Beat booking fees on flights

20 July 2009

Some airlines charge as much as £5 extra for booking by debit or credit card, but these fees can be avoided by paying by Visa Electron. The problem, however, is how to get hold of one of these cards.

Visa Electron cards have been around since the 1980s, and are aimed at younger people and those living in countries where all transactions need to be authorised. They are not hugely popular in the UK, where most bank accounts come with debit cards.

The chief difference between a Visa debit and Visa Electron card is that the latter requires funds be available in the account at the time of purchase. So, while debit cards allow transactions exceeding available funds (up to a certain point), there is no way you can go overdrawn when using an Electron card.

This is why Electron cards have traditionally been associated with young people and those with poor credit histories. However, over the past few years they have become increasingly popular with people keen to dodge sky-high booking fees on flights.

Ryanair, for example, charges a £5 booking fee per person each way on payments made via credit and debit card. However, the airline waives any fees on bookings made with Visa Electron cards. It says this is a “special offer” for a “limited period only”. 

Easyjet, meanwhile, charges a £2.95 booking fee, and some cards (including Visa credit) are also liable for an additional fee of 2.5% of the total transaction. However, Visa Electron cards are exempt from these charges.

The problem for holidaymakers and frequent flyers who want to avoid these charges is that bank accounts offering Visa Electron are now few and far between. The Co-Operative, for example, has phased these out, while others only offer this type of card to their young customers.

Abbey’s youth bank account comes with a Visa Electron, but you must be aged between 16 and 18 to qualify. 

The main option for people is Halifax, which continues to offer an Electron card with its Easycash basic bank account, which is available to people aged 16 and over.

However, the bank admits that this is not a current account – you won’t get an overdraft, chequebook or cheque guarantee card, and you won’t earn any interest on the money in your account. In additional, you won’t be able to pay money in via a Halifax branch, and withdrawals are limited to £300 plus.

On the plus side, your Visa Electron card can be used to make purchases and withdraw cash (minimum £300) from LINK machines. You can also set up standing orders and direct debits, have your salary or benefits paid into the account, and pay money using Halifax’s deposit machines in selected branches.  

Because this account is unlikely to cover all your needs, it should probably be seen as an addition to your financial wardrobe. You could opt to keep enough money in the account to cover tickets for flights – bearing in mind that this won’t earn any interest - or pay this is as and when you plan to purchase tickets.

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