Why frequent fliers may want to put their mileage cards on standby

New credit card transaction charges may outweigh benefits of building up points

Jul 18, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

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Starting in 2013, merchants can start charging customers a fee when they pay for goods or services with a credit card. While the levy may not amount to much, the charge could be of concern to one group of card users, according to one financial adviser.

Frequent fliers — who often purchase items with their airline mileage credit cards to help build up points — will have to rethink their strategy if some merchants begin to charge for using a card, said Richard J. Durso, a financial planner at RTD Financial Advisors Inc.

“If there is a fee and it works out to be significant, they will have to compare the benefit of the miles versus the additional cost of doing the transaction,” he said. “They may be able to negotiate a lower fee.”

Mr. Durso set out eight financial commandments for good money management this month for the Financial Planning Association's consumer website. The second commandment is to pay off credit card balances each month. If cardholders can stick to that rule, it probably won't make much of a difference if they sometimes have to pay a small fee for the convenience of using the card, he said.

“It is still better to use a credit card than a debit card because of the greater consumer protections,” Mr. Durso said. “I don't know if [the surcharge] will be enough to warrant not using it.”

New rules that allow merchants to charge customers more to pay by credit card are all part of a $6.6 billion settlement agreed to by Visa, MasterCard and several credit card issuers to settle a 2005 lawsuit filed by a group of U.S. retailers. The surcharge rule likely will go into effect in early 2013, according to Visa Inc.

The National Retail Federation, which was not a party to the suit, said the important goal is to bring greater transparency to credit card costs. But in a statement this week, the Independent Community Bankers of America said that agreement is a bad deal for consumers, who will have to pay an extra charge while retailers “enjoy the benefits of accepting credit card payments.”

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