Manipulation fees are charged when consumers pay in euros, while providers outside the eurozone pay in a foreign currency. Since in such a case a transfer has to be made, the credit card company will charge the fee.
Fees apply even if payment is made in EUR. In such cases, merchants or service companies often take over, but the additional costs are very likely to be left to customers, says Bernd Lausker, financial expert at the Consumer Information Association (VKI).
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There is no information on foreign service providers
In a particular case, a customer booked a holiday villa in Greece via Booking.com. Including a free cancellation option. The inn was run by a worker in Great Britain. Thorsten Behrens, head of the internet watchlist at the Austrian Institute for Applied Communications (ÖIAT), says it was not clear during the entire booking process that a contract with a company outside the European Union was entered into in this case. The only clue, Burns said, was a British contact phone number, but that this did not appear until after the reservation was completed.
Surcharges are expressly excluded
When the customer used his right to cancel, the reservation costs were refunded to him. However, minus the aforementioned manipulation fee of approximately €45. This may not be an unacceptably high amount, but the fact is that the customer did not know that his contracting partner is located in a third country and therefore manipulation fees may be incurred. Additionally, the ad explicitly stated that no credit card fees were charged.
Byrnes believes that all costs that customers may incur should be clearly stated in online transactions before making a purchase. You should also pay attention to the additional fees during the booking process. The problem with this: in this specific case, neither the service provider nor Booking requested the manipulation fee. The amount was charged by the credit card company in accordance with the General Terms and Conditions (GTC).
No obligation to report additional costs by third party providers?
However, of course, Booking.com was expected to also draw attention to such external costs, says Elizabeth Barth, an attorney at the European Consumer Center (EVZ). For example, by indicating that third party fees may apply. However, according to Barth, there is no legal obligation in return for providing the information. In such a situation, EVZ will mediate for consumers, but in practice the question of whether customers need to be made aware of potential external additional costs in a typical process should be clarified, Barth says.
Customer service puts obstacles in the way of customers
Even after an extensive chat and email exchange, Booking.com customer service insisted that the extra costs were charged by the credit card company and not by the reservation. He must contact his bank. To prove that the manipulation fee charged was actually related to his holiday reservation in Greece, the client was asked to provide a signed statement from the bank. Everything was done to “put obstacles in the way” of the affected consumer, says Watchlist’s head of internet Thorsten Behrens.
Insufficient information about the contracting partner
On another point, the online platform is now improved. The name of the provider is now visible, indicating that it is a British company. Although this is an improvement, it is still not compatible with legal provisions, says Byrnes.
According to Berens, the Foreign Business and Long Distance Employment Act (FAGG) clearly states that both the name and address of the company must be provided. The name of the provider is now indicated on the website, but other important contact information is still missing.
Information on booking conditions and information about the company’s head office is the responsibility of companies offering travel and accommodation during the holiday. However, Behrens believes that Booking.com is responsible for ensuring that this information is placed on the Site in a manner that is clearly visible to customers.
Amazon role model and shopping
The reservation must specify a fixed area in which the service providers can enter all necessary information. The online platform must also ensure that this entry was made correctly, says the head of the Internet Watchlist. Other platforms like Amazon or Shöpping have already implemented these requirements in a perfect way. Booking.com still lags behind in this area, says Byrnes.
We asked Booking for a general statement, including where holiday providers can provide information on their business and payment. The company just said to help. ORF.at: “Our free cancellation policy means no-fee cancellation, but without a booking reference we unfortunately can’t investigate further.” However, the consumer did not want the reservation number to be an available place. According to Byrnes, he fears he will be disadvantaged in future bookings via Booking.com.
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