BRITISH AIRWAYS IS TO INTRODUCE a credit card surcharge on economy ticket bookings made through travel agents from March 1.
The airline said the £4.50 levy would bring consistency to fare distribution channels as it already applied to ba.com bookings.
A spokeswoman told BBT the decision was taken because the global distribution systems used by many travel agents to book airline tickets now offered the functionality for the charge to be made transparently.
Seats in BA's premium cabins (First, Club World, Club Europe and World Traveller Plus) are exempt, as are bookings made with a Mastercard or Visa debit card. BBT understands the carrier BA had planned to add the levy to all tickets before reaching a compromise with travel trade bodies.
The TMCs and their corporate travel buyer clients now have the task of deciding who will absorb the extra cost.
Nigel Turner, director of programme management for Carlson Wagonlit Travel in the UK and Ireland, said: "We are concerned about this development, which is adding further costs to many of our customers' budgets - particularly following on from the recent increases in APD.
"It will be interesting to see how the rest of the market reacts, and whether customers vote with their feet if other carriers decide not to follow suit."
Mike Hare, chief executive of Portman Travel and chairman of the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC), said: "BA was open about its intention to introduce the payment. It was discussed with key individuals in the GTMC. We debated whether it should apply to all cabin types and in the end they agreed it would not affect premium bookings."
However, travel buyer group the Institute of Travel and Meetings (ITM) blasted BA for not consulting its members. Mark Cushieri, ITM's chair of industry affairs, said the group understood that airlines had to find more sustainable models and that reducing distribution costs was part of the process.
But he said buyers had to consider more than just the cost implications: "Of primary concern to us is the presentation of fare data before and after booking. We need to understand what impact product changes will have on this."
ITM chief executive Paul Tilstone said the body would consult members about the charge and call on BA to discuss its proposals with buyers.