Major airlines, hotels change credit card fees

Your next business trip just became more expensive, thanks to a new range of credit card fees rolled out by airlines and hotels last week.

Qantas and Virgin Australia swapped their flat per-passenger credit card booking fees for a 1.3 per cent clip of the total ticket price.

Compared to the previous surcharges of around $7 for domestic flights and $30 for international fares, the new percentage-based tariff means much higher charges for business class travel on Australia's east-west route and just about all overseas destinations.

Both airlines have capped their fees at $11 for domestic and trans-Tasman fares, and $70 for international tickets.

Double down

Even so, the maths shows that international business class booking charges will more than double from the old $30 flat fee to hit that $70 ceiling.

Qantas' partner Emirates, which previously applied no surcharge to Australian bookings made with a credit card, has also adopted this 1.5 per cent levy (and the $70 ceiling).

Air New Zealand's 1.1 per cent credit card fee isn't even capped, so a typical $8000 business class return flight with the Kiwi carrier from Sydney to Los Angeles via Auckland will include around $90 in credit card charges, up from the airline's former $30 flat fee.

What's behind this sudden bump?

Bumped up

New rules on surcharging, introduced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Reserve Bank, forced airlines (among other large companies) to adopt a percentage fee rather than a flat fee for payments made by credit card.


The noble notion was to outlaw fixed surcharges which fail to reflect the actual transaction cost and, by extension, led to rampant profiteering.

But while most economy class flyers on shorter routes will be better off under the revised airline charges, it's an unwelcome hit to the hip pocket of corporate flyers.

Many hotel chains are also rejigging their credit card fees.

The good news

The new regime often sees lower charges for Visa or MasterCard. But Parkroyal, Rydges, Starwood hotels (including Westin, W Hotels and Sheraton) and InterContinental Hotels Group properties have almost doubled their fees charged for paying with an American Express card.

There are a few ways to claw back some of these new charges, especially with airlines.

Paying with a debit card (including Qantas Cash and Virgin Australia GlobalWallet cards) rather than a credit card typically attracts a much lower fee. For Qantas and Virgin Australia it's 0.6% instead of 1.3 per cent.

Bank payment schemes such as BPAY and POLi are often fee-free options.

Some online travel agencies allow you to book flights without paying the airline's credit card surcharges.

However, be aware that changes or cancellations to your journey will likely attract extra fees from the travel agency in addition to those normally charged by the airline.

For instance, Expedia Australia levies a $50 fee for some flight changes on top of Qantas' own flight change fees.

How will the credit card hike affect you? Let David know in the Comments section.

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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