Hidden charges can make traditional agents cheaper than online, claims Net Effect founder

The founder of a technology company that helps high street travel agents with their online presence says hidden charges on the websites of web rivals make them more affordable than they think.

Steve Rushton, who runs Net Effect, was booking easyJet flights to Malta for the Advantage travel agent consortium conference later this year when an £88 charge was added as he was entering his credit card details.

So ‘stunned’ was he about the way the charge was added by Germany-based fly.co.uk so late in the booking process he created and tweeted a mock-up fly.co.uk page with the page’s wording amended.

Neteffects tweet

Rushton tweeted this mock-up version of the site.

New legislation in the UK due to come into force this year will attempt to stamp out such practices as regulators strive to ensure the price advertised is the price the consumer ends up paying.

Consumer watchdog Which? this week released research that claimed UK airline passengers were paying £265,000 a day for credit and debit card charges.

Following a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading the government has agreed to ban debit card charges and limit the amount that can be charged for credit card payments by the end of 2012.

Airlines and retailers will be able to charge a processing or administration fee but this is expected to be limited to 2% per credit card transaction and any fees would have to be disclosed upfront.

Europe’s leading lowcost airline Ryanair has moved from charging card transaction fees to an administration fee.

Rushton said he was prompted to use fly.co.uk after it came top of the results on cheapflights.co.uk. He aborted the transaction and instead booked direct on the easyJet website saving £88.

He’s keen to debunk the ‘book online cheaper’ myth and said traditional agents who struggle to compete with online rivals would charge only a £25 booking fee and be upfront about it.

“It would be quite a powerful marketing message for agents to say we can beat the prices you find online,” he said.

“Once charges like this are made clear it shows that independent agents are able to compete by securing the best deals for their customers thanks to their experience and expertise.”

Neteffects story - added charges

Rushton said the fly.co.uk charge gave the appearance of being a levy imposed by the airline rather than a service charge by the retailer as it was applied per person per sector.

He also pointed out that booking on a laptop meant the increased price actually first appeared below the fold and it was only when he was poised to press book that he noticed it.

“If someone like me who works in the industry can potentially get caught by this what hope has the average punter got?

“It’s like getting to the check-out at Tesco only to be told that you will charged extra.”

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