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Air France KLM withdrew a controversial merchant fee
surcharge on card payments through Swedish travel agents on July 27, BTN learned on Tuesday, because Sweden
introduced legislation on Aug. 1 that made the practice illegal.
Air France KLM drew angry protests from travel managers when
imposing the surcharge of 75 kroner (€7.90, US$10) on Dec. 1, 2009. The fee
applied to travel agency bookings made with card payments on either of the
airlines' merchant agreements, although it did not apply to corporate net
Many travel buyers criticized the surcharge when it was announced
in October 2009. They condemned it for imposing an extra charge they believed
was already included in the fare and for penalizing the most efficient means of
paying for airline tickets. However, AF/KL argued airlines no longer should be
willing to shoulder the cost of a payment process that is of benefit to the
client and the agency but not an airline.
The surcharge was undone by Sweden's tardy implementation on
Aug. 1 of the European Union Payments Services Directive. Most other countries
implemented the directive in November 2009. Ironically, it states a default
position that merchants are permitted to impose surcharges on selected forms of
payment, but also provides the opportunity for member states to derogate, or
opt out, from this rule. As a result, the derogation has put surcharge
interdictions on the agenda in some countries that previously did not have a
ban in place.
Ten EU countries have opted to forbid surcharges as part of
their PSD implementation: Austria, Cyprus, Latvia, Italy, Romania, Greece,
France, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Sweden. An additional four countries—Germany,
Denmark, Portugal and Finland—limit such surcharges. Some had similar bans in
force before the PSD.
However, Erik van Winkel, a director with payments
consultancy Edgar, Dunn & Co., warned that the PSD has facilitated
surcharging in some countries as well as prevented it in others. "Some
airlines have taken a very close look at this," he said. "In the
past, they were not allowed to surcharge in some countries because the card
schemes did not allow it. Now the schemes have to allow it if the member state
has not introduced a derogation."
Thomas Stöckel, European vice president of supplier
relations for BCD Travel, agreed with van Winkel. "It is still on the
drawing board for carriers," he said.
Swedish travel management consultant Cathrine Lundberg
expressed mixed feelings about the withdrawal of the surcharge. "It is
normal in any supplier contract that there should be no invoice or payment
fees, so if you introduce fees that you had not put in the contract, then you
get a lot of protests," she said.
On the other hand, said Lundberg, larger corporations like
to have options for what is and is not included in a fare, "so long as it
is clearly stated in a contract." She expressed fears that airlines may
find less visible ways to cover their merchant fee costs.