Category Archives: Consumer Issues

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

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.

Another Example of Superb Service by easyJet

My easyJet flight from Thessaloniki, Greece on the 16th November arrived early at Gatwick, London.

On that flight, I’d experienced an example of ‘above the call of duty’ service, whereby a flight attendant had retrieved a ticket with luggage stubs from the rubbish, which the young lady sitting next to me had disposed of in error.

easyjet plane

Upon arriving at Gatwick airport and immediately checking the departures, I quickly contacted EasyJet Customer services. I’d realized that, since having left sufficient time for delays between my original flight and its connection to Edinburgh and having arrived early, I might be able to board the earlier easyJet flight and save myself 1 hour 30 minutes.

The lady at Customer Services was very friendly and efficient, acknowledging that passengers usually request to join later, not earlier flights, due to delays (like I did when easyJet saved my Moussaka last year). She agreed that, since I was a return-ticket passenger who’d left sufficient time between flights and there was availability, I could board the earlier flight to Edinburgh free of charge.

I made the flight with time to spare and got home in good time for a relaxing cup of tea before bed time – thanks again easyJet.

Well Done East Coast Trains

On the 4th of November I was booked on the 16.22 Cross Country train from Berwick upon Tweed to Edinburgh, aiming to get the bus to Edinburgh airport and catch my flight to London Gatwick with a connection to Thessaloniki, Greece.

east coast train

I’d left plenty of time (or so I thought) for any possible mishaps/delays, including getting to the airport 1.5-2 hours before the flight.

My original CrossCountry service, originating in Conwall, was delayed by 80min. I was either going to cut it pretty fine or not make it to the airport on time.

When I enquired at the ticket office at Berwick upon Tweed, I was informed that although there was not another Cross Country train due in good time for me, an East Coast train, about 25minutes after the original Cross Country service had been due, had been contacted and the driver had agreed to take the Cross Country passengers on board, as there were enough seats available.

The East Coast train arrived on time, my Cross Country ticket was inspected, scanned and accepted and I made a time-wise comfortable onwards bus journey to the airport.

Well done East Coast, I hope in future this attitude is reciprocated by Cross Country so that  passengers do not miss flights, appointments etc.

Crash in Customer Service Levels at Edinburgh Airport

It seems to me that Edinburgh Airport is getting too big for its own boots. As the airport has expanded, levels of customer service have taken a nosedive.

It started with the introduction of a £1 drop off fee in 2010. It was previously free to drop off passengers close to the terminal building.

edinburgh airport drop off charge

When we returned to Edinburgh Airport from Prague in late April 2014, the pick up points for the transfer to car parks had been moved further away from the terminal, to make room for the new tram stop. However, there was only one small shelter for all the bus stops. Woefully inadequate for the Scottish weather.

When I returned to Edinburgh Airport from Bratislava in mid  June 2014, only one bus arrived to transfer passengers from the plane to the terminal. There was a wait for another bus to turn up.  When that second bus arrived at the terminal drop off point, the passengers from that bus couldn’t get into the covered walkway as passengers from another flight had entered further down the walkway. Just as well the torrential rain which was falling during landing had stopped by that point.

There was a massive queue at Border Control. Despite this, not all of the e-gates were open. The e-gates which were open seemed to be operating very slowly. The size of the Border Control area doesn’t appear to have increased, despite the expansion of Edinburgh Airport.

All in all, very poor customer service at Edinburgh Airport for international arrivals, giving the impression of a disorganised and badly managed facility.

It’s time to pull your socks up Edinburgh Airport.