Friday, 20 June 2014

Credit charge surcharges and "drip pricing"

It's interesting that the ACCC is looking at the "drip pricing" techniques used by some airlines.  Presumably this is primarily directed at credit charge surcharges, of which I have recent personal experience.  There are other charges such seat allocation charges (on Jetstar but not Virgin or Qantas) and baggage charges (usually fairly well displayed?), but these don't seem to be such an issue.

In fairness, however, I thought the late booking deal on Virgin (which allowed payment by direct debit at no extra cost) was acceptable.   I haven't tried booking on Jetstar at short notice, but I wonder why no mention is made in the news report about the actions of Qantas which is "right up there" when it comes to credit charge surcharges (they give you no alternative but to use a card when you're booking close to the day of travel).

More generally, surcharges when you pay by credit card are increasingly a fact of life.  The Reserve Bank has views on the amount of such surcharges and the ACCC has views on their disclosure.

Clearly an important statement in the ACCC's pronouncement on the issue is that the merchant must "ensure ... customers are aware - before they enter into the transaction or contract - that a fee will apply and the amount of the fee."

In short, at the price comparison stage, this statement doesn't require the surcharge to be displayed - unless not to do so is "misleading", which seems to be the point the ACCC is taking in its recently announced proceedings.

Something else that the ACCC could look at, in a similar vein, is Melbourne Airport's practice of publicising quite prominently their "book in advance" car parking prices with no mention of a credit card surcharge at all until the final payment screen was displayed. 

Given that  there was no option at all except to use a credit card to pay, with a 2% surcharge, their otherwise helpful on-line calculator seems to me to go very close to the wind in terms of being misleading.   

Other players who are fast and loose with  the credit card surcharge, or so it seems to me, are car hire companies.  On our recent trip to Canberra, Avis looked as though it would be even worse than Hertz were in Perth:  in the case of Avis, if you wish to pay by a Visa/MasterCard debit card  (link is to FAQs, so it's necessary to select the question) so as not to incur the surcharge, the website seems to suggest that their rule is along the lines that they would take the whole of the hire charge, plus your excess plus $100 for fuel out of your debit card (that is, from your cash) - and refund it to you when they get around to it, perhaps 7 - 10 days after you return the car!  I didn't investigate whether it is quite as bad as this in practice, as needless to say, I opted for payment by credit card (and in any event I don't have the required type of debit card).  But the ultimate irony was......on carefully checking my final statement, in fact Avis didn't impose a credit card surcharge at all!   

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