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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.

Bob Power says:
25 March 2011

I am a frequent user of Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic. I have recently paid a proportion of a holiday with you costing £16,030.00. The proportion I paid was £5044 for which I used my Mastercard and was charged a 2% surcharge of £102.00. I previously paid a deposit of £100 for which I was charged 2% also.

I am told by Mastercard that to administer a transaction through an account costs pence and that surcharges are applied by some retailers as another “tax” or ways of making extra money. This has been highlighted in the Dail Mail today and has also sparked an investigation into this practice by the Office of Fair Trading. I cannot believe the additional charges that are applied just for using a credit card

Julia Elvidge says:
25 March 2011

I can’t believe it, I just booked a flight with Flybe and had to pay £9 debit card charge!

Dorothy Turner says:
25 March 2011

Having just made a ferry booking Liverpool Birkenhead to Belfast, with DFDS, I would have been charged £4.00 had I paid by credit card!

Not only that, there was the charge for the ferry then £12 per passenger (including the driver!!)

And a fuel surcharge of £32

My 2x£77 trip came to £210.00

Companies/organisations Don’t (or don’t want) to realise the difference between the charges they incur when taking payment by debit card. It is actually cheaper for them to accept payment via debit card, than to accept payment via cheque and in some instances cash.

If they take payment by debit card, the money is credited straight into their bank account. I had this conversation with a local theatre, trying to explain to them the difference. If they take payment via cheque or cash, someone in the office has to count the cash/cheques and enter details in a paying in book. Someone then has to go physically to the bank to pay in. In the case of cheques they have to wait a further 4 days for the cheque to clear.

Companies trading over the internet could not function if everyone insisted on paying in cash. They would not be viable. It should be illegal to make charges for payment and payments requested should include all the expenses incurred in delivering a complete service or item. We already pay the banks for the use of Credit cards directly or indirectly. It has never been practice to charge a till fee when taking cash. In addition it should be illegal for organisations like Paypal to hold onto monies interest free until it deems the purchaser has had 3-4 weeks to accept that the goods are satisfactory.
Every organisation seems to be looking for scams to get easy money – we are not customers, just mugs begging to be mugged in their eyes.

Pete says:
26 March 2011

Add Odeon cinema to the list of culprits. Just booked 2 tickets online for the cinema tonight only to be charged £1.50 extra as a debit card fee …

Fran says:
27 March 2011

I recently signed up via the internet to run a 10K race in the Edinburgh marathon festival ..happening on the weekend of 21/22 May. At the end of the process I was alarmed to find that on top of the fee to take part…£22 .. there suddenly appeared a £2.50 procesing fee. Well I was annoyed enough to e mail the promoters GSi events I think they were called and suffice to say they could not even manage to send me a reply.

David says:
28 March 2011

‘Interflora’ online – wanted an extra £1 for paying by credit card this morning. At a £24.99 for the flowers and £5.99 for delivery means more than 3% added to the order. I paid by direct debit which did not incur a charge and in future I’ll not use them again.

I still don’t understand the issue unless these charges are hidden. It’s only because being charged for credit cards, etc. Is an increasingly used practice that it’s got people’s backs up.

After all, how many of us bat an eyelid about postage and packing charges. We seem to be happy to consider paying for this particular overhead in the total price. It’s no different.

It’s only annoying if you’re not told about surcharges up front, ie. before you pay.

Look at it another way: if people prefer to use a debit card where there’s no charge why should they incur the overheads of the company that has to deal with credit card fees?

If you didn’t have to pay extra charges and companies absorbed them I can guarantee that nearly all companies will include them in the prices but will then increases these prices for EVERYONE.

Alan says:
29 March 2011

If you use a credit card you are I believe protected by the card company. Using your debit card you have no protection you just loose your money. It isn’t the charge but the huge amount that is charged. If the companies absorbed the 70p overhead or even added it in fine, but charging 2% or even more and then blaming the card company is fraud. And worse is when they make multiple charges for one transaction. You don’t pay more VAT for using four fivers than if you pay with a twenty do you.

tommy davidson says:
28 March 2011

For the past few years sagazone in Manchester have met every Christmas at the Brittannia Hotel in Manchester for a party. The charge was £ 9.50 for the meal with bevrages extra. We could pay by credit card or debit card with no extra charge.
However this year they( Brittannia) have decided to charge £2.00 on top of the cost for the meal. This means, as it is a little early in the year to book for the party, if anyone decides to pay a deposite then the rest nearer the date of the party it will cost an exra £4.00. This has put me off going.
I feel this is an unecessary extra charge.

i’m not being funny but
a. if you have to pay for a £9 meal (+£2 charge) in two separate instalments you have got bigger issues than worrying about extra charges!

b. £9 for a meal at a hotel sounds an absolute bargain!

elspeth ferguson says:
28 March 2011

I was shocked when on a Fred Olsen cruise I discovered the were charging 2.5% for paying my bill at end. This is very short sighted as I was determined not to spend in the shops onboard. I bought everything off ship so they lost a lot of business. Stupid. I did make a compalint to the purser. Not really interested.

James MacQueen says:
29 March 2011

Although I have not been ripped-off , as yet, I just wonder what will happen when cheques disappear.
I think that companies will charge what they like and there will be more rip-offs. There needs to be legislation to stop this type of thing.

Dr. Hugh Janus says:
29 March 2011

Booking fees and handling charges on tickets for gigs and events should be the next rip-off targetted. It’s like going into a shop and asking how much a pair of shoes are only to be told: “It’s £35 for the shoes but if you want me to sell them to you it’ll be £42.” It’s legalised extortion, plain and simple.

I know I keep harping on about this but I am worried about the consequences if this campaign. For example, lets say a ticket costs £49 plus £2.95 handling fee. The total amount to pay is £51.95. If companies are forced to scrap these ‘extras’ what do you think will happen?

Most will likely charge £55 and claim they are doing us a favour with a free booking service. Is that what we want?

Please dont be so naive in thinking that companies will absorb the cost because they will not! At least the current practice, annoying as it is, offers some transparency.

Fat Sam, what irritates me is the way they try to hide booking fees in the small print, so we initially see a ticket at £49 and say “Oh yes I can afford that!” and that whets our appetite to spend. If the tickets were advertised as “£51.95 incl booking” we would be much better informed right from the start and wouldn’t waste our time. Why do you think the tickets would cost £55 and not £51.95 if they were forced to state the total cost clearly?

(By the way, your example of a £2.95 booking fee is perhaps not a good one, as the fee is likely to be much higher for a West End show.)

Clint, my example was just that – an example to illustrate the principle.

Maybe I’m not like everyone else but I check the total amount of what I’m paying before I commit myself. Because I know companies use these ‘sharp practices’ I make it my business to understand what all the charges are so that:
a. I can make sure I get the best price I can if there is a choice of companies offering the same product or service and
b. I can make a decision on whether I want to make the purchase at all.

All the people who disagree with me just want something to moan about without understanding the basic and simple principles of economics and personal choice! Nor do they want to make that little effort on points a and b above.

ojack says:
30 March 2011

I was disgusted when vue cinema changed their web site to a new format only to find they had done more than that i booked five kids AM tickets at a cost of £5 only to find at the checkout process i have a debit YES DEBIT card charge of £3.50p what a rip off this charge used to be £1.75p even that was steep but £3.50 is a rip off and double the old charge. We live about 13 miles from vue so we have to book online for kids am as it gets very busy it made me that angry that when they had the cheek to send me a customer satisfaction survey i made sure i gave them what for ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Alan says:
30 March 2011

Fat Sam…It isn’t the charge but the amount and random nature of it. Why if I book a ticket for one I pay a charge but if I pay for four tickets I get charged four times., both are done in one transaction not four. And one strange airline will charge me eight times for four tickets. And why is it called an admin charge..the shop doesn’t pay anybody to call the card company for every transaction it is all done by phone and computers, what admin do they have? Why is the amount based on a percent, they are charged for each transaction not by how much it is for so a charge of 70p for a family holiday results in a charge of £57. Sounds fair to you I guess…

Where have I said that it’s fair?

I’m not saying they’re right but:

1. You have a choice to either purchase or not to purchase
2. The fees aren’t hidden – admittedly it’s not completely clear but everyone will know what they have to pay at some point in the transaction
3. If these retailers didn’t display these extra fees they would have an open licence to up their charges to more than what the fees add up to and then claim they are doing us a favour by offering the service with ‘all costs included’. I don’t sthink many businesses see themselves as charities and the only losers will be us because we will all end up paying more as a result of campaigns like these.

It’s not difficult to understand any of those points above but some people think we live in a society where companies aren’t in the business to make money.

Fat Sam – I don’t agree with you at all. You’re saying campaigns like this will give companies ‘open licence to up their charges to more than what the fees add up to’ – but that’s exactly what they are doing. Only instead of hiding the costs, they’re putting it into their small print. This campaign is to stop companies charging unfairly – which is what they are doing! Companies may not want to absorb the cost of taking money from card companies but why should they profit from it? Especially online companies whose only real option is to get paid by card!

Sorry Steve, disagree with you completely.

If companies are forced to put an end to all these charges they will simply up the headline figure. They’ll want to maintain profits – they’re businesses, not charities run for our benefit.

These charge aren’t hidden – they are there. For some people they may not be easy to find but I’ve never had a problem finding them. But then, perhaps I’m more financially-savvy than most (have you taken the BBC’s Big Money Test?). Yes, it’s a pain in the bottom and irritating but look at the wider picture.

People are complaining that no-frills airlines charge for this, that and the other on top of the advertised rate. When you add it all up you have a choice: go with it, or don’t. Most of the time they will still be cheaper overall than the likes of the non- no-frills carriers like British Airways.

The bottom line is that companies will find ways to recoup any loss in profit if they are forced to reduce or drop all these extra charges.

How do people think they will do that?

Answers below, please 😉

Let them increase the cost of the headline figure then – at least they’d be more honest about how they make their profits! Making a profit on the goods or services they offer and then asking to make a profit on payment is greedy, not fair business.

Last I heard, credit card charges are about 70p – so why charge a percentage? If someone’s buying 4 tickets, why should they pay a percentage of each ticket and not one flat fee? My favourite so far from this discussion is the theatre who adds 1% admin fees for paying with cash. At what point should admin not be included in the price – after all, every business has admin so it should be included into the final price… Or soon, we could be paying cost price until we get to the till and they add up the mark up, admin, etc.

Elaine Ashton says:
30 March 2011

I purchased a holiday on Sunday and when paying was horrified to notice the extortionate charge when paying on a debit card. I am just about used to expecting charges on a credit card but when I called the booking operator to complain that this was just a rip off charge she explained it was because we are booking with Ryanair who are, she said, the worst offenders.

Trouble is, we are over a barrell in a way, as they only flight we could get to our destination at the date and time we need were RyanAir – otherwise I’d have happily paid more to go elsewhere.

Dr. Hugh Janus says:
30 March 2011

Fat Sam, you are wrong assume that by scrapping booking fees and handling charges the same charges will result in higher ticket prices. Booking agencies are third parties and have no say in setting the face value of ticket prices – this is done by promoters who already pay these outlets a commission on each ticket sold. These charges didn’t exist 20 years ago and there’s no justifiable reason why they should now. They know we’re like football fans – we’ll complain about the way our team is run but we’ll still turn up every Saturday and hand over our cash. Nothing will change unless we force it to. Petitions are a start but, ultimately, we need to say no and boycott these events.

Yes, I agree – people should vote with their feet – so if you don’t agree with paying extra fees then don’t make that purchase! It really is that simple!

It’s the same with people who complain about ticket touts. If people are prepared to pay that amount then these practices will continue.

However, I disagree with your comment on what may happen regards ticket prices. Ticket agents offer a service to promoters who need the best means to distribute and manage their sales. Agents will pass on their additional costs to the promoters (otherwise, how else are ticket agencies going to make any money?) who will need to recoup their increased costs. How? By increasing their ticket prices to all of us.

Someone, somewhere has to pay and I don’t like paying these fees myself, I find them annoying and irritating, but I am also not that naive in thinking that companies will allow these costs to hit their profits and will therefore, ultimately, pass these onto us – the poor, hapless consumer who will be ripped off even more because now we don’t know what element will be cost and what element will be mark-up.

Thanks for all these great comments – we’ve now submitted our super complaint, which we’ve written about in our latest Conversation. Please show your support! http://www.whichconversation.co.uk/consumer-rights/which-super-complaint-surcharges-submitted/