/ 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.

We always try to get a room with a fridge and often take our own cereal, cereal bowls and spoons. We do this mainly because of dietry requirements as we need a fridge for our own milk otherwise it gets lost in the kitchens.

A slight problem can arise when you remove items from a mini-bar that get automatically charged for !!!

We have also found that wherever breakfast is charged at an extortionate rate, there is often a very reasonably priced cafe not far away.

Yes we have taken advantage of that; you really have to know your way around these different terms & conditions.

We haven’t stayed at any 5* hotels in London as we don’t think it’s worth it for the kind of use we make of the hotel but we have elsewhere in the UK and find there is not such a sharp approach to charging, or if there is a separate charge for breakfast it is much more reasonable than in London.

William Smith says:
2 August 2015

One of the “extra” charges I feel most strongly about is that of Parking. I have been informed at several Registration Desks of National Chain Hotels that overnight parking charged for and can be as much as £20 per night. Needless to say I always challenge this and have thus far been excused payment 100%, but how many individuals just stump up this disgraceful add on?

Think you people at which should be looking at the prices of holiday’s in the school holiday’s how can it be fair or legal for holiday companies to bump their price’s up at these time’s why don’t they charge the same all year round I know some of the month’s in the year are busier than other’s but surely this can’t be used as a legitimate excuse for price’s going up in school holidays.

The last Conversation on this was a long time ago [“Summer holidays are ripping us off” – 30 July 2010] and school policies have hardened considerably since then, which puts even more pressure on the six week summer break. The travel companies cannot standardise the prices throughout the year because the airlines and the hotel operators use the price mechanism as a way of matching supply and demand. Another way of looking at it is that the summer prices are at the right level but there are off-season discounts for when there is spare capacity.

How is this for bad service [or systems] ?

” ICO is investigating security lapse, while email recall success is called into question
Holiday firm Thomson has apologised to customers whose data was accidentally emailed to an unknown number of external organisations, however experts have warned this does not go far enough.
Some 500 customers found out their personal details, including their full name, home address and dates of their holiday, had been inadvertantly leaked by a Thomson employee.
In a statement, the company told IT Pro: “We would like to apologise to our customers involved and reassure them that we take data security very seriously and we are urgently investigating the matter to ensure this situation will not be repeated.”
However, it seems that an apology is all the customers can hope to receive, with the BBC reporting that Thomson will not be offering compensation, nor allowing those affected to alter their bookings.
This is despite concerns criminals could get their hands on the leaked data and use the information to rob holidaymakers’ homes while the properties are empty.”

ItPro 28/8/2015

The internet is a fantastic thing but security of data is its Achilles heel. I cannot believe that every single call centre operative is 100% honest, has been checked, vetted and trained properly, and is being effectively supervised and managed to prevent data leaks. The words “accidentally” and “inadvertently” do not inspire much confidence in the Thomson statement that they “take data security very seriously”. As usual there is a promise to ensure that “this situation will not be repeated” – until it happens again, of course. There is not much Thomson can do to compensate customers because there is probably no way of knowing what their losses will be over time, but they could have been more accommodating over altering people’s bookings to reduce the risk of crime at their home addresses [although I think the timescales involved will probably not allow for much criminal activity unless the holiday is some weeks or months away]. An ICO fine is probably the best that can be hoped for to show firms that hold so much personal data that they really must invest substantially in better and more secure IT systems and staff control. This means dearer holidays but that is better than a criminal misuse of data.

Hi, use one area where perhaps someone can answer me. I get lots of emails from holiday firms all given the same yarn 40% off, 30%’ save £130 off etc but what i would like to know is ‘OFF WHAT!, They never tell what they are referring to. Anyone advise me please?

I expect that no-one pays the full price, rather like these shops that always have SALE notices throughout the year. All that really matters is what price you are offered. Expect greater discounts if you can be prepared to be flexible and can make a late booking.