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How to avoid credit card booking fees on flights

What you’ll pay when you book flights using a credit card – and how you can keep the cost of payment fees down.

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While you can find some great flight deals online, the actual cost of your fare can change based on how you pay. With a credit card, the cost typically falls between 1% and 3% of the total value of your booking but it does vary by airline.

So if you're planning to book your own flights, you can use this guide to check the cost of using a credit card with Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar or Tigerair. Better yet, we've highlighted the different ways you can avoid surcharges altogether – and looked at the costs for some of the most popular international airlines. (All figures are in Australian dollars.)

What is a credit card booking fee?

A credit card booking fee is a type of surcharge that a merchant may apply when a customer pays with their credit card (or debit card).

While credit card booking fees may vary between airlines, they must all adhere to the RBA guidelines on surcharges. This means that the cost of paying with a credit card usually falls between 1% and 3% of the cost of your purchase, depending on the card and the airline you're booking with. Current surcharges have been outlined in the following tables for each airline.

Qantas

Booking typeDebit/prepaid cardsCredit/ charge cardsPayPalFee cap (per ticket, per card)
Australian Domestic0.36%1.03%0.69%$22
Australian Trans-Tasman0.36%1.03%0.69%$22
Australian international0.36%1.03%0.69%$120

How you can avoid card payment fees with Qantas

  • POLi
  • BPAY for bookings made at least 7 days before departure
  • Qantas UATP (Universal Air Travel Plan) card
  • Credit voucher

Jetstar

Payment typeJetstar (JQ) flight chargeJetstar Asia (3K) flight charge
Credit card or charge card (American Express, Mastercard, Visa, Diners Club, UnionPay, UATP, JCB)1%$8.50 per passenger, per flight
Mastercard debit card or prepaid card0.21%$8.50 per passenger, per flight
Visa debit card or prepaid cardBefore 14 January 2020: 0.21%

On or after 14 January 2020: 0.44%

$8.50 per passenger, per flight
PayPal0.69%$8.50 per passenger, per flight
Alipay1.5%$8.50 per passenger, per flight
WeChat Pay1.5%$8.50 per passenger, per flight
AfterPay (note that additional fees may be charged by AfterPay for late payments)1.5%Not available

How you can avoid credit card surcharges with Jetstar

  • POLi
  • Jetstar voucher
  • Jetstar gift card
  • Jetstar Mastercard or Jetstar Platinum Mastercard
  • Points Plus Pay flights (when total booking is made with Qantas Points)

Virgin Australia

Flight typeCreditDebitFee cap
Domestic and trans-Tasman1.024% per booking0.41% per booking$11.00
International short haul1.024% per booking0.41% per booking$70.00
International long haul1.024% per booking0.41% per booking$70.00

How you can avoid credit card payment fees when booking with Virgin Australia

  • POLi
  • Gift voucher

Note that Virgin Australia has not accepted PayPal payments since 24 January 2017. You can compare how Virgin Australia's booking fees have changed and what you'll pay for specific routes here.

Tigerair

Card type% charge
Mastercard Credit0.98%
Mastercard Debit0.36%
Visa Credit1.12%
Visa Debit0.57%
American Express1.12%

How to avoid booking surcharges with Tigerair

  • Book your Tigerair flight through the official mobile app using an Australian-issued debit Mastercard
  • Velocity Points (for the entire cost of the flight)
  • POLi

Card booking fees for international airlines

If you're booking flights overseas, the taxes and fees will be higher – as you can see from the international booking costs listed for Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar above.

Below, we've outlined the card payment fees when you book directly with five of the most popular international airlines (based on BITRE data).

Singapore airlines

  • Credit card service fee. If you are flying from Australia, a fee of 1.35% (capped at $70 per ticket) will apply for credit card purchases. The exact fee will be shown before you confirm your payment.
  • How to avoid it. Use a debit card or any other accepted payment method (such as PayPal) to avoid this fee.

Emirates

  • Surcharge details. A surcharge of 1.5% applies for flights departing from Australia or New Zealand when you book with a credit card, PayPal or Visa Checkout. The surcharge only applies for payments of $100 or more in the local currency (AUD/NZD) and is capped at $70 per person, per booking.
  • How to avoid it. A surcharge won't apply if you pay for your booking with a debit card.

Air New Zealand

  • Card fees. Bookings made in Australia attract a fee of 0.9% for credit card payments and 0.3% for debit card payments.
  • How to avoid it. You won't be charged a fee for payments made with POLi, Airpoints Dollars or Travelcard (UATP). You can also avoid the card fees if you use a combination of Airpoints Dollars and a debit or credit card to pay for your flights.

Cathay Pacific

  • Card fees. Cathay Pacific does not charge a credit card fee for bookings made on its website. A fee may apply for credit card or other payments made through travel agencies and third-party booking sites.
  • How to avoid it. Book directly through the Cathay Pacific website. If you plan to book through a travel agent or website, check what fees apply before making a payment.

China Southern

  • Card fees. China Southern does not charge booking fees.

Other factors to consider

The following are some important factors to also bear in mind:

  • Rewards points. If you have a credit card that lets you earn reward or frequent flyer points, check how many points you earn for your flight and compare it to the cost of the surcharge. That way you can decide whether you'd prefer to earn points instead of avoiding the card fee.
  • Amex cards. Using an American Express credit card may be more expensive as the Amex surcharge is often higher. If you're thinking of paying with your Amex card, compare the costs for other options before confirming your payment.
  • Travel agent bookings. Travel agents may have different fees for credit card bookings, handling or administration. Ask about fees and payment options before you book with a travel agent so you can find the most affordable option for you.
  • Credit card travel insurance. If your credit card offers complimentary travel insurance, check whether you need to use it to pay for your flights in order to activate the cover. If you do need to pay with your credit card, make sure you weigh the benefits of complimentary cover against the cost of the surcharge so you can decide if it's worth it.
  • Interest charges. When paying with your credit card, also consider any possible interest charges you may incur if you don't repay your monthly balance in full and on time. These charges will also add to the cost of your travel plans.
  • Additional fees. If you're booking directly with an airline that's based overseas, your credit card provider may apply a foreign transaction charge that adds to your travel costs.

Flight booking fees can vary a lot depending on the airline and the payment method you use. But as a general rule of thumb: if you don't want to pay any surcharges, make sure you understand the different options available (aside from credit card, debit card and PayPal) that don't charge a booking fee. And remember to compare different options to decide what is the most convenient and affordable for you.

Pictures: Shutterstock

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