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28th June 2011

The Consumer Council welcomes Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announcement on unfair credit and debit c

The OFT has today confirmed what many Northern Ireland consumers already know - that surcharges for using credit and debit charges, especially within the airline industry, are often misleading; it is difficult to avoid payment charges and the final price to be paid is often unclear. But importantly for consumers OFT has committed to take enforcement action to end misleading surcharges and change the law to stop consumers being charged when using debit cards online.

In November 2009 the Consumer Council first brought to the attention of OFT the unfair cost of paying these charges, setting out the detriment to NI consumers with a list of recommendations for change.  The OFT responded with the Advertising and Pricing market study.  The Consumer Council also submitted formal evidence to this inquiry on behalf of Northern Ireland passengers, showing that:

  • Many passengers believe the final ticket price is not clear from the beginning of the online booking process;
  • The vast majority of passengers (81 per cent) pay for flights using a method which incurs a payment fee;
  • The airline pricing structure makes it much more difficult for passengers to compare prices between airlines.  Only 49 per cent feel it is easy to compare the final price of different airline or routes;
  • The most popular method for paying for flights is by credit card:  47 per cent of consumers use this option, while 34 per cent use a debit card.

Antoinette McKeown, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council said:  “This is a huge relief to consumers in Northern Ireland, in particular air passengers in Northern Ireland (NI) who, in the last year alone, were charged £22.4 million[1] on debit and credit card charges.  Making a payment for goods or a service is an intrinsic part of the transaction and therefore the price should be included in the upfront cost.  In other words, we should not have to pay for paying.“

Please see attached Consumer Council evidence and link to additional charges imposed by airlines.

[1] In 2010, 7.1 million passengers travelled through Northern Ireland’s airports.  6.6 million of these passengers travelled with scheduled airlines and 500,000 on charter flights (data obtained from Civil Aviation Authority) £22.4m is calculated using 2010 passenger figures and based on the premise that 47 per cent of the scheduled airline flights are booked using credit card, 34 per cent using debit cards and 4 per cent using a payment free option, e.g., Visa Electron.  Figures taken from ‘Flights and Rights: A Consumer Council research report into passengers’ knowledge of their rights and attitudes to air travel, May 2010.


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