Families face a summer of card surcharges, says Which?Alton Towers is among attractions charging extra

31 July 2011


Popular visitor attractions, including Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, are adding inflated card surcharges to online bookings despite a ruling by the OFT

Popular visitor attractions are adding inflated card surcharges to online bookings despite a ruling by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that these charges are misleading and weaken competition.

New research by Which? has found that Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park, and Warwick Castle - all owned by Merlin Entertainments - charge a fee for taking payment on debit and credit cards online, ranging from £1 to £2.50. Which? believes that, in the case of debit cards, this could be over seven times as much as it costs the attractions to take card payments.

However, Merlin Entertainments only levies these charges on some of its attractions – it doesn’t charge customers for card payments at other attractions such as The London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Legoland, nor does it charge walk-up customers for paying on debit and credit cards.

Drayton Manor in Staffordshire levies a fee of £1.50 to take payment on debt and credit cards online.

It’s not just the big attractions that will be adding surcharges this summer. Cinema chain Vue charges 70p per ticket for online card payments, while Odeon charges 75p.

Treasury could end card surcharging for good

Following a super complaint by Which?, the OFT last month recommended regulatory changes that would end debit card surcharging for good. One of the recommendations was a simple change to the Payment Services Directive. However, the Treasury has not yet responded to these recommendations.

Richard Lloyd, Executive Director of Which? says: 'We think card surcharges are completely misleading and unfair, and make it hard for consumers to see the true cost of their purchase. The Treasury must act quickly to put an end to debit card charges for good.

'While budget airlines may be the worst offenders, excessive card surcharges are widespread, with everyone from cinemas and visitor attractions through to train companies getting in on the act.

'If the charges are genuinely in place to cover the costs faced by business, why does Merlin Entertainments only charge card fees for some of its attractions, and then only for online customers?'

What are the surcharge choices available to the Treasury?

In response to the Which? super complaint, the OFT stated that surcharges are misleading and detrimental to consumers. It recommended that the Government introduce measures to prohibit retailers from imposing surcharges for payments made by debit card, and suggested implementing either:

  • Article 52(3) of existing UK law, the Payment Services Regulations (PSR). This amendment would ban surcharges. Or,
  • The Consumer Rights Directive, a new piece of legislation that has just been voted on in Europe but will take at least two years to implement in the UK. The CRD will limit surcharges rather than banning them.

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