Category Archives: Consumer Issues

Travel consumer issues such as airline payment fees and hotel overbooking.

5 Travel Tips to Stay Safe with a Medical Condition

Having a medical condition need not prevent you from travelling, in fact a spot of travelling may do you the world of good, but for your peace of mind and the peace of mind of your family and friends it makes sense to think through carefully the journey that you are about to undertake.

Look up where you can get medical care near to where you’re travelling

Don’t just assume that you’ll be able to sort it all out, if and when the need arises. Do your research in advance. If your condition suddenly deteriorates you need to be able to get help as quickly as possible, you don’t want to waste time trying to find the nearest suitable facilities, a process likely to be complicated by trying to communicate in a foreign language.

Make sure that you have a European Health Insurance Card

The EHIC is available for free from the NHS so don’t be fooled by unofficial sites which try and charge you. The EHIC gives you access to state provided health care in any European Economic Area Country and Switzerland, although once Brexit comes into effect, UK citizens will no longer have free access to European Health Care, unless some kind of special deal is struck. The card covers you for all necessary treatment until the date you had planned to return and the care is provided to you like it would be to a resident of the country. You need to be aware that some countries require patients to pay a percentage of the cost of their treatment. You are therefore strongly advised to find a good travel insurance deal from a provider that can specialise your cover for your medical needs. The EHIC is not valid on cruises or for ski resort mountain rescue nor will it cover the cost of flying you back to the UK.

Talk to your doctor before you travel

Before you book anything, talk to your doctor about your intentions. Be truthful about where you intend to go and what you intend to do and don’t ignore the advice you are given.

Bring ample medication and a doctor’s letter detailing your condition

Make sure that you have acquired ample medication well before you are due to set off on your travels. Your medication may contain ingredients which are illegal in some countries so check beforehand. You and your doctor may need to complete a Medical Information Form (MEDIF). This form is valid for only one trip and can only be used for the flights and dates shown on the ticket.

Arrange early boarding and special arrangements with the airline

All airlines are required by law to make special provision for passengers with disabilities or medical conditions, but it is up to you to notify them well in advance and establish exactly what special provision you may require.

Review of Hotels.com Rewards Loyalty Programme

Hotel.com is one of the best known hotel booking websites. Their Rewards loyalty scheme offers one free night’s stay if you book ten nights through their website.

Initially, it seems appealing to get something for nothing.

However, it’s not that straightforward once you scratch below the surface.

Not all hotel stays count towards the free one night stay. You have to check that the hotel night(s) which you are booking will count as qualifying stays.

You will still need to pay fees and taxes on your free night. To see the cost of fees and taxes, you need to press the book this room tab. The cost of fees and taxes varies between hotels, it doesn’t appear to be a set percentage.

If you use a discount coupon when making your booking, or it is part of a special promotion, that stay doesn’t count towards the the required ten nights.

Your free stay is redeemed at the average price of the ten hotel nights booked, which equates to around a 10% discount.

Therefore, you would think that a discount code would need to be for at least 10% to make it worth missing out on the night(s) counting toward the ten nights.

But you have to take in to account that Hotels.com may not always offer the lowest price for all hotel night(s) that you book. So you probably need to do a quick check on a hotel price comparison website, to see if you can find the room cheaper on another site.

If you find the room for less on another site, it’s also worth having a look for voucher codes on a website such as Voucher Butler, which can be used on the booking site which offers the lowest price for the hotel.

It all sounds like a bit of hassle. Hotels.com’s Rewards loyalty programme tempts you toward just booking all your stays on their website. Fair enough, it is a loyalty scheme. But the question is does loyalty pay for the customer?

One of the good points on the Rewards scheme is that you have plenty time to redeem your free night, as qualifying hotel nights are valid for twelve months from your last completed booking.

Personally, I’d be inclined to book my free stay as soon as possible after hitting the ten qualifying nights, just in case there were any changes to the loyalty programme.

Also, there are no black out dates for redeeming your free night, so you could use it during peak periods, although the price per night will probably be a lot higher during peak periods.

One of the best ways to get the most from Hotel.com Rewards is to book longer stays e.g. a ten night stay or two five night stays. That way you wouldn’t have to do so much price checking to ensure that you are getting the lowest price available by booking through Hotels.com.

I don’t think that the Hotels.com Rewards programme will entice me to book all my hotel stays on their website. If I could find a voucher code for Hotels.com I’d probably use it. I’d rather have a definite discount at the time of booking, than wait it out to amass ten qualifying nights in the Hotels.com loyalty scheme.

Easyjet Runway Closure Flight Delay: Treatment and Compensation

Approximately 48h before my flight from Thessaloniki, Greece to London Gatwick on Dec 1, 2017, I received two text messages from Easyjet. My flight was going to be leaving from Athens instead, due to runway closure issues. Instead, I had to turn up at the airport and take a bus, which would leave 40min before the original flight departure time. The bus departed on time and I was handed a half-baguette cheese and ham sandwich and a bottle of half a litre of water on boarding the bus.

The bus journey time to Athens airport was approximately 7 hours. Upon arrival I had to find my way to the easyjet counter, where I was given a new ticket. The flight then left at 22.30 local time, landing at London Gatwick at 5min to midnight, a total delay of over 8 hours.

As an aside, I was to continue to Edinburgh from Gatwick, again using easyjet.

Thankfully I had managed to change my original flight to one leaving the next morning through online chat with easyjet and without charge. This however, meant that I had to spend the night at cold and draughty ‘hotel Gatwick’ airport, as by the time I arrived from Thessaloniki and would be leaving for Edinburgh, it would have hardly been worth checking into a proper hotel, never mind not knowing if I’d eventually be reimbursed for it.

In the event, the morning flight to Edinburgh, on which I had been lucky to get a seat, since it was quite busy, arrived at Edinburgh 10 min early, at 09.50am.

My total delay was therefore 14 hours from the time I’d have arrived originally, had it all gone smoothly.

Despite the original delay and the overnight stay at the airport, I felt lucky that it hadn’t been worse and I’d managed to get home without further hassle.

Which just goes to show how low a passenger can be made to feel through flight delay.

Although easyjet had not mentioned anything about potential compensation, I thought that a measly sandwich and bit of water were rather inadequate provision for a planned delay of so many hours. Other passengers, including some with families, had asked for a complimentary meal on the flight from Athens to London Gatwick and were told that they’d have to pay normal prices for any meals on board, despite the 8 hour delay.

I eventually submitted two different online claims to easyjet, one for my extra food/drink during the delay (for which photos of the receipts had to be attached) and another under EU261 Flight Delay compensation rules. Both of these forms were available from easyjet online. I soon received an email saying that the meal claim would be paid directly into my bank account within a few days, and it was.

With regard to the EU261 compensation claim, I received another email within 48 hours, saying that the claims assessor had asked the original airport (Thessaloniki) team for reasons as to the delay in order to assess the claim and would get in touch shortly.

Two months after the delay, and despite having again contacted the airline’s claims dept and been assured they would decide within additional, defined time periods, my claim is still unresolved with their own deadlines have not been met.

Regardless of the future outcome for my EU261 claim, I felt that I had been well treated by easyjet staff with regard to my altered journeys. However, the airline had failed to make sufficient food and drink provision during the long expected delay, which, in my opinion, was inexcusable. It was clear that a lot of passengers did not have sufficient food and drink with them; why on earth put them through the extra hassle of claiming for purchasing it? And as for the EU261 compensation claim…not too sure what I can say at present, except that easyjet, I expected better from you.

I aim to add to this article, when and if I receive a final decision as to my EU261 compensation claim.

Update 27 February 2018 – I eventually received a very late reply from easyjet, stating that my claim was not eligible for compensation. I then examined the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) options, and also contacted a no-win-no fee firm of solicitors. I finally decided that on balance, I was not going to pursue my claim any further.

Feeling Hung Out to Dry in Greece After easyJet Flight Cancellation

We were due to fly home from Corfu to Newcastle with easyJet on Sunday 9 October 2016. On Saturday morning when I checked my emails, I noticed an email from easyJet informing me that our flight had been cancelled due to a strike by Greek air traffic controllers.

easyjet plane

At that stage, the strike was due to last until Monday 10 October, with the possibility of another two day strike on Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 October.

As I had booked the easyJet flight and our accommodation at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu through Broadway Travel, I thought that I’d better phone them once I received the cancellation email.  When you have not booked your own flight directly with on the easyJet website, you can’t manage your booking online.

After three attempts to call, the final taking more than one hour, Broadway Travel informed that as I had purchased a dynamic package, versus a package holiday, the could only look into alternative flights for me. I would have to arrange and pay for our accommodation and then reclaim it from easyJet.

I asked when I would hear back from Broadway Travel regarding flight options. There was no time given, just that customers with flights the following day were a priority.

When I hadn’t heard back from Broadway Travel by 5pm, I thought that I’d better phone easyJet. The options of departing from a different airport in Greece and/or flying back to different airport to the UK or getting a refund for our flights were discussed. But with the possible virtual back to back strikes by Greek air traffic controllers, the best option appeared to be to get booked on the next Corfu to Newcastle flight on Sunday 16 October.

Once the easyJet customer service rep had re-booked the flights, I asked her for confirmation that easyJet would refund our accommodation costs for the additional seven days. I told her that my intention was to stay on at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu, assuming that they had availability. She told me that I would be reimbursed for the accommodation.

beach-at-mayor-capo-di-corfu

In fact, the strike was called off on the evening of Saturday 8 October, but it was too late for easyJet to reinstate the flight the following day.

On the Sunday morning, I went the hotel reception to check if they had availability for the week.

Our original stay at the Capo Di Corfu was on an all-inclusive basis. However, as I wasn’t sure if easyJet would cover this, as it states on their website that reasonable expenses including accommodation, meals and refreshments (excluding alcohol) will be refunded.

Now as I’m a teetotaler, I wouldn’t have been drinking any alcohol. My husband drinks the odd glass of wine or beer. Personally, I did feel that it was reasonable to continue on the same board basis.

There was also the issue of the cost, as I was going to have to pay for the accommodation upfront. I had no idea how long it would take for easyJet to refund me.

The hotel did have availability for the week They quoted 960 Euro for a seven night all inclusive stay. The cost for half board was 738 Euro.

I decided that, on balance, I had better go for the half board option, I felt that easyJet would be less likely to contest this, and I didn’t want to be even more out of pocket for an undefined period.

We had a hire car, which had to be returned to Corfu Airport on Sunday 9 October. I doubt if easyJet would have refunded another week of car rental. Returning the hire car to the airport was very inconvenient, as it’s a minimum one hour drive from the resort to Corfu Airport.

I will have to pay 70 Euro for a taxi to the airport on Sunday 16 October, assuming that there are no further changes to our flight. I will have to pay this in cash. As I was coming on an all inclusive holiday, I only brought a few Euro in cash with me. I will have to ask the taxi driver to stop at a  cash machine enroute to the airport.

In my opinion, it is really bewildering to be left in this situation.

Now I’m not blaming easyJet. That strike by Greek air traffic controllers was outwith their control. The pay upfront for your expenses and then reclaim procedure, is standard under EU regulation.

What I’d like to see is a change in the EU legislation.

There should be a detailed explanation of reasonable expenses on the website of every airline covered by EU legislation. How on earth can I judge what the airline will consider to be a reasonable expense?

The airline should be obliged to pay the accommodation supplier directly in a situation like ours.

Now while being in Corfu for another week is not exactly a hardship, especially with me being able to work online, the £666 which I have had to pay for our accommodation is weighing on my mind.

My credit card statement is due on 16 October. So I will have to pay the balance around three weeks later. I am not convinced that I will have received the refund from easyJet by then.

There is also the issue of currency fluctuations. If the UK pound keeps falling, a refund of Euro converted a lower rate will leave me out of pocket. To try to avoid this, I have taken a photo of my credit card statement, which shows the amount paid for the accommodation in UK pounds. But the receipt from the hotel is quoted in Euro.

I really feel left hung out to dry. Dealing with the flight cancellation took hours and spoilt the holiday. Now I am concerned if easyJet will fully reimburse me, and when I will receive the cash from them.

 

Travelling from Marseille to Nice on the TGV

After struggling to buy train tickets for our journey from Budapest to Prague on the Hungarian rail website, I was pleasantly surprised by the user friendliness of the English version of  SCNF (French national rail) website when buying tickets for the trip from Marseille to Nice.

I thought that the price of £22 per adult for a standard class rail ticket was very reasonable. I was also happy to be able to print the SCNF tickets at home. With the Hugarian rail tickets, I had to pick them up from a ticket machine at the station.

As we approached Marseille St Charles railway station on the day of travel, I was impressed by the grandeur of the exterior of the building. I stopped to admire some large paintings on display outside the station.

marseille st charles railway station exterior

art at the front of marseille st charles railway station

Once in the station, we discovered that our TGV Duplex train to Nice was running 15 minutes late. The journey from Marseille to Nice was scheduled to take around 2 hours and 30 minutes.

tgv train at Marseille St Charles railway station

Our reserved seats were in a standard class compartment on the lower level of the two tier train. The seats were quite comfortable. The train wasn’t that busy, so were able to have a double seat each for the journey. The toilet was absolutely awful. To make matters worse, someone had dumped two large suitcases in front of the toilet door, so you had to virtually climb over the suitcases to get in and out. We had taken our own food and drink, so we didn’t visit the buffet car.

I expected the rail journey to be along the coastline, but a lot of it was through countryside, some with vineyards.

vineyards from train between marseille to nice

There were some glimpses of the Mediterranean enroute.

sea from train between marseille to nice in france

sea view from train between marseille to nice france

Close to Cannes, I spotted a marina.

approaching cannes on the train from marseille to nice

Our destination, Nice’s main station Nice Ville, was another beautiful old building.

nice ville railway station

It’s a pity that the otherwise very pleasant train journey from Marseille to Nice was marred by the dreadful state of the toilet. The French rail company, SNCF, really need to ensure that the onboard toilet facilities are clean.

Why Don’t All Tube Stations in London Have Toilets?

When I was staying at the Holiday Inn Express London Park Royal, I looked on the map to find a walk in the area, as the following morning was forecast to be dry and sunny.

A section of the Grand Union Canal looked promising. It was accessible from Perivale Station, three stops up the Ruislip branch of the Central Line from my hotel. After around a mile along the canal, I could walk to Alperton Station, where I could travel two stops south on the Piccadilly Line to Park Royal Station, a 15 minute walk back to the hotel.

I did wonder if there would be any toilet facilities en-route during my morning out, especially as it was a cold day. Surprisingly, there were toilets at Perivale Station. I did wonder if toilets were more common at suburban stations, as I can’t remember seeing toilets at any other Tube stations.

perival stationi toilets

By the time I found the Canal, after a wrong turn into an industrial estate, and walked along to the exit for Alperton Station for the return leg of my journey, I was desperately hoping that Alperton Station would have public toilets. But no luck.

grand untion canal perivale

Thankfully my destination stop, Park Royal Tube Station, did have public toilets, otherwise it would’ve been a struggle to walk back to the hotel.

park royal toilets

My morning out left me wondering why all London Tube stations don’t offer toilet facilities for passengers? It’d be so good to be able to go out and about anywhere in London knowing that you could find a toilet in any Tube station.

Why I Object to City Taxes on Hotel Prices

At the weekend I booked hotels for my forthcoming trip to France, I was irked by the fact that there’s a charge of 1 Euro City Tax per night per guest in both the Marseille and Nice hotels.

euro coin

Now France is not alone in charging this tax, also known as a Tourist Tax and Bed Tax.Thank goodness that we don’t have this pesky tax in the UK.

In my opinion, if visitors are staying in a city, they are already bringing money into the local economy. They pay various taxes, similar to the British Value Added Tax (VAT) which is charged at 20% on hotel stays and meals in restaurants. Why on earth should visitors have to pay an additional City Tax?

What about all the jobs for locals supported by the tourism industry and the tax paid on employees wages and profits from businesses benefiting from the tourist spend?

The justification for this charge is usually that it pays to promote the city and for the upkeep of tourist attractions. Well the latter is a joke, as you already have to pay to visit most tourist attractions.

To me, it reeks of ‘fleece the tourist’. It’s  politically expedient to charge visitors a tax rather than ask local residents to pay higher local taxes. Imagine how many million of Euro even 1 Euro a night per guest in a popular city such as Paris could net per annum.

What I’d really like to know is if all the money collected through the City Tax is earmarked for the tourism related projects?  It must be so tempting to use the City Tax revenue to plug a hole in local government expenditure unrelated to tourism.

In many ways, I’d rather have the City Tax already included in the hotel price I pay, so that it wouldn’t annoy me so much. Why couldn’t the hotel just add the City Tax to the price per room? Surely that would be easier for administration and avoid annoying visitors when the payment of tax is requested by the staff working at hotel reception.

How to Plan for a Stress-free Move Abroad

From June 2012 to June 2013, 320,000 people emigrated from the UK. This is a huge number of individuals seeking sun, a better quality of life, career opportunities or to be closer to family, all going through the complex process of emigration.

silken rio view sardinero beach

But, how many of them carried out the proper research and planning to ensure process ran smoothly? Badly managed, emigration could be much more expensive and stressful than it needs to be. I have put together some of the main things for you to consider to make sure your new life is cost-effective and stress free.

Comparable Budgets and Healthcare

You may have holidayed in your new country, but the things you need, when living there full-time, will be quite different. Making a comparable budget, assessing the cost of living and your expected income, to see how feasible your new life is, will give you a realistic idea of how your finances stack up. Visit the place you intend to move to and speak to other expats in the area about their experiences. Consider the costs and arrangements you need to make for healthcare, dental care and how any illnesses or disabilities will be managed when you move.

Taxes, Inheritance and Pensions

Working out the cost of moving abroad doesn’t just involve the removal costs. Calculate the taxes and legal fees involved in buying a property abroad and if you’ll Capital Gains Tax on the profit from selling property in the UK.

painted house

Check whether you will continue to pay tax in the UK, or if your new country has an agreement with the UK meaning you will only be taxed on income once. Check with your solicitor how the assests you have abroad, like a property, will be inherited by your family. Also, research how your pension will be affected after your move. In the EEA and Switzerland, your pension will increase each year as it does in the UK, but in other countries it may remain frozen.

Living Abroad Legally and Letting HMRC Know

Thoroughly researching visa restrictions and requirements for your new destination is a must, to prevent any legal issues or the need to return to the UK whilst mistakes are rectified. If you need a visa, get up to date information, check the timelines for visa applications and factor in extra time to account for delays. Check which skills and occupations are in demand if you are moving to countries like America or Australia. Notify the correct authorities in the UK of your move e.g. HMRC, to ensure you are taxed correctly. Then, check and check again to make sure your paperwork is accurate.

Transfer Money Abroad Using Forward Contracts

If you are transferring a large sum of money abroad, perhaps for buying a new house, consider using a currency broker as they typically offer more competitive exchange rates, lower fees and will prove to be a cost-effective option.

euro notes

Peter Theuninck, Head of Trading at Baydonhill suggests using a forward contract as this ‘offers protection against market events beyond your control and creates upfront cost visibility, all in one product.’ He continues, ‘The inherent unpredictable nature of currency markets should always be taken into account when dealing in foreign exchange and the ability to minimise this unpredictability can be seen as a vital part of everyone’s hedging strategies.’ To keep up to date with Baydonhill’s daily exchange rates you can sign up to their daily commentary report.

Language, Visitors, Pets and Driving

When moving to a non-English speaking country, get a head start and learn the language to ensure you’re not alienated when you arrive, can get yourself set up with ease and start making friends! Consider how close you’ll be to an airport, the cost of flights home and how often you will realistically be able to visit the UK or have family and friends fly out to see you.

american car in budapest

Make sure your pet is properly immunised and work with an animal transportation company who can assist with properly transporting your beloved pet abroad to be with you. Finally, check the rules about driving and licenses in your new country. Plan ahead and check that you have all the correct qualifications and paperwork.

Conclusion

Once you’ve done your research, create a rough timeline showing when each step needs to be started and when it will be completed. This will not only make things run smoothly, it can help you plan a realistic moving date. Budgeting for each stage of your move will mean you can save appropriately now and avoid being stung by unexpected costs. Moving to a new country is fun as long as you take the time to undertake detailed plans and budgeting. Done well, it can be the enjoyable and exciting you beginning that you imagined.

A Travelodge Stay Could Result in a £100 Parking Charge

A week after my stay at the Travelodge Stirling M80 at Stirling services, I received a £100 parking charge notice for exceeding the free two hour stay in the shared car park. I couldn’t understand why I received this, as I’d entered my car registration number on the monitor at check-in.

travelodge reception

The whole system appears to be automated by a third party car parking management company. The letter detailing my claimed over-stay at the car park, had time-stamped photos of our car entering the car park in the evening and exiting the next morning.

Now it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that I entered our car registration number incorrectly upon check-in. Or, maybe there was an issue with the car parking firm’s database.

I was also annoyed that the car park management firm had obtained my name and address from the DVLA. I don’t think that the DVLA should be releasing drivers’ details to private car parking firms to enable them to issue fines to drivers.

I emailed the car parking management firm on the day I received their letter, including a copy of the invoice for my stay at the Travelodge Stirling M80. However, after two days and no confirmation of receipt of my email, I phoned to check that they had received my email.

I was given a different email address by the member of staff on the phone. Within a few hours of sending the second email, I received a reply, pasted below.

“Thank you for your correspondence concerning your Parking Charge Notice.

 In light of your claims, the representations stated in your appeal have been noted and upheld. 

 We apologise sincerely for any inconvenience and can confirm that this Notice has been cancelled in full and no further action will take place.”

No explanation of why I’d received the parking charge notice, but I was relieved that it was resolved.

It’s really annoying to have to spend time sorting out something that should have never happened in the first place. However, I don’t think it’s wise to ignore matters like this, as they could escalate and even end up adversely affecting your credit rating.

I suspect that this regularly happens to Travelodge guests staying in hotels located at motorway services, as part of the recorded message on the phone number given for appeals instructs Travelodge guests to email a copy of their invoice.

I think that Travelodge should set up a procedure to avoid this happening to guests. For example, Travelodge receptionists could take their own copy of the registration number of guests’s cars. Then these numbers can be cross referenced by the car parking management firm before charge notices are issued.

However, I suspect it’s a lot cheaper and easier just to leave it to guests wrongly issued with parking charge notices to sort it out for themselves with the car parking management firm.

KLM’s #HappytoHelp Customer Service Initiative

KLM recently ran a #happytohelp customer service initiative. The control centre was located an office at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam operated by a 30 strong team on hand 24/7.

The KLM #happytohelp offer of assistance to travellers wasn’t restricted to KLM passengers. The team monitored social media channels such as Twitter, looking for travellers in need. Staff were also deployed at serveral airports to approach customers who looked like they could do with a helping hand.

KLM HappytoHelp HQ

The video below features some of KLM’s #happyhelp interventions which included the following:

  • A passenger stuck in traffic in New York who was going to miss his flight was whisked to the aiport by a chartered speed boat on the River Hudson.
  • A family travelling with a baby were offered a family-friendly bedroom equipped with toys, in which to spend their layover time.
  • A honeymooning couple, whose luggage had been lost by another airline, were taken on a quick airport shopping trip to by KLM staff to purchase some clothes and personal items.
  • Weary travellers sitting in the airport were offered a free cup of coffee.
  • A traveller with an early morning flight who couldn’t get to sleep was sung a lullaby over the phone to help him nod off.

Golly, wouldn’t it be great if all airlines could offer such great customer service.

Sometimes, it seems like you can’t even get the most basic information about flights from staff, never mind anything way above the call of duty.