Surcharges and an unexpected travel booking fee

Monday 24 October is Labour Day and for some cafes and restaurants that means adding between 15-25% to a diner’s bill to cover extra wage costs incurred by opening on a public holiday. New Zealanders are used to public holiday surcharges but they will probably come as a surprise to visitors from overseas. NZ Public Holidays list all the dates that surcharges may apply so it’s a useful reference for visitors.

Fortunately, for every cafe that has a small sign inside saying a public holiday surcharge applies, there’s likely to be a cafe nearby with a big sign outside saying ‘No Surcharge’.

While New Zealanders are used to public holiday surcharges it doesn’t mean we’re all happy to pay them. We’re in the ‘no surcharge’ camp, Mike’s argument is that petrol stations and supermarkets don’t have a surcharge so why should cafes. I think the extra customers a cafe gets on public holidays surely covers the extra wage costs. We both agree the wage costs should be factored in to the overall business running costs. It was the Holidays Act 2003 that led to many businesses choosing to implement a surcharge, businesses have had 13 years to factor the extra wages into their running costs.

Public holiday surcharge applied to accommodation 
We’ve stayed in a number of accommodation options on public holidays over the years and haven’t been charged a surcharge. However on Saturday 26 December 2015 we checked in to Catlins Kiwi Holiday Park and were told a 15% surcharge would be added to the cost of the $98 cabin we’d booked.

We paid the surcharge because we had booked the cabin in advance, deciding to stay elsewhere would have cost us two nights accommodation. Given our dislike of surcharges though, if we hadn’t booked in advance, we would have stayed elsewhere. After we checked out it occurred to me that we should have questioned the surcharge anyway. Was Saturday 26 Boxing Day or was Monday 28 Boxing Day? Holiday makers beware.

Googling ‘public holiday surcharges for accommodation’ doesn’t find a list of accommodation options with surcharges, good news for travellers. Goodstays Holiday Homes does comes up and their terms and conditions note a surcharge applies for public holiday departures. It’s good to see the surcharge clearly stated, they also have a list of public holiday dates, so there is no confusion over what is and isn’t a public holiday.

Unexpected travel booking fee: helloworld, Hello Booking Fee – $50 per person
Earlier this year Harvey World Travel, Air New Zealand Holidays and some United Travel branches combined to form the new brand helloworld. A package deal offered by helloworld for Samoa caught our eye so we went to our local branch to book.

Everything was going well with the reservations until we were told at the end that a $50 per person booking fee* would apply. It was a good deal and we’d left it to the last days to make the reservations so we paid up, but chances are we won’t book with helloworld in future.

Given it’s getting easier to book holidays independently it seems an unusual charge for a new brand to implement, and while we find the knowledge of travel agents valuable, we don’t think it’s worth paying $50 each to book a straightforward package deal. In a country like Samoa $50 also goes a surprisingly long way, it would cover my beer budget for a week – beer budget or booking fee? No contest.

$50 goes a long way in Samoa

$50 goes a long way in Samoa

*Note: helloworld’s online terms and conditions can state ‘Travel agent professional service fees where charged, will be additional to the advertised prices’. We didn’t read the terms and conditions so we could have been forewarned, still, House of Travel don’t charge a professional service fee so they haven’t lost our business to helloworld.

A few online articles discuss professional service fees charged by travel agents in the United States due to falling commissions paid to agents by tour operators, hotels, airlines etc. This may be the reason behind the helloworld charge too. If so, why not make it clear on the website, in marketing material and even on a travel agent’s desk that a professional service fee exists. Put a dollar value on the fee, explain why it is charged, and what customers can expect by paying it, two customers at least would have been more amenable to paying the service fee and booking with helloworld in future.

PS. 3/11/16 – Re-reading this post I realise I’ve used ‘booking fee’ and ‘professional service fee’ interchangeably, it’s possible they could be two different fees. ‘Booking fee’ were the words used by the travel agent and they’re the words on our booking confirmation. ‘Professional service fees’ are the words in the terms and conditions on the website. At any rate, expect at least $100 per couple to be added to the cost of any travel you book with helloworld.


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