Ridiculous or not? Airlines charge fees to use my credit card

When it comes to airline fees, you’ve probably stopped asking yourself, “What’s will they think of next?”

That’s because you thought they’d stop with charging for the first checked bag. But they didn’t. You thought paying for lunch on a six-hour flight was where they’d draw the line. Nope. How about seat reservations — surely they’d be included in the ticket price? Sorry.

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So if I told you that you’d soon have to pay for the privilege of paying, that probably wouldn’t sound like a joke. But when I heard from Will Storr, a fellow journalist who lives in England and who had booked flights from Florence, Italy, to London on British Airways, I thought there was some kind of mistake.

Storr was broadsided with a total of $28 in mysterious fees. Like any good journalist, he investigated and found they were credit card fees levied directly by the airline. He says he feels as if the airline “helped itself” to more of his money even after quoting a lower fare through an online travel agency.

Charging customers to pay is highly unusual. In the United States, only one airline, Allegiant, does it. It cleverly avoids the term “credit card fee” because that would violate Visa’s credit card rules and is illegal in 10 states. Instead, it calls them “convenience” fees.

For the convenience of using any of Allegiant’s booking services (inclusive of call center) there is a fee of $17.00 per traveling customer. Purchases made at any of Allegiant is Airport Ticket Offices will not incur a Convenience Fee of $17.00 per customer. All fares are subject to change until confirmed and purchased.

Got that? If you buy a ticket anywhere except the Allegiant ticket office, you have to pay a $17 fee per customer.

European airlines have no such restrictions. For years, no-frills discount airlines have added these credit card fees to their ticket prices. But now the larger air carriers like like British Airways, Lufthansa and Swiss are catching up.

It’s easy to understand why airlines would want to pass the cost of merchant fees along to passengers. They can represent up to two percent of their ticket distribution costs, and at a time when every penny counts, a two percent savings is nothing to sneeze at.

In order to understand how European airlines are rationalizing this decision to us, their passengers, let’s have a look at the recent announcement by Swiss that it would begin imposing a $24 ticketing fee for customers who pay by plastic.

Credit card holders enjoy benefits that extend beyond the ability to make secure non-cash payment. Depending on the card product, such benefits include an extended deadline for settlement of payment and/or the provision of insurance services. Recent years have seen a rise in the related costs, which Swiss has hitherto borne. The introduction of the Optional Payment Charge represents a distribution of the costs on a user-pay basis.

Aha. So Swiss is making the argument that paying by credit card is somehow better, and that customers should be paying more because of it. But isn’t that what your annual fee is for?

Another issue is whether the new fees cover the airline’s cost, or whether they are a source of profit. I think we all know the answer to that one. Airlines aren’t just going to cover their costs; these new fees are certain to become significant source of revenue.

Already, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading has weighed in on this issue, saying it believes there’s “a strong case for a change in the law so that the cost of using a debit card, the almost universal payment method for today’s online consumers, is always included within the headline price.” It is investigating complaints about credit card usage fees.

There are fears that these fees could spread to the United States. Any halfway competent airline revenue manager must be looking across the pond with envy, hoping that the European courts let the fees fly. If they do, they could pave the way for a more widespread acceptance of credit card fees here, and with a little linguistic acrobatics — referring to the surcharge as a “convenience” fee — it’s not inconceivable that a major domestic airline could embrace these surcharges soon.

There are just two small problems, as I see it. First, the airlines charging these fees are being dishonest with themselves and with us. The fees don’t just offset their ticket distribution costs — in almost every case, they also enhance their profits. They make their tickets look cheaper than they actually are.

If cards are too expensive for an airline, then shouldn’t they either stop accepting them or raise their fares? Of course.

My second concern is where this will end. If you’re allowed to charge for using a credit card, can a fee to cover employee salaries, insurance, benefits union dues — or, heaven forbid, CEO bonuses — be far behind?

(Photo: Decla /Flickr)

135 thoughts on “Ridiculous or not? Airlines charge fees to use my credit card

  1. The wording of the poll made it impossible for me to vote.  One one hand, I generally believe in letting the market decide business matters.  Legislation is appropriate when the market produces a poor result.

    One the hand I would absolutely refuse to pay a credit card fee.  It’s profiteering at its worse. Although probably not illegal.  I suspect that federal preemption may apply.

    However, I think Chris is crying wolf.  I think paying credit card fees is so anathema to Americans and especially business travelers that I can’t imagine it coming to the US in mass.

    Case in point,  California state courts charge $12.95 to pay a civil court filing fee.  No one pays it. Its a source or derision amongst attorneys.  The only folks who pay it are people who are self represented and don’t know any better or newbie attorneys.

    1. I’m generally in agreement, except I don’t think it will be above some airlines to charge it.  It would be part of a broader “refocus” on customer service and convenience, but they’d work it in there.

      Rather than try to legislate every minor annoyance of businesses attempting to break down their cost of business, why not take a simple approach?  Any fees that are charged prior to those levied after arrival at the airport (baggage, meals) should be built into the displayed price.  Personally I think that is just good business sense, but if you’re going to make up rules, this seems like it would catch more than going after them piecemeal.

    2. There’s a lot of things we couldn’t imagine a lot of businesses doing, yet they’re doing them. This is certainly true of the airline industry.

  2. Let me back track just a little.

    If indeed these fees come to the US, they won’t be levied on frequent fliers.  It is important to note that almost none of the new so called onerous fees, e.g. checked bags, seat selection, etc. are levied on frequent or premium flliers.

    1. And how is this a problem? The airlines reward their best customers with incentives to fly more. Nothing wrong or surprising here.

    1. Good one. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if they change their tune soon. Bank of America recently made headlines by charging their customers $5 to use their debit card.

  3. Credit card companies hold airline ticket revenue until well after the passenger has flown. That creates a larger cash flow impact for an airline vs. most other businesses. This fee is designed to offset that impact. It MAY be possible that the revenue obtained from a “convenience fee” is available to the airline sooner, hence the logic behind it.

    That being said, most passengers pay for a ticket with a credit card, so this impact is currently figured into the ticket cost. I would find it hard to believe that unbundling in this would help keep base fares low as other fees were designed to do and is just a ‘double dip’ opportunity for the airline.

    1. I seriously doubt that, “Credit card companies hold airline ticket revenue until well after the passenger has flown”  I also doubt that  “convenience fees are available sooner”

      But if you have some information to the contrary please share.

      1. Anyone who accepts a credit card for payment has to be connected through a merchant bank which is where the payments route.  That bank requires the card acceptor to keep an account where the funds flow through and places holds and minumum balance requirements on the account based on the average credit card volume flowing through that account.  There is no distinction between the amount of the purchase and any added fees since in the US a merchant cannot charge a fe for using a credit (or debit) card.  The amount charged is a single lump sum from the view of the credit card issuer.
        A smaller card acceptor may not get its money for a month.  Most are required to keep anywhere from 15% to 30% of their CC dollar volume in that account to cover reversals for fraud, stolen cards, and so on.  The card acceptor is 100% responsible for paying for any reversed charge even if they do not recover whatever was bought with the card.
        Frontier Airlines was almost caused to go into liquidation when during their most recent bankrupcy their CC bank wanted to double their minimum balance in their merchant account from somewhere around $10 million to $20 million.  They were able to work out a deal to avoid this.

      2. I think TonyA posted a pretty good article about holdbacks below. Still “serious” doubts or just “marginal” doubts?

        I do not know if convenience fees are available sooner. Just pondering. The ENTIRE last sentence of the first paragraph of my post is pretty clear about that.

        1. No, convenience fees are never available sooner that other transactions.  Every dollar is subject to the same holdbacks.  

        2. Your post was unclear.

          It states that, ”  Credit card companies hold airline ticket revenue until well after the passenger has flown”

          I take that to mean that that if a passenger flies in 60 days, the merchant processing will release the payment in 60+ days. 

          Nothing in your post suggested to me that you were talking about reserve accounts or holdbacks. 

          Had you stated that, “Credit card companies hold, A PORTION OF, airline ticket revenue until well after the passenger has flown”  then your post would have made better sense.”

          Fortunately, Tony A was able to pierce your post.

    2. “Credit card companies hold airline ticket revenue until well after the passenger has flown.”

      I think most casual flyers, like myself, book their tickets well in advance – my credit card company has paid the airline in September for my flight in December.

    3. How else are you going to pay for an airline ticket? They do not take cash over the internet!  British Airways can not take cash but only at their locations so if your in Bangor Maine do you drive down to Boston to buy a ticket then drive back to Bangor?  You can not put a hold a a flight and then MAIL A CHECK IN by USPS. You can not mail cash in for sure!  They do not accept Paypal.  So how can you pay them?   CREDIT CARD!!!!

  4. No, airlines and other companies should be barred from charging “conveinence fees”

    I had a run in with an idiot in an airport coffee shop yesterday. This individual who was working there didn’t want to take my credit card for a $7 charge. He kept babbling in broken English and pointing to a handmade sign that said no charges for orders under $20. 

    I told this person such minimum practices were against the credit card agreement and unless they wanted me to call my credit card company right then and there and report them, they’d take the card.

    A manager came out and told him to take my card as a “favor.” Yeah, he didn’t want to get slapped around by the credit card company type of favor!

    Credit card merchants cannot say “minimum purchase” to anyone. If you see those signs, report the merchants to your credit card companies.

    (Before anyone whines about a $7 charge, I charge everything I can when I travel on business. Makes expense reports much easier)

    1. Those are the rules in the US – abroad they may differ, and again, it may not technically be a credit card fee, but something to that effect worded differently.
      Also, in Europe, direct bank transfers are used pretty often rather than credit cards, which are far easier for both parties involved, as banks in Europe make it easy make those transactions. There are good alternatives to paying with a credit card, but they aren’t always available to everyone.

    2. In the last few years, the various rules have been in flux.  Its not longer a given than you cannot require a minimum charge.

    3.  When one notes the fees the banks charge small merchants for the “privilege” of accepting your credit card, it really was a favor for that merchant to take a loss on your purchase for you.

    4. The “No minimum” rule is gone, thanks in part to the Durbin debit card change that went into effect.  Merchants are now free to require a minimum purchase amount if they choose.

    5. What made this employee an “idiot”?  The fact they were trying to do their job as instructed?  Their lack of fluency in English?  That the store had the audacity to post their policies on (gasp) a handmade sign?  Makes you wonder if the store employees didn’t have a conversation about the “idiot” frequent traveler who didn’t realize that minimum CC purchases are allowable. 

  5. I am very strongly opposed to any business charging credit card processing fees, convenience fees, etc. I worked in accounts receivable for many years and have now work as a consultant in the same business. Yes, companies get charged credit card processing fees. However I would never dream of passing these fees onto my customers, they are merely a cost of doing business and should always be this way.

    I keep seeing business, not just airlines, add these ridiculous fees. Car rental agencies are the worst. My $200 car rental last week was $293. $93 was taxes and fees. Mostly fees. My utility bill is not mostly fees. More fees than usage in many months. I also keep seeing business give discounts if you pay cash, to avoid the Visa rule. 5% off for cash or full price for credit card. I also see many business flat out charge a “Convenience fee” for accepting a credit card. I personally think this is a violation, but most placed get away with it. When I renewed my car registration, there was a 4.5% processing fee blatantly charged for using a credit card.

    I am so sick of everything being added on as a fee. I can justify some fees; if it’s a service that not everyone will use such as an add-on, upgrade, etc. but basic costs of doing business that are universal should NEVER be a fee. Be they fuel surcharge, license fee, tire wear fee, counter fee, franchise fee, train fee, maintenance fee, etc. businesses need to make their prices inclusive of their costs, and compete for my business based on total price and quality of service. Enough said!

    1. The thing is, everybody knows the rates charged by the credit card companies are outrageous. Yet, our government won’t do anything about it because the lobbying by the credit card companies brings in too much money for the politicians.

      1. Actually the merchant fees were not that bad.  It varied by card. Most had a fixed plus a percentage, the majority were quite low.  AmericanExpress was the highest, so I made a decision not to accept AmericanExpress.  Discover was just a fixed fee, so it netted to the lowest.  I still believe this is part of the cost of doing business. I got a lot more business taking cards than I would have if I didn’t, that clearly off-set any fees I was charged to take them and made a more profit on top of it.

    2. “I would never dream of passing these fees onto my customers”

      But you do.  As with any other cost of doing business, there is an amount in the price of everything sold be a business that includes all of these items.  The utility bills, the rent of any office space, the salaries of the employees, and yes the credit csard fees are all included in the price of everything sold.  While you don’t add a line item to the invoice that says “Credit Card Fee recovery” you have to charge it to the customer along with a share of every other expense or you don’t make a profit.

      I think in the case of the airlines and other businesses, the CC use fee they want to charge far exceeds what they pay and is in addition to the fee recovery already built in to the ticket price.  It is purely a new source of profit that they can collect while blaming someone else for the need to charge it.

    3. “…basic costs of doing business that are universal should NEVER be a fee.”
      Accepting a credit card isn’t necessarily a basic cost of doing business. Not accepting cash could be due to it being legal tender and such, but using a credit card doesn’t have to be universal, and there are perfectly valid ways to get around it, such as using cash.

  6. Ridiculous yes but not surprising. There are other companies(at least in Canada) that charge a higher price when you pay by CC. Usually these are smaller businesses that cannot afford the CC charge.  

  7. Does Allegiant charge the “convenience fee” if you pay by credit card at the ticket offices? If not, then it truly is a “convenience fee” rather than a “credit card fee”, similar to the extra buck or two I have to pay to order movie tickets through Fandango rather than at the box office or the three bucks I pay to process my electric bill online instead of mailing in a check. 

    Credit card fees? No.
    Convenience fees (within reason)? I’m okay with this.

    1. How is it a convenience fee? They have to staff the office, so it costs them more when you buy a ticket in the office.  If you buy it on-line and they don’t have to hire someone to interact with you its more convenient for them.  I love taking payments on-line, I don’t have to be involved, and everything comes electronically making it much easier to reconcile.  So letting people pay on-line is more convenient for me as the merchant.

      1. I’m not a merchant, so you would know better than I but here’s my line of thinking…

        They have to staff the office anyway for non-payment related issues (paperwork, other customer service, etc.), so having them process tickets probably doesn’t add much to their workload (or the airline doesn’t care). Plus, I’d imagine that most places “hire” an automated system that processes on-line or by-phone purchases rather than purchasing an in-house system, and this costs money. And it’s a convenience fee because it’s generally more convenient for most people to order their tickets online when it suits their schedule, rather then going to an office that has set hours. 

        Again, I sometimes pay Fandango an extra buck or two per ticket in order to assure that the movie doesn’t sell out before I get there, that I don’t have to stand in the box office line, etc. The theater still mans the box office but we don’t complain about that so much, do we? I’m failing to see the difference…

        1. I see the confusion.

          I believe you are being mislead by the marketing term “convenience fee”  I would argue that a convenience fee implies that the merchant is undertaking an unusual cost, seperate and beyond what is expected in that industry

          For example, my local grocery store charges a convenience fee to shop and deliver groceries.  Since grocery stores don’t usually deliver groceries, an additional fee is appropriate.  Its truly for my convenience and a charge is appropriate.

          However, business have been trying to use that very benign term as a euphemism for credit card processing charge.

      2. And why the airlines moved most of their business in this direction in the 1st place!  NOW they want to penalize us for their choice, rather than just rolling the cost into the tickets as the cost of doing business.  Preposterous!

    2. I”m going to have to call BS on this one.  This is a pure money grab.

      Consider: we know that most US based airlines find it cheaper for you to electronically buy than in person or on the phone.  We know this because internet bookings are free whereas phone and in person bookings incur charges designed to discourage that behavior. This is similiar to a bank that has free ATM only checking but charges to speak to a teller

      Ticketmaster and fandango are different animals.  They are third party booking sites wihch aggregate sales from multiple sellers. The so called convenience fees is their polite way of saying, this is our profit.  This fee is unrelated to the method of payment.

      Third party travel booking sites do the same thing.

      Also, airlines use electronic tickets, whereas Ticket Master actually has to deliver physical tickets to you.  So the analagies don’t work

      Curious though, your power company charges you for autodebit.  Lame.

  8. Well, we could all start carrying wads of cash and pay that way at the airport.  If they don’t like credit cards, they’ll like dealing with large amounts of cash even less!

    1. Yes, and then the TSA will flag you for every inspection under the sun (including where the sun don’t shine); cash payment is one of their “markers” for terrorists.

      1. Paying with cash used to be a possible marker for drug smugglers.  Back in 1988, the former baseball player Joe Morgan was detained on suspicion of being a drug runner after he paid cash at the ticket counter.

  9. I don’t like it!  Seems really similar to ticket agencies (like ticketmaster) who get away with charging a “convenience fee.”  At least with ticket agencies, there’s usually a reasonable way to avoid the fee, like using the “Will Call” window at the stadium…  

  10. This is very common for Australian airlines. For example with Qantas it’s $7.70 (including GST). This applies per passenger, per ticket

  11. Chris you really need to do more research before you write these articles.  First, there are different laws and merchant agreements in Europe.  Credit card fees are fairly standard practice in quite a number of European businesses and I have never had one of these fees as a “gotcha” because of the European legal requirements.  Second, categorizing these fees as “dishonest” shows that you are misinformed.
    US merchant agreements generally require that a business cannot charge a fee for using a credit card or set minimum transaction limits. This means that the business has to add an additional mark up to every item to cover the merchant fees (which can exceed 3% or the transaction depending on the card and transaction type plus some merchants pay a per transaction fee).  What this actually means to the end user is that cash or check buyers are paying 4%+ more than they would have to in a non-credit card use fee. Paying an unseen fee to not using a payment method seems sillier to me than paying a fee.
    Personally, I would rather have the European system where when I choose to pay by cash, I’m not subsidizing those that pay by credit card.

    1. “What this actually means to the end user is that cash or check buyers are paying 4%+ more than they would have to in a non-credit card use fee.”

      Or, the business is taking in its gross income, and paying all of its expenses including one monthly merchant statement, and then calculating its net income. 

      You would have to spend a lot more money on accountants to track and reconcile each individual transaction and determine who get what fee and how it goes to the merchant.  I seriously doubt any of this is tracked, and the “Convenience fee” is merely additional profit.  It would actually cost more to track and reconcile who gets a fee and who doesn’t and ensure that fee goes to the merchant processor.

      1. @yahoo-SYR4YYOAPY4X3UUYLPCADARF3Q:disqus You missed my point. Right now US merchants have to build 4%+ in credit card fees into every sale (just like they have to build in something for overhead, labor etc) because the credit companies require that they not charge someone for using a credit card.

        If they could charge for credit cards at check out instead of having to roll it into the price, the merchant would be able to charge cash customers less. There is no additional burden on the accounting staff as long as you charged a fixed rate (that would probably be the AMEX rewards rate which is over 3.5%) to cover all cards which is basically what the merchant has to do now.

        1. I think you have an excellent point.

          And as far as the accouting red herring, it would be akin to sales tax. Some items are charged sales tax, others are not.  Yet, business don’t seem to have much issue sorting that out.

          1. Actually that’s a good point about tax, but I didn’t mean accounting as a red herring, tax is the same percentage per item based on the customer’s status until the law changes.  What you take in in tax, is exactly what you pay out in tax.
            Credit card fees would still involve setting up an additional account, re-allocating part of your transaction, and matching it up to the fees later. Every card carries a different fee based on the bank issuing it.  Discover may be $0.50 per transaction depending on your merchant agreement, but Visa and MC can be anywhere from $0.00 fee to $1.50 fee per transaction, plus a fee of anywhere form 0.25% to 2.5%.  It varies so much by the bank that issued the particular card, and the merchant doesn’t know the fee until their get their next merchant statement.  So charging everyone a 4% fee is never going to match up with what you are actually paying in fees, and then you will have to determine how to allocate the extra funds, etc.  I would be a lot of work, and it is clearly going to end up with extra profit unless you ask each person what their issuing bank charges, which no one will know.

          2. @yahoo-SYR4YYOAPY4X3UUYLPCADARF3Q:disqus  I never said anything about varying the fee based on card type or matching customer transactions. In fact what I said was charging the same fee for every card based on your max fee. Since this is basically what a business does now anyway, there’s no net effect for a credit card user and a benefit to a cash or e-check user.

            From the accounting side its really easy. You set up a revenue account for CC fees (much like the liabilty account for holding Sales tax) and it will offset the COS account for Merchant Fees. (Appologies to all that have no idea what I just said).

          3. So in your example you are charging every one based on the highest fee. So people who have a card that cost even less than an e-check to process like discover, get charged a fee as high as an AmEx card.  So you are basically punishing everyone who doesn’t use cash.  Yet you say it’s not fair to charge people who pay cash the same as those who use a credit card?  By your own logic, charging everyone the same price isn’t fair either.  It’s just building in extra profit at the expense of some customers. 

          4. I think the point that John is making is that that is what is happening now.

            Suppose a fair prince for widgets is $100.00.  The merchant gets charged between 1 and 3 percent when someone uses a card.
             The merchant then raises the price of widgets to $102 to cover the lost revenue from the credit card fees.  In this case everyone is paying an extra $2.00 regardless of whether they engage in behavior to reduce the fee.

            However, if the merchant could charge the credit card processing fee to only those who use cards, then I could elect to come in which cash and presumably pay $100 instead of $102.00 since there are no credit card fees to offset.

            So even though I pay cash, I’m still paying effectively paying the credit card offset fee.

          5. In your example, if the fair price of a widget is $100, and the merchant gets charged for taking the credit cards, then the merchant should continue to charge $100 per widget as that is what the going rate is, and pay the credit card processing fee as part of their numerous other expenses including insurance, rental, facility maintenance, payroll, COGS, etc.  I have to pay a courier to pick up my cash, should I add a surcharge to cash purchasers too to cover courier costs?  I think what’s happenings is that businesses are no longer setting a fair market price, but rather setting their profit, and adding all of their expenses to their profit and charging the customers.  So if I see 3 widget stores all selling widgets for $100, and I go to Widget store A with my credit card and pay $100.  But some other person goes to store B also expecting to pay $100 and actually gets charged $102, it’s no longer a fair comparison because both widget stores advertised $100.

          6. Agree with you, Marla – what people always forget in this conversation is that there are costs associated with accepting checks and cash as well!  I once worked in a grocery store as a cash bookkeeper and my entire shift, 8 hrs a day, 40 hrs a week, was engaged in counting the cash, keeping track of the safe, preparing cash drawers, etc.  We also had armored car services to pick up our deposits and deliver change.  We had capital investments in cash registers, a counting room, counting machines, a big time-delay safe, etc.  We had losses to worry about due to cashier mistakes and petty theft.  We had insurance costs to pay, to protect us against larger thefts or armed robbery.  We had security cameras, and a full-time loss prevention officer who spent some of his time watching cashiers for theft.  Every single store in the grocery chain had multiple shifts of cash accountants, a loss prevention officer, plus managers and corporate office people keeping track of it all.

            In comparison, credit cards were handled completely automatically by the computer system, with no staffing requirements at all except maybe a few systems support people at the corporate office.  Sure, the merchant fees were being paid, but which actually cost the grocery chain more?  It is not as cut and dried as it seems.  In this widget discussion, couldn’t it be possible that the costs of a cash-accpeting business could be nearly $2 of that $100 also, when you fully allocate all capital and incremental costs of being able to accept cash?  Certainly airlines are no longer accepting cash in flight because of these types of costs – many accept credit/debit cards only.

          7. Cash certainly has issues. However, I’d be willing to accept that credit cards are ultimately cheaper for a merchant when I see a merchant give a discount for someone paying with an all purpose credit card over cash. (Obviously if the merchant owns the credit card that a different story)

            One thing about credit cards fees which I learned really quickly after I began accepting them.   That 2-3% percent fee is a bit of a misnomer.  If I were only losing 2-3% of my profit that would be fine.  But that percentage is on the gross revenue for the transaction, even the portion that goes to cover my operating cost.

            In my arbitrary hypo, the merchant fee was 2%.  However because it reduced his profit from $10.00 to $8.00, the merchant actually lost 20% of his profit. That’s a huge hit.

          8. I understand your concern.

            Let me put it differently.  There are certain costs of business that are completely unavoidable.  Rent, supplies, etc. These should be factored into the base price. However, there are certain customer behaviors that add to the the costs of doing business.  If those behaviors can be controlled it would reduce the cost to the business and the smart business will pass those savings on to the customer.

            If you have two customers, that are otherwise identical, but customer 1 engages in behavior that makes the cost of doing business with customer 1 less than the cost of doing business with customer 2, its appropriate the customer 1 receive some sort of reward to incentivize him to continue with this cost reducing behavior.

            For example, when internet bookings were in the nascent stages, many travel providers offered incentives to travelers who booked travel without a live agent.  American Airlines gave a mileage bonus when using kiosks to obtain tickets instead of standing in line.  This was  continued when print at at home tickets first came out.

            Similiarly Starwood gave a 500 point bonus for booking online instead of calling the 800 number or using a travel agent.  The incentive worked. Starwood’s operating costs were reduced because fewer phone agents to hire and fewer travel agents to get a percentage of the room nights.

            I realize that there are associated costs with dealing with cash, but we cannot say with a straight face that the costs are generally higher.  We know that because I doubt any of us have experienced a business, large or small, that gives a discount for using a credit card over cash. 

          9. I see you what you mean. 

            A couple points.  What you pay to accept a credit card doesn’t vary by which bank issues the customer VISA.  It varies by type of credit card (VISA, AMEX, DISCOVER) and whether it’s also a debit card, gift card, etc. Your percentage is fixed by your merchant account agreement (volume, nature of business, credit worthiness, customer dynamics), not the customer’s visa. 

            So when you swipe a card, the merchant immediately knows exactly how much he’ll pay in charges and can charge appropriately.

            But even if we had the scenario where the fee was set by the issuer.  No big deal.  You should have historical data regarding your credit card costs.  Just charge each credit card user the same percentage, i.e. your average credit card cost.

            Perhaps the Visa customers will be shafted and the AMEX customer get a better deal, but it should average out fairly quickly

          10. My merchant statements show over 50 different rates on them, each one listing an issuing bank.  I have over 30 rates charged under Visa alone.  So I can’t agree that Visa is always the same fee.  The only ones where it is the same are AmEx and Discover.  So how is it okay to overcharge a Discover customer by charging them a higher rate, but not okay to overcharge a cash or check customer? Check processing costs me more than taking Discover.

          11. But that’s what you are currently doing.  By charging one rate, you are effectively adding a different profit margin to different customers depending on the method of payment.

            The customer with the low cost visa is giving you more profit on the same item then the person with the higher cost visa.

            Consider Customer 1 visa charges 1 percent and Customer 2 has a visa which charges 2 percent.

            On a $100 widget, you get $99 from Customer 1 and $98 from Customer 2.

            Assuming the item cost $90 as before, Customer 1 gave you $9 profit but Customer 2 gave you only $8.00

            Should you be making the same profit from each customer from selling the identical item?

        2. Many businesses have a discount button on their cash registers and some use it when you pay cash.  A small mom-and-pop type hardware store near my house gives you a 5% discount if you pay cash.  My travel agent gives a 3% discount if you pay for your travel arrangements with cash or check.  So this is not something unknown in the US.

          There is much more cost associated with accepting credit cards than the 1.5% average fee.  When a merchant takes cash, that’s it. They have the cash and can do whatever they need with it.   When they take a credit card, there are all sorts of possible outcomes.  The transaction could be disputed for numerous reasons resulting in the merchant losing the funds but not recovering the merchandise.  There is also the time frame and holdbacks the card processor imposes before the merchant gets the funds. 

        3. The problem I have with this is that I believe it is an added convenience to the merchant to accept credit cards as forms of payment rather than cash.  If you intice consumers to pay for items in cash, by offering say a 4% discount, then you risk the human error in cash handling.  A short drawer at the end of the business day is much more likely if the merchant only accepts cash.  Additionally, there is an increased risk of robbery, as a cash only policy would imply more cash on hand at any given time.  I understand your reasoning, but I don’t see why the consumer should take on the added cost of credit cards, when it is equally as beneficial to the merchant.

          1. In my post I said “cash only” business, but what I really meant was if an business incentivized paying with cash, they would have those problems.

          2. Don’t forget courier costs or the time involved in making deposits.  Cash counting machines if you have high volume cash, etc.  As someone who routinely works in the A/R field, I honestly believe is cheaper to take credit card only and eliminate cash.

          3. @MarlaM:disqus Cash in hand is cash in hand. Credit cards involve holdbacks (one processor we had decide they were going to keep the first $250k in charges to cover chargebacks. Another kept 15% of every sale for over a year for the same reason. All interest free), merchant & transaction fees(which the processor still charges on the money they won’t give you), chargebacks (those times when people suddenly “forget” they paid you for something and you get to spend hours trying to prove to VISA, after they take the money back, that the person really did authorize the charge) and added data requirements (PA-DSS) for any information related to credit cards.

            There is little added benefit to the merchant. The only reason to accept them is that the market requires it.

            Also unless you missed my point… You are already paying it as a hidden fee. The fee is already there and built into the price. Why not give you the choice if you want to pay it?

          4. Yes, and again everything you are saying is a part of doing business. If you want to take credit cards, that is how it works.  It’s still simpler and easier than dealing with cash and I say that well aware of hold backs, PCI-DSS compliance, and charge backs.  I guess you and I cannot agree here. 
            I strongly believe a business should set its price, all inclusive, and only charge a fee for something that is truly an add-on.  Charging fees based on each little expense here and there is ridiculous, and makes it hard for customers to make a valid price comparison.   A business should set its price based on its ability to run itself and stay competitive.  When a business sets its price based on what it wants its profit to be, and then adds everything it pays as part of doing business as an extra fee and extra profit, it is no longer a fair comparison to consumers, and it is a slippery slope as to what they will add next. 

          5. I agree with you.  Add-on fees should be for only those items which the customer’s behavior increase or decrease the merchant’s costs. Otherwise it should be included.

          6. You make a good theoretical point.  But in reality, merchants offer discounts for cash, not credit cards, so we have to believe that cash ultimately is cheaper for most merchants.

    2. Good points.

      I wonder if this “convenience” fee is really going to make much of a difference in Europe? The airlines have to disclose the full, final price anyway, and it’s a thing that actually seems to be enforced. People (i.e. smart people) are just going to use a ticket search engine to compare prices, and then it doesn’t really matter if one airline is operating with all-inclusive fares and another breaks it down to fare, pay-fee, bag-fee, seat use-fee, headwind-surcharge and whatnot.

      (I just did a test with Easyjet – yup, the pay-fee is displayed and included in the full price. Travelstart quotes the same price for the same flight including one checked bag.)


    1. It has happened.  I worked with one client who grosses $2Billion a year get told they can no longer accept Visa because they tried charging a transaction fee.  We re-worked all of their processes, but they were suspended for 3 years, so they still can’t take Visa yet.

    2. Exactly…I blame the credit card companies as much as the merchants here. When a company decides to accept credit cards, it agrees to the terms dictated by Visa (or Master Card, or whoever). One of those terms is that they cannot charge a fee to the consumer for credit card purchases.

      I would argue that the fee charged by Allegiant is clearly a credit card fee, whatever they choose to call it. Virtually no one buys an airline ticket at a ticket office. When buying a ticket online, using a credit or debit card is basically the only way to pay. Thus, they’re charging a credit card fee.

      I would really like to see Visa crack down on this type of thing.

  12. These fees, baked into the carrier’s bottom line “ancillary revenue” column are nothing more than pushing the cost directly to the consumer.  Furthermore, there are more shocking “convenience” fees out there (in the United States and of course in Europe).  Case in point (and biggest offender): Spirit Airlines.  A fee just to book your airline ticket on line, which is the carriers cheapest distribution channel.  The fee, called PUF (Passenger Utilization Fee) applies to all web bookings.  Want to avoid it (so the carrier doesn’t violate FAA regulations)? You have to go to an airport to purchase your ticket (which, yes, is a more expensive distribution channel for any carrier.

  13. Chris, I think you should dig deeper. The real villain are the banks and card processors that charge a merchant fee of about 3% to the vendors. You may not agree with unbundled pricing but the reality is vendors will pass on that 3% to buyers in some way (hidden or not). I’m sure the banks will say they need that money to pay for all the deadbeats’ loans and not executive bonuses.
    For interest readers, please read an excellent article about airline credit card fees here:
    Here’s another good one:
    They explain how airlines have passed their merchant fees down the (distribution) line.
    Despicable? Yes. Reality? Yes. When the airline sells a ticket directly to you, then there is no agent to stiff the merchant fee to, so they (the airlines) stiff you instead.

    1. I don’t understand the point.  Banks are in the business of making money.  They charge a fee to use their products.  What’s the problem. Why are banks the villian.

      If Airlines don’t like it perhaps they should offer their own payment products.  AA for example accepts checks via telecheck and Paypal.

      I used the check option once for grins and giggles.  It was horrible. 15 day advance purchase and all change must be made by phone incurring a $20 charge

        1. How do we determine what the correct merchant processing fee is. 1 percent? 2 percent? 3 percent?  It would be sheer speculation on my part and I suspect yours as well.

          This is a perfect example of supply and demand

          1. Make it cost based + reasonable income.
            The banks get to create money and are helped by the Federal Reserve.
            You cannot just create a bank and survive w/o being a step child of the Federal Reserve. So SUPPLY is not exactly as “free” as you think. China with 3 Trillion Dollars cannot simply come here and run a credit card operation.

          2. No, this is a perfect example of an monopoly imposing nonnegotiable terms on a captive customer base.  No matter what the banks and credit card networks claim to the contrary.

            The credit card networks publish fee schedules at various times through the year (they are available online).  It is amazing that Visa & MasterCard have almost identical fees even though they are different companies.  Discover is also close with AmEx being the only one that seems to stand out by having the highest fees.  The worst is that the fees increase every year even while the major networks talking about their increased efficiency from growing volumes of transactions.  You would think that the fees would go DOWN if the efficiencies are increasing wouldn’t you?  But since almost 100% of the merchant fees are sent on to the card issuing bank, there has been no reason to lower the fees since the banks want the ever increasing flow of income for doing nothing.

          3. Just this past week.  The feds did exactly what you suggested and regulated the fees that can be charged on debit cards.  The result is that the big banks are about to charge a monthly fee to customers to use their debit cards.  And lets be clear, we all know which customers will pay this fee.  The poorest and most financially vulnerable of us.  Premium customers will no doubt be exempt from this fee.

            Result.  Mr Working class just got dinged $60 a year so Walmart can pay less in fees.  And do we believe that this will be passed along to customers in lower prices.  I’m skeptical.

          4. This is all because banks have forgotten why the debit cards were first introduced and they got greedy for profits.  The original purpose for debit cards and ATMs was so that banks could serve their customers 24 7 and not have to have the extra staff to do it.  This meant they could serve more customers for a lower cost which did increase their profits.  Then came charges to the card holder for using other bank’s ATMs and the charges to the merchant when customers used their debit cards to purchase merchandise.  All increasing the profit margins to the banks.  And the fees were increased every year for no good reason other than they could.  

            I have nothing against a bank making a profit or any other business making a profit.  But the banks have gone too far.  Since they are all working together to get Visa and MasterCard specifically to set the fees charged to the merchant, there was no correlation to reality as far as cost recovery goes.  The banks kept pushing the fees higher until the government said stop.  The new fees will end up causing the government to eventually do the same thing – forcing the banks to find some other avenue to make an inflated profit to pay the CEOs obscene bonuses.

          5. I must respectfully disagree.

            I would argue against any notion that the purpose of any financial product is for anything other than to increase the bottom line for the issuer.  Credit cards, debit cards, etc.

            I am against profiteering.  However, I am very concerned about government, which generally lacks day to day experience in any given field, setting prices and other business policy. Case in point my $60 debit fee.  Regardless of whether you believe the bank is right or wrong, its happening as a direct result of government intervention.

            I was strongly against fees to use third party ATMs, but you know what.  They worked.  It causes a proliferation of ATMs around the country, particularly in poor areas that were only served by check cashing places (a true blight on the community, but I digress). And of course these fees are easily avoided by using (cash back at the grocery store, your own ATM, many credit unions, etc.)

            The government said stop because in this instance Main Street had more power than Wall Street.  This is not a moral victory, its power, plain and simple.  As usual the regular Joe gets screwed.

            By the way, CEO compensation is a populism gone bad.  Executive compensation is peanuts in the grand scheme of things.

          6. I’m not saying that the government reaction to what is perceived as excessive fees was correct.  I agree that government does not have real world knowledge about most everything, but someone poked the 800 lb gorilla (congress) enough times and it reacted.  And since its attention is focused on banks right now, the banks shouldn’t keep poking unless they want more regulation.  Banks adding the debit card fee was the wrong approach and I believe the banks are doing it in part so they can say “congress made us do it” hoping for sympathy and maybe convincing the current congress to repeal the law.  
            Unfortunately, the fees just increase the average person’s view that banks are greedy and are trying to grab all the cash they can from the people who can afford it the least.  
            What happened to the days where banks paid 6% on savings accounts and charged 9% on loans and seemed to make enough profit?  Now they pay 0.01% on savings and charge 21% on loans plus all these fees the dream up and still report huge losses.

          7. I agree with the first half.

            But the issue with interest rates is a red herring.  Interest rates fluctuate based on forces beyond the banks control.  I remember getting 5.88 percent on my Saving account ten years ago.  but today, mortgage interest rate is as low as 4 percent.  Imagine the absudity of a bank paying 6 percent then turning around and lending the money at 4 percent.  Chapter 7 here we come.

            And before we pine for the good old days too quickly, remember the 70s.

          8. The thing is these fees would eventually have come even if the government hadn’t stepped in. Free checking and debit card fees would simply be added on top of the ones that the government forced the banks to drop.

            It isn’t even a pretense anymore that the banks want to squeeze every last drop of blood from the stone.

  14. Here in south central florida, some of the gas stations now raise the the price of gas when you pay at the pump with plastic. They advertise a cash price on the sign, but if you use a credit or debit card the price goes up 8 cents per gallon.

  15. I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. Not with Bank of America starting to charge for debit cards in the near future. It’s not right, it’s pure profit for the airlines, IMHO, and I strongly suspect it’s their way of punishing pax who pay by credit card, because they have one extra avenue of dispute if something happens either during the ticketing process or concerning the flight. Cash is always better for the airlines because it leaves a passenger in trouble completely at the mercy of the airlines. Just one woman’s opinion.

    1. I respectfully disagree.

      I do agree that its a money grab, but to suggest its a means of punishing credit card holders is beyond reason.

      Airlines love credit cards.  Billions are processed with credit cards.  It allows for internet bookings, which has lowered operating cost, it safer as no one robs you of credit card slips, it encourages larger purchases, etc.

      As a small business man, I can tell you, I hate cash transactions.

  16. This is a money grab, pure and simple.  The airlines have decided they don’t want to pay their bills without passing it on to the consumer.  

    How long before we have a charge showing on our ticket for “equipment leasing” or “Counter rental” or “Uniform cleaning”?  At the rate we’re going, before we know it, the airlines will be a purely profit business and it will cost $1000 to fly from TUS to LAX.

    1. You are exactly right. Pay with cash virtually guarantees one to be an SSSS Selectee. Also Cash is not accepted to pay for food and drinks for most flights nowadays.

      1. Not necessarily BAN but close to it.

        Read this article:

        I quote the article:
        As far as the U.S. Supreme Court is concerned, paying cash at the airport
        is a shady activity. In 1984, government agents stopped a traveler at
        Honolulu International Airport based, in part, on his $2,100 cash
        payment for the ticket from Miami—all $20 bills. When the authorities
        found a kilogram of cocaine in his carry-on luggage, the trafficker
        challenged the legality of the search. Seven of the justices noted
        that “[m]ost business travelers, we feel confident, purchase airline
        tickets by credit card or check so as to have a record for tax or
        business purposes, and few vacationers carry with them thousands of
        dollars in $20 bills.”

        1. The devil is in the details.

          $2100 in 1984 is $4400 in todays money.  Having worked as a criminal defense attorney,  I find the Supreme Court’s logic sound.  That’s an aweful lot of money to carry around in cash. Particularly when air travel is usually purchased by credit cards or even a check.

          The question though shouldn’t be able paying cash, but rather how much cash.  Its not unreasonable that someone has a couple hundred on them and elects to pay using that.  I would argue that anything under the average ATM limit is reasonable and should not spark further scrutiny.

          1. “That’s an aweful lot of money to carry around in cash. ”

            And yet, I do believe you can carry nearly $10k without having to declare it at customs.

            So who’s business is it how much cash you’re carrying if you’re following the law? Why is there a presumption of guilt if you choose to pay by cash instead of being bent over by a credit card company?

            Contrary to the commercials of the likes of VISA, cash is NOT inconvenient.

          2. There is nothing illegal about carrying large sums of cash. Just as there is nothing illegal about buying a one way ticket.
            However, there are certain behavior patterns which are relatively rare among law abiding folks and more common amongst those engaging in illegal activity.
            Armed with this knowledge, law enforcement acts accordingly.

            Some common examples that will get you extra scrutiny

            Deposit 10k in cash
            Buy a car over 10k with cash
            Pay a criminal defense attorney with cash
            and the worst
            Deposit over 10k in cash over several days to avoid making a single 10k cash deposit.  That a seperate federal crime even if the money is legit.

          3. The fact remains that our government and their corporate overlords are guaranteeing that you’re going to bend over and grab your ankles one way or the other.

  17. Like any other horrible policy in travel, this will inevitably be tried in the US. But there’s going to be a legal problem: paying for an airline ticket in cash can be construed as a terrorist act in US law. Gate agents are empowered to call the police, who can then seize your cash if the city happens to need  the money.

    This is going to get interesting…

  18. So unlike baggage fees or other types of a la carte fees that the passenger to elect not to pay by not utilizing those services, how would one avoid a “convenience fee” for using a credit card if booking online?  What options would be available?

  19. The use of a credit card and its associated fees is part of the cost of doing business. I am convinced that the people who run airlines never went to business school. They do not know how to run a successful business, except for perhaps Southwest. I would hope that these convenience fees do not make an appearance in the US. They seem to violate the new transparency laws. What I find interesting is that there are so few ticket offices around anymore it would be nearly impossible to go pay with cash or check, so you would be forced to use a credit card. They encourage you to use the web to book tickets, and calling their 800 number incurs a fee as well. Seems like the traveling public is being fleeced no matter which way they turn!

  20. EasyJet has done this for years. This is how they advertise €1 tickets and still make a profit. They add on baggage fees, early check in fees, credit card fees, and do you want to sit in a pressurized portion of the cabin fees (joking). I’ve paid the fee because in the end the price of the ticket is still considerably cheaper than on competing airlines. I flew RT from Madrid to Marrakech for < $100 bucks this way.

    The point is, you have to look at the total price of the ticket and then decide if the extra fee is still worth it.

  21. Is this concept so far fetched, that it would never fly in the USA? Well, Bank of America will charge their customers a $5 monthly fee to use their debit card, doesn’t matter if they use it 1x or 20x.  I think this is closer to a reality in the US than people realize.

  22. US airlines charge a ticketing fee if we go to the airport ticket counter and pay cash. If we’ll have to pay a credit card use fee where is a free option? Also Bank of America will start charging $5 every month you use debit card for purchases due to a new regulation to cap banking fees. I don’t think how it is fair to the consumer to be paying on both ends.

  23. This reminds me of a restaurant that recently made the news because they’re going to start taking 2% of all tips that are put on credit cards from their serving staff to offset the credit card fees since they don’t “get the revenue from those tips.” Credit card companies so actively solicit our business; they need to figure out how to keep mine if I start being penalized for using them.  I still have a checkbook…somewhere that I can dig out!

    1. When I was a server in a high end restaurant 25 years ago here in CA, they did that.  I think they charged us 1.5% (don’t remember for sure) of the tips we received on a credit card.  I thought it was pretty cheap of them, and still feel that way! 

  24. What other options do people have to pay for tickets?

    You book online, you HAVE to pay with a credit card. You book at a travel agency, you HAVE to pay with either Credit Card or Debit. Cash or cheque payments aren’t even an option. At least not that the travel agency I use. I would be S.O.L. if I wanted to pay with Cash. I might be able to pay with certified cheque if I begged and pleaded.

    So either way, your stuck paying these “fees”. It’s a total scam.

  25. Airlines shooting in their foot and don’t blame anybody else. Ten years ago, I flew twice a month. Now I fly once every 4 months. From 24 to 3 a year, 8 times less. The culprits are not only Airlines, Oil company, Airport authority and Government taxes, fee and surcharges kill the travel industries.  A roundtrip ticket Montreal-London-Montreal cost 249$ and all the taxes, fuel surcharges and fees are 490$, double the ticket price. Already I gave up just seeing at the all the taxes, fuel surcharges and fees.

  26. while I voted no, we recently flew from Singapore to Siem Reap in Cambodia on one of the deep-discounted airlines.  Sure, there was a credit card charge and we even paid extra for reserving our seats (optional, and most passengers seemed to NOT do this) – never mind fees for checking baggage, etc  (which we didn’t do) – but even with these extra fees, the total cost was only about 1/3rd of the other airline –

    so if charging for everything under the sun enables supercheap fares, I don’t mind too much –

    on the other hand, paying by credit card is in today’s world, the only real payment option available – unlike checking baggage or reserved seats or eating airline food, there is no real choice available

  27. This isn’t a new concept — TicketMaster has been charging a “convenience fee” for years.  If you buy a movie ticket online, you can expect to pay $1-$3 extra as a “convenience fee.  Even some gas stations have you pay an extra fee if you pay with plastic.  Why is it that everyone freaks out when airlines do the same thing that other businesses have been doing for years, apparently without serious objections from the marketplace?

    1. That really isn’t the same thing.  Ticket Master and Fandango are 3rd party vendors providing a service for a fee. 

  28. Due to the fact that there are no more city ticket offices, and most airports are too far for the average customer to go, and that MOST every airline has moved to internet bookings already, to charge for using that which they prefer in the first place, and which is far less expensive than hiring personnel for face-to-face transactions (why they moved to internet in the 1st place) seems like a shell game!  If you know the costs are more due to the use of credit cars and their fees, then just incorporate the charge in the original cost of the ticket.  End of story.

  29. What’s next, you take a flight and a few weeks later you recieve a bill for the cracked windshield from a bird strike?

  30. Just booked on American Airlines and got this message:  If you choose to pay using a credit card, a processing fee of £4.50 per ticket may apply. Payments with debit cards are exempt from this fee.

  31. The ‘convenience fee’ is such crap.  EVERY sane person knows it’s a cc fee…
    and so should the cc companies know this.  It’s actions like this ….people
    who push the envelope, where wording has to be VERY specific.  Words like:
    “you agree to not charge ANY fee, no matter how worded, from the customer,
    when they pay by credit card”.  That SHOULD cover the scammers (read:
    companies that try this).  Maybe if we (read: the public) overwhelm the
    cc co’s with letters suggesting this (and threaten a cc boycott if they close
    the loophole), the cc’s would do this.

  32. I voted “No” because I think if they do this, there will no longer be a “fee-free” way to buy a ticket, which is really a fare increase.

    So, assuming that the airlines are charging a credit card fee …oops, sorry, “convenience fee” to book online, how can I, a poor economy human cargo buy a ticket without incurring a fee?  If I go to the ticket counter at the airport, there’s a fee for talking to a real live human, if I book by phone, there’s a “phone booking fee” and if I book online, there’s a “convenience fee.”

    I don’t mind fees if there is a way to not pay them.  As an example, I can buy tickets for a concert without paying a ticketmaster fee by simply buying at the box office.  Granted, it’s horribly inconvenient, but I can CHOOSE not to pay the fee at a cost of my time.  If there is no longer a choice, it’s not a fee, but rather a price increase.

  33. In this economy, a 3% charge can make or break a business.  Especially with so many companies now using AMEX cash management to pay their six or seven figure invoices, it adds up really fast.  So I voted YES, because it penalizes those that pay by other methods such as cash, cheque, wire transfer, debit card, etc.

  34. Dear Chris,

    In regards to “paying a fee” to use a Credit Card and/or Debit Card: I dare you to try & buy a ticket with cash. This will immediately put you on a “watch list” as a suspected terrorist or criminal.
    Trevelling without a Credit Card is very difficult in todays world. Many hotels will charge your card for 1 nite the day before you arrive. You have to give them a credit card to secure all other expenses but in most cases, you can pay the balance in cash as the end of the stay. There is no such option with airline tickets.
    Airlines will not act unless legislated to do so. The average traveller is slammed at every opportunity.
    Keep up the good fight.
    Gerald Vineberg

  35. Of course companies should be free to decide what payment mediums to take. And the idea of not being able to pass along the cost of the interchange, is up to them. Personally I think it is a mistake, but a mistake companies are free to make

  36. Banks charge airlines a fee for credit card processing. There’s also the fraud side of things. Credit card payment charge backs are a nightmare for anyone who would like to take credit cards over the phone or online.

    We’re surprised credit card fees aren’t higher.

    In Australia, we have a much better banking system than in the USA, which must have one of the dodgiest banking systems, of the major economies.

    Any merchant can charge the customers the credit card fee & any handling fee, that they seem fit.

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