600% hike in debit card flight fees

17 July 2009

Booking a flight with a debit card now costs over 600% more than it did 18 months ago.

New research from Which? Holiday found that airlines have significantly hiked the fees they charge when customers try and book using a debit card. Ryanair, for example, now charges 614% more than it did 18 months ago. In February 2007, a direct debit booking with the budget airline cost 70p – today, it would set you back £5 each way.

Wizz, another low-cost airline, has hiked its debit card fee from 70p per person to £4 – a rise of 471%. Thomas Cook, meanwhile, now charges an astonishing £10 per booking when a customer pays using a debit card, a fee it waived 18 months ago.

Lorna Cowan, editor or Which? Holiday, says: “We understand that there is a charge to airlines for taking payment for flights with debit or credit cards and that this cost will be passed on to consumers. But how can some of these airlines justify charging over 600% more than they did 18 months ago?”

Credit card fees have also increased. Ryanair, for example, has increased its fee from £2 per person each way to £5. For a family of five, return Ryanair flights now cost £40 more if they want to book using a debit or credit card.

Some airlines, however, have reduced or scrapped their debit card fees. Which? Holiday says bmibaby no longer charges 1% for paying by debit card, while Virgin Atlantic has scrapped its £3 fee and now charges 1.3% of the total booking for credit card payments. British Airways, meanwhile, doesn’t levy any charges if you pay by debit card.

Cut the cost of booking flights

1. Book early

Unlike package holidays, it’s always best to book flights as far in advance as possible. Being flexible about departure dates and times should also give you more of a chance of getting a cheaper deal.

2. Use screenscrapers

Screenscrapers work like shop bots comparing the prices of flights across different providers. Kayak.co.uk, cheapflights.co.uk, skyscanner.net and travelsupermarket.co.uk all allow users to search for the cheapest flights to their desired destinations. Because no one website lists all the airlines, make sure you use at least a couple screenscrapers.

3. ... or flight brokers

Flight brokers differ from screenscrapers because their websites have a commercial relationship with the airlines listed. The benefits of this is that they will often display special rates not available on the airline’s own website. However, screenscrapers are likely to pick up on these offers as well. Sites such as expedia.co.uk and travelocity.co.uk are good for long–haul destinations.

4. Email lists

Sign up to email lists with the various screenscrapers and flightbrokers as well as the airlines directly to hear about the special offers as soon as they come out.

5. Protect yourself

Pay by credit card. That way if anything goes wrong then you can claim your money back under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit act.

6. Electron card

On top of paying for flights, customers now have the dubious privilege of paying a fee in return for being able to pay by credit or debit card. However, if you pay by Electron you can bypass these fees and cut about a £5 off your bill. Admittedly it’s not the biggest amount of money but getting an Visa Electron card costs you nothing.

7. Look out for extra costs

It’s not unusual for a ‘free’ flight to quickly cost £60 due to tax and the numerous extra charges that the airlines tack on at the last minute. Check–in costs nothing if you do it online with ryanair but £10 at the airport. If you are just going away for the weekend and can avoid taking a lot of luggage then you can save yourself more money too.

Checking in with one bag at the airport costs £30 compared to nothing with hand luggage, if you check in online. Easyjet claims to include “all taxes and charges” in its prices; however, there are still additional expenses added on at the end and optional extras such as insurance, additional cover for sports equipment and priority boarding are automatically added to your total price to pay so if you don’t want them ensure you de-select them.

8. Package holidays

If you are going to a popular destination such as Thailand or Croatia, package holidays often offer the cheapest deals. If you don’t fancy buffet breakfasts and fighting over the prime sunloungers at the hotel pool, book a package deal then book separate accommodation – the longer–haul destination packages can be cheaper than flights alone with a major carrier such as Virgin or BA.

Booking through a travel agent also means that your booking will be ATOL protected – this protection prevents customers from being stranded abroad or from losing money if a travel firm goes bust.

9. Go where your money will go further

It’s all very well finding a great deal on a flight but given the pound’s decreasing value against the euro, once you get to your destination your money might not go as far as you would hope. There are countries whose currencies are performing even worse than the UK’s though: Iceland, Mexico, South Africa and Bulgaria are a few.

10. Research, research, research

Most airlines hold flight sales; use the websites listed above and airlines own websites to see what special deals are on offer.

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