet both require the money about 6 weeks before arrival. I can’t believe that one £600 transaction really costs £2-3. It also feels dishonest,as though they are blaming someone else for a charge they choose to make, whereas if they simply added the £3 to all prices we would accept that they have a right to charge enough to cover costs and make a profit and a choice to buy at the outlet that seems best for us.
I’d also mention that where transactions are entirely online, there must be savings to the company.
Anyway, I’m glad that Which are taking this up.

Sally says:
24 March 2011

I hate paying a fee to pay by card at cinema – espeically as you have saved them paying wages for someone to man the ticket booth! Talk about getting customer to do the work – and then pay for doing it.
And why a charge per ticket. If they have to charge a fee (and why should they) if you book 4 tickets at the same time it should be 1 booking fee, not 4.

Sally says:
24 March 2011

I hate paying a fee to pay by card at cinema – espeically as you have saved them paying wages for someone to man the ticket booth! Talk about getting customer to do the work – and then pay for doing it.
And why a charge per ticket. If they have to charge a fee (and why should they) if you book 4 tickets at the same time it should be 1 booking fee, not 4.