Canada's Dumbest Charge: The 5 most frustrating fees

CBC’s Marketplace asked viewers to rant about add-on charges, and more than 700 complaints about fees came from across the country. Marketplace narrowed the submissions down to five fees, and viewers can vote on the one that annoys them most.

Charges for bank machine use and airline seat selection among those that frustrate Marketplace viewers

Canada's Dumbest Charge


7 years ago
Tired of being nickel-and-dimed by unexpected extra charges on your bills? Canada's consumer watchdog takes aim at frustrating fees and asks you to vote on Canada's Dumbest Charge. 44:58

CBC's Marketplace is on the hunt for Canada's Dumbest Charge. The show asked viewers to rant about add-on charges, and more than 700 complaints about fees came from across the country.

Marketplace narrowed the submissions down to five fees, each of which affects a large number of people. The five finalists were revealed on the show's season's premiere on Oct. 17.

Five Canadians are each leading a campaign against a charge they think deserves the title of Canada's Dumbest Charge.

Viewers can vote on the fee they think deserves the dubious honour until Sunday, Oct. 19 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Here are the top five:

1. Bank machine fees

Who gets dinged:

You're probably paying out extra cash to the banks if you're using a machine that's not owned by your bank. You could pay from $1 to $6.90 depending on the machine. 

Banks earn up to $400 million a year from these charges, according to expert estimates. And it's not only other banks that cost you: you could also be charged to use your bank's machines, depending on your plan.

Why it should be the dumbest charge:

"I think they're dumb. I think we're paying too much," says Lisa Witts of Binbrook, Ont., who chose ATM fees as the dumbest charge.

How companies justify the fee:

Maura Drew-Lytle, director of media relations and communications for the Canadian Bankers Association, told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson that the fees help offset the cost of running and maintaining the ATM infrastructure and that people can avoid most charges by using a machine operated by their bank.

2. Airline seat selection fees

Who gets dinged:

Not all passengers, fares or flights are subject to the fee, but many economy travellers flying in North America who want to choose a seat in advance probably have to pay.

It can also cost a lot: $10 to $47.20 for a return trip on WestJet; $20 to $80 for a return trip on Air Canada. It's free to book a seat within 24 hours of the flight, but by then seat selection is often limited.

Parents with children older than two may also feel pressured to pay the fee to make sure they don't have to leave small kids unattended.

Why it should be the dumbest charge:

"I think it's a cash grab. It's just another opportunity to have the fares appear to be low, but certainly in the end, the fares increase," says Mike Anderson from Delta, B.C., who led the charge against this fee.

How companies justify the fee:

Both Air Canada and WestJet told Marketplace that passengers can select their seats for free within 24 hours of departure, and the option to select a seat farther in advance is up to the customer.

Air Canada also told the show that the fee only applies to the lowest-price fares in North America.

WestJet told Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington that families would be seated together, even if that means moving other customers.

3. Bell telephone touch-tone fees

Who gets dinged:

Unless they use a rotary phone, Bell customers with a landline can check out the charge on their bill: $2.80 a month. With 2.6 million customers across the country, Marketplace calculated that this fee brought in more than $80 million in 2013.

Why it should be the dumbest charge:

"It's a money grab because in this day and age you have no choice but to use touch-tone service. Any phone call you make, 'Press 1 for English, 2 for French,' " says Selma Schachner, from Oakville, Ont., who led the campaign against this fee.

How the company justifies the fee:

In a statement, Bell said: "The $2.80 fee is part of the cost of Bell home phone service, except of course for customers who remain on rotary-dial service. We're required to itemize it separately on the invoices of customers with touch-tone service specifically because customers on rotary don't pay it.

"When we discontinue rotary service, we expect that we will no longer be required to itemize it separately. That said, we have no current plans to discontinue rotary service for customers who already have it."

4. Paper bill and statement fees

Who gets dinged:

Most customers who receive paper statements from their bank or telecom company. The most common fee is $2 a month, although some companies charge up to $5.90 per bill.

The federal government promised to crack down on some fees last year, but the proposal applies only to telecommunications companies and the government has yet to introduce new legislation.

The Royal Bank of Canada is the only major bank that does not charge for monthly paper statements for personal banking customers.

Why it should be the dumbest charge:

"All this is is proof that I received a service. You can't charge me for that," says Jason Card, from St. John's, N.L, who campaigned against the fees. "Why would you pay to find out how much you owe?"

How companies justify the fee:

Maura Drew-Lytle, director of media relations and communications for the Canadian Bankers Association, says that statement fees help keep costs down for all customers.

Many of the major telecommunications companies also said the fee has an environmental benefit because it encourages consumers to use less paper.

Both the CBA and major telecommunications companies told Marketplace that customers can avoid the charge if they get statements and bills online.

5. Ticketmaster fees

Who gets dinged:

On top of the ticket price for an event, Ticketmaster charges a convenience charge. For customers who order online or by phone, there is also an order processing fee. These fees vary depending on a number of factors including the artist, venue and promoter. Marketplace checked four major concerts in the Toronto area and found convenience fees that ranged from $9 to $17.75.

Why it should be the dumbest charge:

"It feels like this big-time company, who has very little competition whatsoever, can gouge you just because they can," says Lauren Cooper from Maple, Ont., who campaigned for Ticketmaster fees to be named the dumbest charge.

How the company justifies the fee:

Here's what Ticketmaster told Marketplace: "We have the most complex ecommerce environment on the planet and our platform is used by venues to manage the ticket inventory on behalf of the team, promoter and/or artist. If a fan prefers, they can purchase tickets from the box office directly or through resale sites and often these purchases come with varying ticket prices and service levels."

Vote now for Canada's Dumbest Charge at

With files from Nelisha Vellani


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