Ryanair's payment policy, which allows some passengers to waive booking fees, has been branded “puerile” and “childish”.
John Fingleton, chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), has accused the budget airline of operating within the “narrow letter of the law”, in an interview with a national newspaper.
Between 2003 and 31 December 2009, passengers paying by Visa Electron were spared having to pay an additional £5 booking fee each way when buying Ryanair flights. And since last December, the airline has waived these fees for people paying with MasterCard pre-paid cards.
By providing such payment exemptions, Ryanair and other airlines are not required to include these fees when advertising flight prices. This is because European law states that only compulsory charges must be advertised.
However, in an interview with The Independent, Fingleton says Ryanair is taunting customers.
"Ryanair has this funny game where it has found some low frequency payment mechanism and says: 'Well, because you can pay with that [the charge is optional]'," he said. "It's almost like taunting consumers and pointing out: 'Oh well, we know this is completely outside the spirit of the law, but we think it's within the narrow letter of the law'."
Fingleton added: “On some level, it's quite puerile, it's almost childish.”
Booking fees can significantly add to the cost of flights; a family of four booking return flights face paying £40 extra unless they pay with a MasterCard pre-paid card. This is despite estimates that the cost of processing payments is less than £1.
The OFT has been investigating online pricing and advertising, and is particularly concerned about purchases where the true cost isn’t revealed until late in the booking process – known as ‘dip pricing’.
Ryanair defends its pricing structure, as helping the “everyday Joe Bloggs” fly cheaply. Last July, it also agreed to advertise its fees and charges – including booking fees – more prominently on its website.