Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"You want to sit down during your flight? That will be £30 extra, Sir."

I have had yet another irritating experience booking a flight on line with a local well known budget airline. Imagine my surprise when the credit card debit was £30 more than the quoted price because, it turns out, I had been charged an extra £15 each way for..... my seat.

I have always seen the need for businesses to treat consumers fairly and honestly and I am becoming concerned that many are failing to do so, although they are obeying all current legislation.

I am specifically concerned that a large number of online and call centre based commercial activities including financial services, online booking sites and air and train travel booking services are creating a new class of 'unfair trading'.

One example is the practice of quoting 'typical' APR in finance adverts. There is now widespread blatant misleading going on, a very low 'typical' APR quoted on adverts to draw applicants who then find a much higher interest rate quoted "in their case" - by which time they are already partly committed (having agreed to a credit check) creating unreasonable conditions for a fair deal to be struck in my view.

The whole area of variable pricing as pioneered by budget airlines like Easyjet and now frequently employed by hotel companies, train operators, car hire firms and especially credit card and loan companies is also becoming a minefield for consumers in my view. I accept the principle that some firms may want to create bargain basement fares by charging extra for regular services (like going to the toilet!) on the basis that those who don't want to pay for these luxuries(?!) shouldn't have to subsidise others that do but at all times the pricing needs to be fair and clear.

The basic principle of the open and transparent price offer enforced by the earliest consumer legislation is now being routinely bypassed and that many consumers simply aren't able to make comparisons, or even determine accurately what price they will be paying for a service, especially when booking or buying on line, before making a binding commitment.

I also have a concern over the practice of making additional charges to change or cancel bookings even when the customer may have either made a simple mistake, or not quite have clicked all the right buttons. I suspect that some organisations are now routinely making their booking procedure unnecessarily complex in order to catch out the unwary and increase their margins in this way. There should be an opportunity for consumers to change or amend online bookings without charge after they have received confirmation of them.

I have taken this up with the Trading Standards Institute but their main focus seems to be on rogue traders and criminal activity, they complain of not having the resources to deal with campaigning for fair trading legislation as well as trying to enforce the existing law.

They have a point, fair trading rules were written originally to protect local people from local rogue traders, and the law is enforced via local authorities with town hall sized budgets. This is wholly inadequate for policing multi-national companies often operating via call centres on other continents or virtually on the web.

In the meantime, 'buyer beware' remains the best advice.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like Ryanair to me !

David Trevelyn said...

I remeber the days when BA would charge you £3 for headphones on a long haul flight! And that was when £3 bought more than a single tube fare...

Kate Pierce said...

I get very fed up over luggage charges because a) they are all different weights and prices and b) each budget airline has different cabin bag restrictions so you never know if your bag will be allowed on or not