The head of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today criticised budget airline Ryanair over its "puerile" charging policy.

John Fingleton, chief executive of the OFT, attacked the company for fees added to bookings when customers pay online.

He singled out the practice of adding £5 per leg charges to payments made with a specific type of bank card (see the Beat Budget Airline Fees guide).

Ryanair charges this fee unless you use a Mastercard prepaid card.

20 million to suffer

Until the start of this month, you could have avoided a fee by using a Visa Electron card but the airline has scrapped this concession that benefited 20 million passengers last year (see the Ryanair ends free payment for millions MSE News story).

He also questioned the automatic addition of insurance to flights by budget airlines, unless customers opted out. This practice is against EU rules.

Earlier this year, following OFT intervention, Ryanair promised to increase the clarity and transparency of its website and other advertising.

'Puerile and childish'

Fingleton accuses the company of using "very low frequency payment mechanism" to get round the rules.

He told the Independent newspaper: "Ryanair has this funny game. It's almost like taunting consumers and pointing out: 'Oh well, we know this is completely outside the spirit of the law, but we think it's within the narrow letter of the law'.

"On some level it's quite puerile, it's almost childish."

Ryanair Head of Communications Stephen McNamara says: "Ryanair is not for the overpaid John Fingletons of this world but for the everyday Joe Bloggs who opts for Ryanair's guaranteed lowest fares because we give them the opportunity to fly across 26 European countries for free, £5 and £10.

"What the OFT must realise is that passengers prefer Ryanair's model as it allows them to avoid costs, such as baggage charges, which are still included in the high fares of high cost, fuel surcharging, strike-threatened airlines such as BA."

Additional reporting by the Press Association