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Consumer - Extra Charges Investigated

Friday, 26 March 2010

Tina Leonard, Consumer Expert

Ticketmaster:

The biggest ticket agent in the country, they charge a fee per ticket even though you can print your tickets yourself. You will also pay the charge if you book online and have the tickets posted to you or if you book in person at a Ticketmaster outlet.

The service charge levied has been in operation for over 10 years, currently up to a maximum of 12.5% (or a maximum of €6.35). This service charge has to be included in the advertised price.

1. The 12.5 per cent charge is for telephone and internet bookings, up to a maximum of E6.35
2. The €2.25 charge is what the agent/shop charges. Some outlets may add on an additional charge for payments made by credit card but this has nothing to do with Ticketmaster, it's individually owned outlets recouping their credit card merchant fees.
3. There is no charge at all when the ticket is bought from a venue Box Office. How you can book at the box office depends on the rules that particular venue will impose. For example, many venue box offices will apply their own service charge for phone bookings but no service charge if you physically buy the tickets at their box office.


But how do Ticketmaster justify charging such a high service charge...

Ticketmaster say:

"Such a convenient, flexible facility incurs costs and these have to be covered as Ticketmaster is a commercial operation. The provision of a 24-hour telephone service for ticket-buyers is a major cost while if a customer wants his or her tickets posted out to them, then this is another cost.

The service charge on a ticket covers those costs (including postage to a customer's home, use of a credit card where applicable, telephone and Internet ordering facility). It is a little known fact that 50 per cent of calls to Ticketmaster are seeking information only and do not involve actual ticket sales but yet this facility still has to be provided."

Two Examples of bookings and Service Charge:

Disney Live! 3 Classic Fairy Tales in Royal Theatre and Event Centre, Castlebar on Fri 16 Apr 2010

4 x tickets = €20.50 each = €82
Service charge = €2.55 each = €10.20
Total = €92.20

Whitney Houston, The O2, Dublin, Tue 20 Apr 2010
4 x tickets = €106.25 each = €425
Service charge = €6.35 each = €25.40
Total = €450.40


UPC:

Many people will have the standard digital package from UPC (formerly Chrous / NTL). Then there might be a gig, match or fight on that you want to watch and you have to pay the charge to upgrade to a sports package which is usually about €20/€30. (This would also apply to any extra packages like movies etc). What you may not know is that at the end of that month you will have to pay a charge of €15 to downgrade to your original standard package.

This downgrade charge has been in place since January 2008.

We asked UPC how they can justify having such a huge fee to downgrade a package. When customers want to get a sports/movie package for one month they don't want to upgrade their whole package they just want to get an extra package for one month. AND are customers told on booking the package?

UPC says:

"At all times we have been upfront about the downgrade charge which is €15 - it is mentioned at the point of sale on the phone, it is also attached to customer Direct Marketings and explained on our website under "conditions".

1. What does the €15 downgrade fee cover?
It covers the operating costs associated with processing the downgrade.

2. If you are getting a movie or sports package for a month then should the advertised cost not be €35 / €45 rather than €20 / €30?


The charge per month refers to just that, it is the ongoing monthly charge a customer will expect to pay for receiving a service. By including the downgrade admin fee in the recurring monthly charge (as per your question), it would misrepresent what a customer would pay on an ongoing basis for the service as it would be including the downgrade admin fee as an ongoing cost, thus overpricing the package. At time of purchase, customers are advised of the cost to downgrade before purchase and further information is located on our website and direct mail.

For example, if a customer takes on an additional service at a cost of €30 per month for 12 months, the costs associated with this are 12 months (and by including downgrade request at end of year) * €30, plus the once-off downgrade admin fee of €15 = €375.


By advertising the price as €45 per month (€30+€15), the customer could interpret this as being €540 for the same period of time.

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We rang UPC to ask to upgrade to a package for one month and they did make very clear that there would be a €15 downgrade fee
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UPC aren't the only ones:

Homevision, (TV/phone/Broadband) charges a €10 downgrade fee for add-ons to your service, as does Eircom broadband for add-ons.

Subscription Services:

Be careful about signing up to advertising info from clothes shops, beauty salons and any business. If you sign up make sure to read the small print because without you knowing it you may get sent text messages to your phone THAT YOU GET CHARGED FOR!

This should be clearly told to you up front so that you know you are paying for the service. For example, when you book a flight with Aer Lingus you have the option of being notified by text message of your booking number and any other important messages and they state the charge for this is €1, so be warned.
If in doubt, ask before signing up to anything.

Ringtones:

You should also be careful when signing up for a service like ringtones where you may think you are paying for a one-off ring tone. However, it may be that you are subscribing to a weekly or monthly service and you will soon notice the money being debited from your phone credit.

Again, this should be in the small print and you should be told up front.


Since 2008, 301 ringtone web sites have been investigated by national enforcement authorities across the EU in a co-ordinated crack-down on companies mis-selling ringtones. A particular problem was the advertising ringtones as 'free' where in fact the consumer was tied into paying a subscription. 70% of these have now been corrected or closed, but stay vigilant!

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