Ask LH: Can Parking Prices Be Quoted Without Booking Fees?

Dear Lifehacker, I regularly use Wilson Parking's Book A Bay service on its site. However, while the site offers special deals, the prices quoted aren't what you actually end up paying.

There's often a deal for a $10 bay, and the price is listed clearly as that. However, later on in the booking screens, you are charged a booking fee of 50 cents, which you can't escape no matter what payment method you use.

I thought that prices in Australia have to be the minimum price at which you can buy the goods or services. There's no way to avoid this fee, so shouldn't it be included in the price when it's quoted up front?

Thanks Parking Mad

Dear Parking Mad,

You're quite right: it's not legal in Australia to quote a price if there are hidden fees which everyone ends up having to pay. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) explains this quite clearly on its site:

When you present prices to your customers, you must state the total price of the good or service as a single figure, which is the minimum total cost that is able to be calculated. This should include any tax, duty, fee, levy or other additional charges (e.g. GST or airport tax).

The "compulsory booking fee" clearly falls into this category. Here's Wilson's own explanation for what it does:

The booking fee is charged solely to recover the expense of processing your online booking transaction. Where possible, the total fees including the booking fee are less than the standard fees at the car park for the same parking period.

Ultimately, if the price is much lower than the drive-up price, you might well choose to ignore the difference -- but that doesn't make the car park's behaviour right. As we've explained before, companies are entitled to recover reasonable costs associated with a transaction, but they have to make those costs clear up-front. Since you're not offered any alternative means of paying for this booking, the quoted price should indeed be $10.50, not $10.00.

What can you do about it? You can complain directly to Wilson Parking, and then complain to your relevant state consumer body if you're not happy with its response. Lots of people are going to figure that the energy isn't worth saving 50 cents -- but that's not entirely an attitude we endorse. Yes, your time is valuable, but deceptive pricing behaviour is not a good thing.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I wonder if the same applies to cinema tickets? I'm often frustrated that they tack on a booking fee (and it's per ticket and not per booking), especially seeing as it's actually cheaper for them when factoring risk than selling tickets at the box office.

    Now that I think about it the same applies to other ticket sales too (e.g. Ticketek/Ticketmaster etc.)

      I'd say it would apply; it's the same principle just being applied in a slightly different context.

    Well the ACCC put the airlines (and other companies who allow you to pre-book things) 'on notice' in Feb:
    But then again, they did so in 2011:
    It's shoddy, but the ACCC can't seem to do much about it. Wouldn't hold my breath for something to eventuate from all this; has been known to result in asphyxiation.

    Last edited 14/03/14 7:59 pm

      To be fair to the ACCC, it did actually get somewhere with the airlines, as they made agreements not to quote prices that way

    Simple economics for them. They collect (say) $100,000 in fees, get a $10,000 fine, perhaps, one day, if ever and run away rubbing their hands in glee. Rinse, repeat.

    YOU, the loser, will never see a cent of the stolen money.

    Corporate theft by dishonesty - unpunished by Courts as they are too busy imprisoning poor people who stole a loaf of bread.

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