/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Holiday firms: give us a break from sneaky fees and bad service

Holidaymakers are an easy target for unscrupulous businesses, says Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith. It’s high time the travel industry cleaned up its act.

Do the sun hats that we wear on holiday bear a motto saying ‘fleece me quick’ that’s visible only to those who work in the industry? It certainly seems that way judging by how some firms behave.

We holidaymakers are at the mercy of the travel industry from the moment we lock eyes with airport check-in staff – will they take against us and redirect the bags to Gibraltar? – to the moment we pay 10 euros for a terrible coffee as we await the return flight. And if your flight is delayed, it can be difficult to get compensation.

Yes, some travel companies are exemplary. But not enough of them. Dodgy service, sneaky fees and hassle are all too common on holiday, according to Which? members. So here is what I’m asking of the industry.

My five pleas to the travel industry

Stop the economy seat squeeze: Economy passengers are being treated like cattle. Legroom has been cut by several inches, while seat width and the number of toilets have been cut to make room for business-class seats. Surely we’ve reached the limit?

Why do we have to pay extra to sit together on a plane? This penalises parents of young children who feel obliged to pay up to ensure they sit together.

End the car hire excess rip-off: No one should have to pay the absurd premiums car-hire firms charge to cover excess. You can get this at a fraction of the cost before you go.

Say upfront what’s free and what isn’t: You haven’t even unpacked before you find it’s an extra £15 for wi-fi, £20 for spa access, £25 for parking… Airlines can’t get away with this any more, so why is the rest of the industry still doing it?

Protect holiday letting money: Many self-catering property owners only accept bank transfers, which aren’t protected (unlike credit card payments). With holiday booking fraud increasing, there has to be a better system. Solving all this would make a holiday seem, well, more like a holiday.

Have you experienced tactics such as these? Did you complain or did you feel you had no option but to pay up?


With regard to the above comment about airlines charging for children to sit with their parents, Civil Aviation Authority guidelines state:

The seating of children close by their parents or guardians should be the aim of airline seat allocation procedures for family groups and large parties of children.

Young children and infants who are accompanied by adults, should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Children and accompanying adults should not be separated by more than one aisle. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults. This is because the speed of an emergency evacuation may be affected by adults trying to reach their children.

Whenever a number of infants and children are travelling together the airline should make every effort to ensure that they can be readily supervised by the responsible accompanying adults.

An airline cannot demand a surcharge in order to comply with these guidelines; they apply irrespective of the price paid. Where an airline deliberately scatters a family around the aircraft if they do not pay a surcharge, this is clearly a deliberate breach of the CAA guidelines. Why hasn’t the CAA taken enforcement action against the offending airlines?

Colin of Canterbury says:
3 August 2015

Apparently children cannot go on a flight unattended, or supervised, by an adult.
SO if this is the rules, surely this means they cannot then split up the family and FORCE a family to buy seats together. Every airline SHOULD ensure all families seat together when they book, not wait to see if they pay to do so.
You CANNOT have a 3 year old sitting in a seat away from their parents, and you cannot have children of any age sitting next to a complete stranger who COULD be on a child protection register.


However . . . behaviour might be better if children were seated away from their parents. A recent flight was spoiled by the irritating and and disruptive behaviour of the parents who were trying to amuse their infant who was not in the least interested in participating. Especially on return flights many adults get overtired and emotional and start misbehaving and making too much noise.


NFH – Great sleuthing and an example to us all that sometimes when something defies commonsense then it is probably because someone is ignoring the requirements. You too go on to my list of honourable mentions.

I must set up a proper Wikia page for people like you , Socketman, and the lady who runs Optical express ruined my Life. Ther is someone else whom I cannot recall at the moment.

Of course there are the likes of wavechange , beryl, and jward and someone else oops who form the body for teasing out the details that Conversations does not always address. And what is slightly annoying is that for all the good stuff in the conversations it is impossible to see a full summary or even search for phrases.

When I moaned strongly to the Trustees about how they were isolated from subscribers the forum I was thinking of allowed searches etc. The rather lame one we have is not a patch on the one at CafeDillo.org.uk run by existing and former subscribers in terms of flexibility and searchability.


On the subject of hotels surcharging for wifi, why is it that this is typical of 4* and 5* hotels, whereas 2* and 3* hotels usually include it without a surcharge? In the airline industry, it is the budget suppliers who use drip pricing (lots of small surcharges to facilitate a misleading indication of headline price), whereas in the hotel industry this is done by the premium suppliers. It’s the other way round from the airline industry.

Surcharging for wifi makes no more sense than surcharging for electricity, heating or water. Those same hotels don’t surcharge for these utilities, so why do they surcharge for wifi? Even more annoyingly, where a hotel doesn’t have a free open wifi network, one often has to tap one’s smartphone screen around 20 to 30 times (to enter a wifi username and password), often several times per day, which is very tedious and unnecessary. Hotels should be making life easy and effortless for their guests, not making them jump through hoops to use basic facilities.


In the discussions about phone charges you have pointed out that it is unfair to charge people for something they don’t use. On that basis, why should those who don’t use Wi-Fi pay for it?


The costs of operating a wifi network are fixed, irrespective of usage volumes. Therefore there is no financial logic in charging according to usage. There are lots of services for which hotels don’t surcharge for usage, but which are used by only a fraction of guests, e.g. indoor swimming pools and gyms. On the other hand, most hotel guests do use wifi, and hotels know this. By surcharging for a fixed-cost amenity that most guests use, it serves only to facilitate a misleading indication of the headline price.


If the hotel is paying for unlimited use then the hotels are charging because they can. Don’t expect value for money at expensive hotels. It’s the same with extras on expensive cars. It has always been easier to profit from those prepared to spend more.


Hotels surcharge for wifi only to facilitate a misleading indication of headline price. For example, instead of advertising a price of €140/night, they advertise €120/night and then subsequently sting guests with a €20/night surcharge for wifi. Most guests end up paying this surcharge, so the hotel should include it in the headline price of the room. Excluding the surcharge from the headline price serves only to make the room look cheaper than it is, i.e. a misleading indication of price.

Why don’t these hotels also surcharge for electricity, water, heating and air-conditioning? Surcharging for wifi is no more justifiable. Internet access is a basic utility for most people in 2015, not an optional luxury.


As I said, they charge because they can. For me it is a higher priority to tackle companies that charge compulsory supplements such as damage waivers, but hopefully these will soon be a thing of the past.

Rather than doing an online booking, speak to the hotel, ask about charges and say you are not interested if there is a supplement for Wi-Fi use. Alternatively, vote with your feet and use the hotels that don’t charge.


Of course, “they charge because they can”. But this article is about whether these surcharges and drip pricing are acceptable. I say that they are not acceptable, because their objective is to facilitate a misleading indication of price.

Your suggestion to ask about wifi charges when booking is a good one. Another way I phrase the question is to ask for the total room price including wifi. If the total price is too high, then I haggle. I also give them a link to all my previous (mostly positive) reviews on Tripadvisor, which gives them an incentive to make me happy. I also find that many international 5* chains give me free wifi because of the status I have with them, but that doesn’t change my objection to the principle of surcharging.


Most decent hotels in London now regard breakfast as an extra and charge separately. I don’t mind because quite a number of visitors don’t have a proper breakfast these days or go out to one of the many eating places in the area. It also means the dining room is under less pressure and more comfortable. However, one hotel we have used from time to time has now started reducing the things that were always included in the breakfast menu; you can still have them but have to pay an additional charge. This includes yoghurt, fruit, and various cooked options. Obviously this is all about keeping the headline room rate down. There has been no reduction in room rates or standard breakfast charges to offset the extras.

When we go on holiday we escape the internet so the availability of wi-fi is not an issue. What we could do without is the poor quality and wasteful ‘free’ toiletries supplied in many hotels. We always take our own, because you’re never quite sure what will be provided and we prefer our own choice.Perhaps they could also be an optional extra for a supplement.


Charges for breakfast in some 4* and 5* hotels can be really excessive, often around £25/$40/€35. Sometimes they offer a room rate with breakfast included, which is much better value for two people than for a single business traveller, and the difference works out at much less than the breakfast charge.