Thursday 21 November 2019

Smart Consumer: How airlines have been slowly nudged into giving us a fare deal

'There was a time when some airlines advertised their fares without including taxes. Those days are dead and gone.

"There was a time when some airlines increased prices during the booking process by adding extra services (e.g. travel insurance) on an opt-out basis. Those days are dead and gone.

"Hopefully the days of exorbitant payment card fees at the end of the booking process are also coming to an end."

So says Juan Bueso, Legal Adviser at Ireland's European Consumer Centre, as he traces the positive changes that have occurred when it comes to the price we see when booking flights.

The latest piece of the jigsaw about to fall into place concerns the additional fee for paying. Unless you have the 'chosen card' of the airline you'll pay €6 each way just for paying at the end of the booking process.

At that stage you've already gone through so many pages, filled in so many details and clicked so many boxes that only those with any patience and energy left would start all over again to see if they can get a better price elsewhere.

Thankfully the writing is on the wall for these practices. The EU Consumer Rights Directive will ban charges for paying by card which are more than it actually costs the trader.

That won't be in force until the end of next year, so last autumn Minister Richard Bruton announced he would bring in that ban sooner and the UK government has pledged the same.

But now the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK has steamed ahead and taken enforcement action based on existing laws. Twelve airlines, including Aer Lingus and Ryanair, have agreed to some changes.

The first thing they have to do is include card charges in the headline price. Then later (before December 1) they must drop additional fees for payment by debit card. And if the charge for using a credit card is more than it costs the airline they will no longer be able to call it an 'administration charge'.

But remember this is UK enforcement. So what about us?

When asked by Smart Consumer both Ryanair and Aer Lingus said the changes were specific to the UK. Despite this, changes have already been made by Aer Lingus to its Irish site and the €6 'admin' charge is now included in the total fare.

It will be difficult for airlines to apply different terms to Irish passengers. They cannot discriminate on the basis of residence as the EU legislation under which the OFT took its enforcement action applies here too.

"If airlines treat passengers differently based on their place of residence or nationality, this may lead to further breaches of EU legislation," warns Mr Bueso.

Our National Consumer Agency (NCA) assisted with the UK investigation and an NCA spokesperson confirmed that they "would expect that any changes apply equally across the airlines' networks".

So, will the airlines give us a better deal too or will they hold out for as long as they can? Watch this space.

Irish Independent

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