Lufthansa will begin levying a credit card surcharge on tickets issued on or after Nov. 2 for flights departing from airports in Germany, Belgium, Finland, the U.K., the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The "Optional Payment Charge" will apply to all channels.

The charge per ticket will be €5 on domestic routes; €8 on intra-European routes, and €18 on long-haul routes.

Negotiated corporate fares will be exempt until March 31.

Five Lufthansa Group carriers – Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, BMI, Brussels Airlines and Swiss -- also will roll out surcharges of varying levels, in some cases on Sept. 5.

U.S. agencies with multinational clients will be affected if they use a service such as eGlobalfares, which allows them to benefit from lower fares in particular countries.

If the ticket is issued in one of the six countries, it will be subject to the surcharge.

Lufthansa said the decision was due to "rising payment transaction costs in recent years and new developments in forms of payment."

It noted that since 2006, it has levied a credit card surcharge on bookings made through its direct channels, such as its website, call centers and ticket counters.

Dirk Gerdom, president of Verband Deutsches Reisemanagement, the association of German travel managers, issued a statement sharply criticizing  Lufthansa.

"German companies currently spend more than €11 billion annually on business air travel," he said.

"The new fee increases the cost by up to 2%, although the discount paid by Lufthansa to the credit card companies is most likely lower."

In addition, he said, the new credit card charge will have a negative effect on corporations' negotiating position with the airlines.

He said the charge would be broken out from the total fare, so a "not inconsiderable part of volume is removed from the negotiable total volume for large customer contracts."

Gerdom said that at the annual VDR meeting last fall, Lufthansa had stressed that it would not introduce any charges of this nature.

Credit card surcharges are common among low-cost carriers, but they have been making their way into the policies of network carriers, such as British Airways, in recent years.

Credit card fees have long been targeted as the next frontier in distribution cost cutting following the elimination of travel agency commissions and the ongoing quest for lower GDS fees.

BCD Travel, a Dutch multinational travel management company that has a large U.S. presence, published a white paper a year ago that outlines the negative effects of such surcharges on TMCs and their customers.

"Passing along merchant fees through TMCs drives up travel program costs even more than would simply hiking fares," it said.

"Unable to absorb merchant fees, TMCs must pass along those charges to corporate customers, as well as related administrative costs."

The costs could be significant, BCD said.

"Surcharges and restricted access to airline merchant accounts represent a hike of up to 3.0 percent in corporate air travel costs," the white paper said.

"A company with an annual air spend of $20 million could see their costs rise by as high as $560,000 per year if all airlines adopted a surcharge."

The cost would be even higher if airlines blocked access to their merchant accounts.

"If airlines forced TMCs to establish their own merchant accounts it would add up to $600,000 to buyer costs," the white paper said.

Lufthansa said both private and corporate customers will continue to have payment options that do not incur the charge:

• Non-credit-card payments at travel agencies.

• Payments made via Electronic Direct Debit on the Lufthansa website or at a Lufthansa Service Centre.

• Cash payments or payment by EC-Card (Maestro) at Lufthansa ticket counters.

• Payments by corporate customers that use the new AirPlus Debit Accounts offered by AirPlus International.

That last item is likely to raise some eyebrows, and perhaps some hackles, given that Lufthansa owns AirPlus International.

The new product, touted as "the only lodge card product worldwide which is exempt from the credit card fee charged by Lufthansa and Swiss airlines," will be launched on Nov. 2.

Yael Klein, managing director of AirPlus International, said, "We are confident that very soon other airlines who have already introduced a credit card fee, or are planning to do so, will exempt the AirPlus Debit Account customers from their surcharge."

VDR's Gerdom noted that the new exempt payment plan offered by a Lufthansa subsidiary is also likely to give a boost to Lufthansa's coffers.