Sunday 21 January 2018

Smart Consumer: Booking flights online? Beware steep currency exchange fees...

You pay extra to put a bag in the hold, you pay to get priority boarding, to reserve a seat and more. You even pay to use your card to pay unless you are using the 'chosen card' of the airline in question.

You may think you know all about the charges that airlines levy. Well, here's another one: currency exchange fees that are well above market exchange rates.

Let's say you're flying from Dublin to London and then on from London to Spain. The Dublin-to-London flight is priced and charged in euro, but the flight from London is priced in sterling.

When you enter your details for the sterling flight a process called dynamic currency conversion converts to the currency of your card (euro). An exchange rate is applied at this point by the airline through an intermediary, rather than through your bank or card issuer.

Here's the rub. The exchange rate set by the airline/intermediary can be well above your bank's rate.

In their report 'The Cost of Paying', the European Consumer Centre network (ECC-Net) found that approximately one-third of the 55 airlines they examined charge consumers exchange rates in excess of those imposed by the major market players.

In fact, in 50pc of cases it is in excess of 5pc above market exchange rates.

So you could be charged more than 11pc for the currency transaction. Compare that to average bank exchange rates of between 1.5pc and 2.75pc and you can see what a bad deal you could be getting.

As a result, in one case the ECC-Net examined, the price jumped by just over 13pc for simply selecting a different currency to complete the transaction.

You can choose to opt out of this and instead pay in the currency of the sale and allow your bank to apply a cheaper exchange rate.

"But the information on opting out can be hidden," explains Juan Bueso of ECC Ireland. "For an average consumer, it is not as transparent as it could be."

Take the case of one Irish consumer who booked a flight with a UK airline where the price was displayed as GB£357.41. By paying in euro, he was charged 11.29pc above the Visa exchange rate on the day, meaning he ended up €38.85 out of pocket.

"Such practices," says Bueso "damage consumer confidence and fair competition." In that context, he adds "enough is enough. This practice is unacceptable".

The ECC-Net is calling on enforcement authorities across Europe to monitor the level of compliance by airlines in their jurisdiction.

But given you may unknowingly end up paying a lot more than you need to when using a different currency with some airlines, what can you do?

Basically, you'll have to do more homework: checking the fees applied and being alert when transacting in another currency.

You should also pay in the currency advertised, so you can avoid the higher exchange charges imposed by the airline at the point of sale.

Irish Independent

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